A Healthy “We”
When it comes to relationship status, social media gives us a few choices, “single,” “in a relationship” or all but too true, “it’s complicated.” Relationships have become something that truly defines us just by our “status” or checked boxes, yet did you know that relationships have a vast impact on your health? Our mental, physical, and emotional well-being as well as our behavior choices can all be impacted based on our companionship. Studies indicate that strong relationships can help us ward off disease, increase healthy lifestyle choices, and even help us to live longer, with a better quality of life. On the contrary, weakened or unhealthy relationships tend to breed just the opposite. Psychologist Maryann Troiani of myjustheart.org says, “so many factors affect our health, whether it’s the behaviors we exhibit toward each other or the habits that we pass on to each other. She basically shares that whether we are checking the “dating,” “married” or “it’s complicated” box, we should keep in mind that each of these relationships we are invested in will have a direct impact on our body and mind.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Newlywed Nine,” and how many couples just getting married or in love will tend to put on weight, as they are influenced by each other’s eating habits and somewhat blinded by love to make the best nutritional choices. This can be true of many relationships, not just romantic ones. Whoever we spend a lot of time with, we tend to eat more with or pick up on their habits. It only takes one weak moment to mention skipping the gym to stay in and snuggle, to then make that your new habit of snuggle time instead of sweat session time. This doesn’t have to be you! Relationships can be used to encourage each other to lead the best lifestyle you can. It is hard enough to make good food choices and get in physical activity, but relationships offer you a built in accountability partner! Root your partner on, or better yet, adapt with them.
Relationships also empower us to learn about other people’s interests and try new things. If your partner wants to go to The Wellness Center and work out every day after work, let them. Don’t ask them to skip something you want temporarily; think about what they want in the long run. Even better, go with them! Maybe you will find something you can enjoy together, or you will find that you have a different interest. Allowing each person in your partnership to have their own identity and interests will help you both be more supportive and open-minded.
This is a bit of a catch 22 though. When it comes to supporting a partner’s healthy lifestyle choices, that’s one thing. If they are doing something that isn’t for their greater good, say smoking, drinking too much, over-eating unhealthful foods too often, this is a hard place. We all want to invest in people that invest in themselves, right? This may require getting out of your comfort zone and having an honest conversation about your expectations for a healthy lifestyle and what limits you have. This doesn’t mean your partner will have the same ones. You may be in a relationship with someone who smokes and that’s a big “no,” for you. That doesn’t mean your partner will automatically quit smoking, but you can both share your ideas and opinions to see where the conversation leads. Having these conversations early on can help to save you both some energy, heartache, and disappointment.
Relationships aren’t just about physical health. Having problems in a relationship or the feelings of not having your needs met can also take a toll on your mental health. If you are finding you are more stressed and anxious around your partner, these may be feelings you need to get to the bottom of. Researchers have found a link between marital problems and an increased risk of diagnoses such as generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety, these links can be difficult to acknowledge. Keep in mind anxiety has been shown to increase relationship problems, not benefit them. Just the opposite can also be true. Research suggests marriage may help protect against anxiety. In a 2010 World Health Organization study of 35,000 people in 15 countries, those who were married—happily or otherwise (the study didn’t specify)—were less likely to develop anxiety and other mental disorders. This goes to show when a relationship is truly healthy, so are all the people involved.
Sometimes our relationship status isn’t the only relationship that can benefit or detour our health. Look at all the people around you that impact your day-to-day life. You may have some amazing supporters around you. Go for the walk with the person always walking at lunch, ask that healthier eater if they would share some recipes, listen to the friend who is sharing about how therapy has changed her life for the better. Set a boundary with the friend who always makes you feel anxious or guilty, don’t give in to the friend who wants you to skip your favorite workout class. You don’t have to get rid of all your friends but seek out the ones who make you feel the best – they probably take pretty good care of themselves too.
Every relationship in our lives is a chance to make a greater impact on our overall health and wellness. Are you seeking out those relationships? Are you giving the same support and encouragement to your partners and friends? If you spend a great deal of your time with a specific person, are you spending time together that makes you think, feel and act in ways that make you feel healthy, strong and vibrant? Or is it time to talk about how you want to grow in your status, towards not just a healthy “me,” but also a healthy “we?”
Director of The Wellness Center