Every relationship, whether with a friend, colleague, family member or romantic partner, inevitably affects our well-being. However, the important question is whether the impact is ultimately negative or positive. When considering our relationships with others, experts say the most important factor to consider is the quality of a given relationship.
This is because research shows that high-quality relationships can lead to a variety of positive outcomes. “A high-quality relationship is one in which we constantly feel like our partner has our back,” he says Alexandra Solomonlicensed clinical psychologist, author and host of Rethinking Love podcast.
Solomon adds other factors that can come into play, such as a sense of trust and commitment. “Commitment is essential,” notes Solomon. “That feeling that you were here yesterday, you’re here today, you’ll be here tomorrow. This sense of continuity helps us relax and makes it safe enough to be vulnerable. Additionally, the authors of a 2005 study published in Journal of Social and Personal Relations found that those who moved into more committed relationships over time were rewarded with improvements in their overall well-being.
When it comes to our romantic relationships, Solomon emphasized that there are physical and emotional health benefits that come with a rewarding relationship; in other words, when there is emotional safety and physical connection between partners. And according to the authors of another study published in Cognitive therapy and research journaling, close, supportive relationships can be critical to coping with stress.
Links that are not “high quality” can also lead to negative results. “There’s science that shows that when relationships are strained — when there’s a kind of chronic, ongoing conflict — there are negative health consequences,” Solomon says. “So stress and strain in relationships affects our physical and emotional health in a very negative way.”
one 2018 survey published in Journal of Happiness Research found that people who weren’t very happy in their marriages were twice as likely to report poor health (and almost 40 percent more likely to die) during the follow-up period than those who were considered themselves “very happily married”. Although the authors note that research on the longevity and health benefits of marriage is firmly established, people in unhappy marriages may be a particularly vulnerable group.
Another 2019 survey even highlighted that emotional abuse within a marriage can lead to an increased risk of suicide for women, with infidelity ranking as one of the strongest predictors. “Love and abuse cannot coexist,” Solomon adds. And while there is lots of research this illustrates how loneliness can be harmful to health, being in a relationship with anyone will not automatically lead to positive results. The key, Solomon says, is fostering a healthy relationship.
How to build healthy romantic relationships
So how exactly do you foster a quality relationship? Solomon notes that there is an entire field of relationship science devoted to understanding what separates healthy couples from unhealthy ones. “It’s very difficult for me to imagine creating a high-quality relationship without both partners willing to practice relational self-awareness,” says Solomon.
While a healthy couple will use rational self-awareness, unhealthy couples may turn to other methods such as blaming or shaming. Blaming, for example, might look like pointing the finger at the other person and saying things like, “We have this problem because you I did,” says Solomon. Whereas shame occurs when one partner says to the other, “Why do we have this problem I I did.” Instead of using guilt or shame, Solomon recommends that people look at their own behavior and try to understand why they are having that reaction. In other words, the willingness to connect with ourselves before we resort to pointing fingers or to be ashamed.
It is well known that communication is necessary for a happy and healthy relationship. But proper communication is still one of the biggest problems licensed mental health counselor Alexa Andino sees in couples. One of the first tasks Andino asks couples to do before starting therapy is to take a test to find their love language, or how they prefer to receive love. Why? Love languages are a fundamental aspect of how people communicate and how they want to be communicated with, Andino says.
In fact, learning how you and your partner give — and receive — love can help solve many relationship problems. A study published in FLOOR ONE in June found that people in satisfied relationships express affection in their partner’s preferred love language. The study authors even suggest that learning your partner’s love language can improve the quality of your relationship.
Workplace and social relations
High-quality relationships and a healthy workplace environment can lead to other positive outcomes as well. A 2019 study published in Behavioral Sciences magazine found that nurses have a higher level of commitment to their work, less stress with better workplace relationships. As a result of better workplace relationships, patient care has also improved.
There is no doubt that humans are social creatures and friendships can affect our overall well-being. Accordingly, a 2018 survey in the diary Family found that friendship was related to an individual’s life satisfaction, but also noted that this positive relationship was attributed to the quality of the friendship itself. In this case, researchers measure quality in terms of a person’s satisfaction with that relationship, as well as its intensity, or the frequency with which someone sees their friends.
This shows the fact that quality relationships can take time and effort. A 2018 study in Journal of Social and Personal Relations look at how long it takes to make a friend. Findings show that it’s possible to make a good friend after spending 120 to 160 hours together over a three-week period, but sometimes it can take longer. However, this time and effort may be worth it; studies show that better friendship and higher levels of closeness bring higher levels of happiness.
The opposite effect can also be true. Researchers of research published in PLoS One surveyed over 4,000 people aged 25 to 75 in 2013, and then again 10 years later. They found that participants with the lowest quality of social ties were more than twice as likely to be depressed as those with the highest quality of ties.
There is also research showing how closeness and support from family and friends can influence a person’s motivation to seek medical care. A 2006 study published in the journal Breastfeeding for cancer examined the responses of breast cancer survivors regarding follow-up care and treatment. The researchers found that 70% of participants reported that support from family members motivated them to receive follow-up care. On the other hand, poor support from family and friends acts as a potential barrier to seeking appropriate care.
In general, some relationships can be unhealthy, exhausting, and have negative effects. Taking the time to foster a higher standard of relationships—whether with a romantic partner, friend, family, or even a colleague or manager—can pay off and be beneficial in the long run. If you stick to the science, it’s clear that investing in high-quality, healthy relationships is the way to go.