Have you ever wondered what the greatest impact on our health and happiness in life is? A 75-year longitudinal study done at Harvard has some answers…
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
We've learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer … and the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be… live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
We know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson is that it's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health… living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective… those people's memories stay sharper longer.
Over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, and with community.”
**So what’s the take home message? If you want to be happier and healthier in life - start developing, repairing, and investing in good relationships. Seems to be the best thing you could do for you life. **
While in grad school, I had the opportunity to study the experience young adults are having being single in today's world. I had particular interest in the topic given that I myself am single, and work with single people regularly in my therapy practice. After a year of study and research, I was asked to share what I learned at a regional mental health conference.
While at the conference and early on in my presentation, a man in the audience (probably mid 50's) raised his hand and asked, ”so why aren’t you married?” Thinking it was a joke I chuckled and quipped back with something to the effect of, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to know the answer when you figure it out!” Everyone in the room laughed except for this gentleman. After clearly not answering his question, he fired back more intently, “no really, what’s wrong with all of these single people today? What’s keeping you guys from getting married?!” By the looks on the faces of the audience members (a mix of single and married individuals), it was safe to say that the majority of us were taken back by the question. Realizing that he wasn’t joking, I did my best to address his question as professionally as possible without becoming emotionally reactive. However, one part of me thought, "how dare he ask me to defend/expose one of my greatest insecurities in front of this audience!" Another part was able to look past the abrasiveness of the delivery, and focus on the underlying issue at hand. Which is, because relationships (or the lack thereof) are so personal, sometimes it's hard for us to know how to talk about them.
Ironically, the core message of my presentation focused on "understanding the experience, pressures, and judgement young single adults face in today's society." I genuinely believe that my new friend had no malicious intent. Rather, he used poor tact when asking an honest question.
So, In hopes that we can promote more safety/support and less judgement in our conversations, here are 10 suggestions of "things no to" and "things to" say to your single friends.
By now you’ve probably seen Jason Headley’s parody on marital communication called,
“It’s not about the nail.” [If not, let's catch you up to speed…]
As comical as the sketch is, let’s be honest... there’s a lot of truth to it! As a therapist who works with couples struggling to communicate, here are three recommendations for each partner to improve communication in the relationship:
In the end, it may or may not really be "about the nail," but when it comes to relationships, there's no question that making the effort to improve your communication is the right choice, every time.
Jordan is a Marriage & Family Therapist by profession, but is still holding out to be a professional baseball player for the Washington Nationals when he "grows up."