Healthy Relationships

The support of family and friends can help you stay healthy.

By Sylvia Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It's been said that no man (or woman, for that matter) is an island. And it's true: good relationships are essential to our happiness and emotional health. Our relationships can affect our physical health as well.

Indeed, one thing researchers know for sure is that our ability to feel love and intimacy is what keeps us well. Study after study has shown that loneliness is a risk factor for disease, and that relationships have a positive effect on everything from heart health to age-related health issues.

Nurture Your Relationships

It's not always easy to keep friendships and family connections strong when you're busy with work, children, and other demands on your time. Here are some tips for keeping those relationships healthy even in tough times:

  • Visit with friends and family. Simple, but important. Take time to make a phone call, send an email, or write a quick note.
  • Make new friends. Establishing new contacts with people who have similar lifestyles can help you feel that someone understands your daily challenges.
  • If you feel too exhausted to talk to or relate with the people important to you, tell them. Explain your feelings to them. This communication can help you both feel better.

5 Ways to Get Closer to Your Mate

For many of us, a spouse, partner or significant other is the most important relationship in our lives. Yet it's easy to grow apart, even when you live together. Here are five tips from the experts for staying close:

1. Listen, With the TV Off.

The experts agree on this point -- listening, truly listening, can reduce conflict, boost trust, and lead to a more satisfying partnership. Listening may sound simple, but it requires more than being in the same room while your better half is speaking. Signal that you care by turning off the television, offering your undivided attention, and making eye contact. And don't forget to follow up on what you hear.

This is particularly important when your partner is upset. If you listen carefully, you are more likely to understand the problem and find a way to help.

2. Focus on the Positives.

"When you first meet someone, you pay attention to all the things you like," says Kate Wachs, PhD, a Chicago psychologist and author of Relationships for Dummies. "As time goes on, you start to take that for granted and instead you focus on what bothers you. If the relationship becomes more negative than positive, you break up."

The solution is to make a conscious effort to focus on the things you like about your partner. "Your partner has many good qualities, as well as things that drive you crazy," Brody says. "Look for [the positives] and drink those in. Jot them down to remember them."

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3. Stop Nagging.

Nagging not only creates tension, it usually gets you nowhere. "If you're nagging, your partner will tune you out," Wachs tells WebMD. "If someone isn't giving you what you want, think about what you are doing. It's not working. What can you do instead? Have a dialogue. ... Instead of saying what you don't like, say what you would prefer. Give alternatives."

And remember to balance any criticisms with a heavy dose of positive feedback. When making a request that could be seen as nagging, take the edge off by expressing appreciation for your partner's good qualities.

4. Spend More Time Together.

Putting "couple time" on your calendar reinforces your sense of dedication to each other. "Couples benefit when they feel commitment," Peter A. Wish, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Don't Stop at Green Lights: Every Woman's Guide to Taking Charge of Her Life and Fulfilling Her Dreams, tells WebMD. "Make these private times special by not including others."

But don't make the mistake of limiting your interaction to designated couple time. Try to enjoy each other's company for at least a few minutes every day, especially first thing in the morning, at the end of the workday, and right before bed. "At those times talk about positive things," Wachs says. "It makes a big impression."

Make a special point of greeting each other at the end of the workday. If you're home first, stop what you're doing when your partner arrives and spend a moment together. "Act like [he or she] is important," Wachs advises, "not just the postman stopping by with the mail."

5. Touch More Often.

Physical communication is as important as emotional communication in a relationship. It relieves tension and shows your partner that you care. "Physically being in contact with your partner breaks through a lot of ice," Wachs says. "Go out of your way to kiss and hug during the day. Always sleep together in the same bed. Just assume you're going to have sex every night. ... It's hard to fight if you're having great sex."

Published February 2006.


SOURCES: WebMD Medical Reference From Healthwise: "Importance of personal relationships for lowering stress." WebMD Feature: "Get Closer to Your Mate in 2006."

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Reviewed on 2/13/2006
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