Mental Health and Relationships


Whether they’re monogamous or polyamorous, casual or formal, happy or sad, people engage in a variety of relationships. Some are more intimate than others, but all can be important for mental health. Relationships include a range of connections with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even acquaintances. While there is no one-size-fits-all definition of relationship, most share the basic elements of mutual dealings, closeness, and emotional attachment.

For some, the most important element of a healthy relationship is sexual intimacy. For others, it might be sharing a hobby, supporting each other’s goals, or just hanging out together. Whatever form it takes, a healthy relationship requires both people to be on the same page about what it means to be in this type of connection.

The need for human connection is a universal human trait. Many experts believe that the foundation of stable, loving relationships begins in infancy, with an infant’s earliest experiences with caregivers who consistently meet the baby’s needs for food, care, warmth, protection, and stimulation. While it is possible to survive without the help of other people, it is generally believed that healthy humans thrive in supportive social environments.

When someone says they’re in a “relationship,” it may refer to a romantic connection, but the phrase is also used to describe other types of relationships. The term is often associated with commitment, but the level of intimacy and degree of closeness can vary widely. People may have a relationship with a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor, and can choose to be in a monogamous, open, or non-committal partnership.

Intimate relationships have been shown to improve mental health. Studies have found that those who are in long-term romantic partnerships experience less depression and anxiety than those who are widowed, single, or divorced/separated. People in loving relationships also report higher levels of happiness and self-esteem, and may feel that their lives have meaning and purpose.

Creating and maintaining positive relationships can be challenging. Even the most committed couples face ups and downs in their relationships, and many people struggle to maintain balance between work, home life, and their romantic partner. While the absolute best way to determine if your relationship is healthy is to take a battery of questions that assess every facet, it’s not always practical. Fortunately, your gut reactions can be an accurate barometer of a healthy relationship.

A healthy relationship is a balance of giving and taking. While this is more difficult than it sounds, the key to a balanced relationship is learning how to give and receive the things that are most important to each individual person. It can also help to be able to read your partner’s nonverbal cues, and to understand that they are not trying to push you into a box that you don’t fit into. It is also helpful to set aside time daily for physical and verbal communication, somewhere that you can be alone together and free of distractions. This can be as simple as a quick hug or a few minutes to sit and talk.

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