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How relationships affect health and wellbeing

February 13, 2015

Valentine’s Day puts love on the brain. Throughout the world, people dedicate the day to celebrating relationships. But we ought to be paying more attention to them, researchers say. Relationships are important to our health and wellbeing every day of the year – not just February 14th.

“Healthy relationships enable us to be who we are,” says Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., R.N., Director of the Center for Spirituality & Healing. “They nurture us and they help us grow. They help us become better people.”

Relationships can reduce stress and have been linked to overall improved health. Researchers have even shown that people with healthy social relationships have a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival.

But relationships are challenging – sometimes exhausting at best. People with poor relationships are more likely to suffer from depression, and loneliness is powerful enough to weaken our immune system.

Bean Robinson, Ph.D., associate director of the Program in Human Sexuality and Kreitzer spoke with Health Talk about the ways intimate and social relationships impact our health.

HT: Why do we seek out relationships?

Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., RN: Relationships – whether social or intimate – make people happier and contribute to joy in our lives. They constitute a vital part of wellbeing.

Bean Robinson, Ph.D.: We are very social creatures. In terms of sex, there seems to be a real need for touch and connection. Connecting can be scary, but it’s how we bond with one another. In adulthood, we often find that connection through intimate body-to-body contact, or sex.

HT: How do relationships affect our health?

BR: When couples are in a constant state of conflict, it is detrimental to their health and wellbeing. Their blood pressure rises, and they suffer emotionally. That affects your body. There is also a link between physical and mental health and sexuality. As your physical and mental health deteriorates, so does your sexual health.

HT: What are some ways to improve and maintain relationships?

BR: It’s really important in any relationship to understand your significant other’s point of view. It’s not easy to listen, but understanding you both have a perspective and that there is no “right answer” to a conflict is important. Be willing to compromise.

MJK: One of the ways to nurture healthy relationships is to practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude towards a partner can boost positivity for both parties. Relationships are hard work. You need to invest time in them. Make an effort to spend time together, accept one another, practice forgiveness and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Sometimes we work so hard to protect ourselves, but opening up to a person is key to developing a deep and intimate relationship.


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