Caring and emotionally supportive relationships help us to weather the storms in our lives, and it seems that’s when we need them the most. However, new research shows that we need these positive emotional connections in the good times (or absence of adversity), just as much as during the hard times. It is well established that quality relationships are linked to better mental and physical health, and even longevity. When you feel lonely and isolated from others, it can increase your risk of death by 26%![i] Close connections not only add to one’s love for life, they have real practical implications, too. The majority of research on relationships has focused on how they impact our lives in times of stress, but there is a new, growing body of research that demonstrates we need close supportive relationships to move beyond just survival, to achieve optimal wellbeing and prosperity – and, to truly thrive.
Strive to Thrive
What does it mean to thrive? Merriam-Webster defines thriving as: to grow or develop successfully:
to grow vigorously: flourish; to gain in wealth or possessions: succeed.[ii] To thrive, you must be actively pursuing opportunities for growth and development, not just existing. You may feel stuck in a rut or that your life is the same thing day in and day out. Why do some people seem to be fine with the status-quo, while others are reaching for the stars? You may want to take a look at the quality and quantity of your relationships and to see if they could use some attention to help you become more engaged in life.
Relationship Behaviors to Promote Thriving [iii]
Intuitively we realize that healthy relationships are paramount in our ability to thrive – but not all relationships are created equal. Bad relationships (particularly with a narcissist) can result in negative outcomes and hinder our growth and development. What are the characteristics of a relationship that help us succeed? The following behaviors are a good place to start. A positive relationship would include:
- Available for empathic listening
- Sharing companionship
- Providing encouragement
- Respect for the other person’s independence
- Communicating about life opportunities (and hopes and dreams)
- Celebrating successes (you can never celebrate too much!)
- Never postpone joy
All have a profound impact on one’s ability to thrive. On the flip side, unresponsive and insensitive behaviors will undermine flourishing because they promote feelings of abandonment, or a lack of emotional safety.
Benefits of Supportive and Close Relationships [iv]
The benefits of supportive relationships are numerous. Here are a few I wanted to highlight: People who engage in positive, emotionally healthy relationships:
- Develop an increase in positive emotions and a decrease in negative ones
- Experience healthier self-esteem
- Have more love to give to others
- Achieve greater positive life-outcomes because they are motivated to strive harder to reach goals
- Learn and grow from their experiences – both good and bad
- Feel more valued and respected by others
- Have a higher activation of dopamine release (a feel-good hormone in your brain)
- Gain increased bone and muscle mass
- Engage more in restorative activities such as hobbies, sports and vacation
- Are better able to care for themselves and adhere to a health care treatment plan
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
Everything! Paying close attention to your loving connections with others is critical for life itself. They need to be tended to and nurtured, and any new wellness plan that does not include a strategy for improving relationships is incomplete. Finally, a quote from Poet Laureate, Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant. ” My next blog will focus on communication strategies that will improve, not sabotage, your love relations.
Dr. Bruce Kehr’s new book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self-Love
Dr. Bruce Kehr’s psychiatry practice, Potomac Psychiatry
Dr. Bruce Kehr’s Weekly Tips, Subscribe
Dr. Bruce Kehr’s Blog