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Relationships: Are they really needed?

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Close relationships are sometimes called interpersonal relationships. The closest relationships are most often found with family and a small circle of best friends. Interpersonal relationships require the greatest effort to nurture and maintain. These are also the relationships that give you the most joy and satisfaction. An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring.{{more}} This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships are formed in the context of social, cultural and other influences.

The context can vary from family relations, friendships, marriage, relations with associates, work, clubs, and places of worship. They may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and are the basis of social groups and society as a whole. A relationship is normally viewed as a connection between individuals, such as a romantic or intimate relationship, or a parent-child relationship. Individuals can also have relationships with groups of people, such as the relation between a pastor and his congregation, an uncle and a family. When in a healthy relationship, happiness is shown and the relationship is now a priority.

Healthy relationships are a vital component of health and well-being. There is compelling evidence that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy, and happy life. Conversely, the health risks from being alone or isolated in one’s life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and obesity.

Research shows that healthy relationships can help you:

o Live longer. A review of 148 studies found that people with strong social relationships are 50 per cent less likely to die prematurely.

o Deal with stress. The support offered by a caring friend can provide a buffer against the effects of stress. In a study of over 100 people, researchers found that people who completed a stressful task experienced a faster recovery when they were reminded of people with whom they had strong relationships. (Those who were reminded of stressful relationships, on the other hand, experienced even more stress and higher blood pressure.)

o Be healthier. According to research by psychologist Sheldon Cohen, college students who reported having strong relationships were half as likely to catch a common cold when exposed to the virus.

o Feel richer. A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 5,000 people found that doubling your group of trustworthy and supportive friends has the same effect on your well-being as a 50 per cent increase in income…

On the other hand, low social support or an unhealthy relationship is linked to a number of health consequences, such as:

o Depression: Loneliness has long been commonly associated with depression, and now research supports this: A 2012 study of breast cancer patients found that those with fewer satisfying social connections experienced higher levels of depression, pain, and fatigue.

o Decreased immune function: A correlation between loneliness and immune system dysregulation was also found; meaning that a lack of social connections can increase your chances of becoming sick.

o Higher blood pressure. University of Chicago researchers who studied a group of 229 adults over five years found that loneliness predicted higher blood pressure, even years later, indicating that the effects of isolation have long-lasting consequences.

Qualities of good and bad relationships

Some qualities of a good relationship may be evident from the moment we meet a person. Other traits develop along with the relationship, giving the relationship strength and stability.

o Comfort: where you feel comfortable or at ease with the other person. This can be automatic or it could take time to develop.

o Empathy: refers to the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes, understanding his/her feelings and actions.

o Trust: means that you can depend on the other person. When you trust another person, you expect acceptance and support from him/her.

o Respect: involves accepting and appreciating the other person for who he/she is.

o Flexibility: good relationships are flexible and can adapt to change. Circumstances change and you can’t always carry through on plans you have made together. You sometimes have to make compromises and reassess your goals.

o Uniqueness: the relationship stands out or is in some way special or different.

o Irreplaceable: each interpersonal relationship is as unique as the people in them and can never be recreated.

o Self disclosure: in an interpersonal relationship people share and entrust private information about themselves

o Honesty and Accountability: communicating openly and truthfully, admitting mistakes or being wrong, and accepting responsibility for one’s self.

Qualities of bad relationships

If your relationship does not build you or contribute to you achieving your best, then it may be bad for you.

o Avoidance: People in unhealthy relationships would find that their friends avoid being at significant occasions in their lives.

o Burnout: When your relationship is at a low point or “burnout”, it might make you feel trapped, tired, helpless, depressed.

o Compatibility issues: Incompatibility will make the relationship unhealthy, because you’re not compatible, constant negativity will hinder growth.

o Devotional void: A lack of commitment and dedication can make for unhealthy relationships.

o Enthusiasm dwindles: if a relationship isn’t spontaneous and becomes predictable, interest dies.

o Forgiveness void: Lack of forgiveness breeds bitterness.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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