S u m m a r y :
Close personal relationships have a positive impact on health, says a new body of research published in a special issue of American Psychological Association’s journal, the American Psychologist.
We Are Social Beings
Humans are gregarious: we live in organised communities—we mingle in society. This special trait is from our natural state. Our close circle (family and friends) is primordial to our well-being. On the other hand, what contradicts it is harmful, as has shown research focusing on the effects of loneliness; for instance, psychologists have found that being isolated from social groups can eventually lead to early death.
Bottom line: we need social relationships and close personal ties to live well.
Connecting Healthy Psychology With Relationship Science
The recent special issue of American Psychologist looks into the impacts of such companionship on health through a number of studies investigating the many aspects of this link—an overview that supports the importance of making close relationships a public health priority. Journal editor Christine Dunkel Schetter explains that the articles featuring in the special issue constitute “state-of-the-art work on the central issues in the study of close relationships and health”; according to her, they have brought together two fields of study: relationship science and health psychology.
“The goal of this special issue is to bridge the gap between these two specialties to improve the quality and usefulness of future research and practice,” writes Schetter in the introduction.
Social Connection & Quality of Life
One of the articles purports that compelling scientific evidence shows that high-quality close relationships together with the feeling of being socially connected to other people are linked with a lower risk of all-cause mortality and disease morbidity.
The authors explain that humans need fellow humans to survive. This applies to all of us, irrespective of sex, economic status, culture, or age. Social connection is an absolute requisite for our development and health; the researchers even go so far as saying that there might be no other factor that carries such a great effect on life both in terms of its quality and quantity. We live better and for longer when we are connected with others.
A Shield During Hard Times & A Ladder During Good Times
Close relationships are a shield against life’s tempests. They not only protect the health of individuals when going through times of stress and adversity but also allow for an eased recovery, and resilience when the storm is over. Social support is indeed a safe haven.
Social connection is also beneficial during times of happiness. Close relationships facilitate the path to striving for one’s purpose. Personal goals are more easily achieved when in the company of another.
This paper also points out that hostility in close relationships will come with its own set of negative effects. For instance. such behaviour is linked with poorer immune systems, higher blood pressure, and slower wound healing.
Happy Family, Healthy Adults
The importance of close, positive relationships between family members is also highlighted in the issue. Having this type of social connection in childhood protect people in more ways than one. For instance, the relationships act as buffer against the effect of childhood stressors on the biology of the individuals such that they reap long-term health benefits.
Marriage Is Good For Your Heart
Being married is associated with a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), provided that the relationship between the spouses is of good quality. However, if there is considerably strain in the relationship, the spouses might face a greater risk of CHD.
Work on Your Relationships!
We, humans, need to have close, healthy relationships. So, when you’re working on them—when you’re striving to be a better spouse, friend, child, parent, companion—you’re actually bettering your own health!