Relationships and Health: Four Facts
When we get ourselves into a bind, we heed the old adage, “everyone needs a hand to hold.” This saying refers to the saving grace of a helpful friend or family member who provides emotional or moral support in times of need. But recent studies have found that relationships also affect people in physiological ways. The studies point to links between relationships and health in these four ways:
1. Sustained Intimacy Helps You Live Longer.
Based on a recent study, couples that engaged in hostile discussions experienced increases in blood pressure and stress hormones. Such increases can have damaging effects on health in the long run. On the other hand, couples that communicate effectively can prevent this negative impact on their health. To strengthen the bond with your partner try the following:
- Communicate frequently in the form of e-mails and/or phone calls
- Schedule time to be together when there are no distractions
- Communicate what you desire rather than focusing on what you do not want
- Be optimistic about your relationship
- Consciously make a decision to touch more. Holding hands, hugging and kissing will help you and your partner create a closer and more loving bond.
2. Positive Social Bonds Help Your Immune System.
Research by Lisa F. Berkman, Ph.D. of Harvard University has revealed that people with more social relationships recover from illness faster. Though studies are inconclusive regarding just how this happens, some studies suggest social ties aid with coping with illness and reducing stress. According to the Canadian Health Network, a larger circle of friends, family, and communities can help you cope with stress by giving you a sense of control over your struggles; this sense of control helps boost the immune and nervous systems to keep you healthy.
3. Mixed Feelings Can Raise Your Blood Pressure.
You may love your husband very much, but his overbearing ways drive you nuts. You may have a blast every time you hang out with your old college roommate, but her competitive spirit puts you on edge. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an assistant professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, conducted a study that monitored participants’ blood pressure five minutes into a social interaction in their daily lives. Holt-Lunstad’s research team also gathered data from detailed diaries and questionnaires about personal relationships. Ultimately, these “researchers found that in relationships, mixed feelings seem to be more unsettling, at least as related to blood pressure, than outright hostility.” One explanation for why relationships with conflicting feelings are more stressful than openly hostile ones is because the one party with the conflicted feelings may be nurturing hope that things will go well but then is repeatedly disappointed; whereas, with openly hostile relationships, a party knows what to expect and can do whatever it takes to avoid interaction.
4. A Spouse Can Inspire You to a Healthy Lifestyle.
What is an effective way to encourage your spouse to pay attention to his cholesterol or start a new exercise regimen? Take the lead yourself. Pay attention to your cholesterol and start your own new exercise regimen. Psychologists have found in marital relationships when one spouse takes the initiative to change her own unhealthy habit, a partner feels compelled to keep up. After feeling disillusioned about an unexpected diagnosis from a doctor or a struggle through a semi-serious illness, spouses have shown strong inclinations to stop drinking, stop smoking, and get regular flu shots together. Just imagine the impact your spouse’s behavior has on you on a daily basis. Now, envision ways you both can eliminate bad behaviors that might minimize unnecessary health risks. Experts have determined that family members’ habits rub off on each other.
Let these four scientifically validated points give you incentive to take charge of your relationships, your health and ultimately, your happiness.
By Margaret McCraw, Ph.D., LCSW-C, MBA