Healthy relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing. Those with strong, positive connections with the people around them tend to be happier and healthier. They even tend to live longer than people who are more isolated.
Why are healthy relationships good for our mental wellbeing?
When we spend time with positive, happy people, we're more likely to feel optimistic and confident about ourselves. And this means we feel better equipped to deal with new challenges.
Whether it's with our friends, colleagues, family or members of our local community, having strong social connections gives us a sense of belonging and security. When we're isolated, we're more likely to feel vulnerable and unable to cope when things change.
Having good relationships also means we have someone to talk to and help us find practical solutions to any problems we face. Often, just knowing that someone is there to listen helps us feel better.
Challenges to our relationships
Changes to the way we live and work have presented new challenges to the quality of our relationships. As people struggle to maintain clear boundaries between work and home life, and as we rely increasingly on digital contact to maintain our relationships, loneliness and isolation are becoming problems for more and more of us.
In addition, normal life events such as having a young family, retirement and bereavement mean that as we get older our social circles naturally tend to shrink.
If you live in the UK, you're aged 60+ and you feel lonely, ask us about our telephone friendship service. We can arrange for you to chat on the phone each week with someone who shares your hobbies and interests.
How to build and maintain healthy relationships
To avoid the damaging effects of loneliness and isolation on our mental wellbeing, it's crucial that we proactively invest in building and maintaining strong relationships, at all stages of life.
Just as building healthy habits can help you improve your physical wellbeing, there are practical things you can do to strengthen your connections with people around you.
1. Give your time
Lack of time is often the biggest barrier to maintaining good relationships, even with our closest friends and family. Many people struggle to maintain a work life balance that allows them to spend quality time with the people that matter most.
The key to finding time to invest in your relationships is the setting of clear boundaries (and sticking to them). For example, could you commit to switching your work phone off in the evenings?
2. Be present
It's no good making time for friends and family if you spend most of it thinking about your to do list for the next day. The strength and quality of your relationships depends on you being present and engaged.
With regular practice, mindfulness can help us give our undivided attention to each moment. By learning to let go of distracting thoughts or feelings we can immerse ourselves in and truly enjoy the present as it is.
Read our article, Focus on the here and now for some practical advice and tips on how to be more present.
When we're listened to without judgement, we feel respected, valued and understood. Giving someone space and time to talk openly about whatever is on their mind will strengthen the connection between you.
Empathetic listening is the most effective form of listening. It means that you're listening only in order to understand. Not to reply or have your say. Here are some tips that could help:
- Get rid of all other distractions. Give that person your undivided attention
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues. These will help you understand the real emotion behind the words being spoken
- Never interrupt. Wait for a natural break in the conversation before speaking, if at all
- Think about what you want to say. Take your time and ask questions to ensure you've properly understood their point of view
You can discover more about empathetic listening in our Listening with empathy article.
All couples go through tough times, for lots of different reasons. Periods of change such as moving house, new jobs or a growing family can put a strain on the strongest of relationships. Money worries or concerns about things like drinking or gambling can also be sources of conflict. And, as people change, couples can simply grow apart.
But these things alone don't always make for an unhappy relationship. Often it's a lack of communication that leads to relationship breakdown. Rather than working as a team to find a way forward, both partners are left feeling resentful, unhappy and dissatisfied.
When you reach this point, it can help to talk to someone independent and impartial. That's why we work closely with the relationship experts at Relate; to provide professional couples counselling, relationship counselling, sex therapy and family counselling in the UK.