A couple of weeks ago, I talked about break ups and heartbreak. I wanted to emphasize the need for discernment in which relationships we have in our lives are healthy and which are toxic. However, I want to take this week to balance things out and talk about the need human beings have for connection and intimacy. I talk about this often, and it is because of its crucial importance to our well-being and peace of mind. Every other aspect of our nature is more self-directed. We adopt certain habits like a balanced diet, exercise, proper rest to maintain our physical and mental health. Our relational health is different. Other people are involved, and things can get messy.
The literature on the empirical support for the social/relational nature of people is quite extensive. From the relationship between a doctor/patient, client/therapist or husband/wife, our need for relationships where we sense trust and closeness seems to be as important to our well-being as a balanced diet. What does this mean for our everyday lives?
I have thought a lot about that recently and have “interviewed” numerous peers on the subject. Each was from a different background and had differing relationships statuses. The common denominator was their need for the relationships they did have, or did not have, to foster closeness. Those with relationships they defined as “good” were overall happier and less distressed than those who reported to me their relationships were in some trouble. A relationship can build up or breaks a person. Close relationships have the capacity to build us up in significant ways. There is a lot to that, however. To be close means to not just be comfortable with someone, but to trust them with the deepest parts of yourself-parts that you do not let the outside world see. These are your innermost fears, doubts and aspirations, things that you do not reveal to mere acquaintances in small talk.
Building relationships like this is not easy-that is one of the reasons I, and perhaps you, do not come across them so readily. Especially in our social media age, where we can talk to virtually anyone with an internet connection, this concept of investing great care and time into deep relationships is maybe getting lost in the shuffle. It takes time and effort to get to know the substance of someone and to let them learn that about you. It also takes allowing yourself to be vulnerable. No one can see who you really are and what you really desire if you are closed. Even Superman can’t see thru a lead wall.
While it may be difficult, and even frightening, the benefit is great. Prolonged life, less risk of depression and certain diseases, greater reports of happiness and life satisfaction are but a few benefits people who report having close relationships have compared with those who do not. The dynamic of building relationships goes across cultures, races and creeds. It is a universal human experience. It is one of the facets of ourselves that has allowed us to survive and progress through the ages. We learn from one another, build off one another and reason with one another. It all is possible through healthy relationships. I encourage you today to recognize the importance your relational nature has on every aspect of your life and to take good care of it. Doing so can help you to avoid stress and anxiety and foster a more satisfying, healthy life.
If you are looking for more information on the nature of relationships, social psychologist and communication scholar Steve Duck wrote a book called “Meaningful Relationships where he presents some deep insight. Gary Chapman’s “The 5 Love Languages” also presents some great insight into better communicating and fostering closeness in relationships.
“My friends are my estate.”