The shelter-in-place order came as a shock to many of us, at times leading to an unfamiliar feeling of being deprived of social interaction, but thanks to modern technology like FaceTime, Zoom and social apps like Houseparty, the resounding consensus is that it actually brought friends and family together. But what about those we were isolating with? The line between healthy relationships and not-so-healthy relationships was thrust to the forefront — the proof lying in surging divorce rates. On the positive side, there seems to be an uptick in the search for wellness in our personal relationships.
According to a 2019 article by Harvard Women’s Health Watch, the absence of meaningful social connections is associated with depression, cognitive decline in later years and an increased mortality rate. One of the studies cited examined data from more than 309,000 people, and found that “a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.” Dating expert Cassie Zampa-Keim of Ross’ Innovative Match says, “Research has linked psychological well-being to physical well-being. Feeling satisfied with your life could decrease your risk for certain illnesses — such as cardiovascular disease — and can be as powerful as the benefits from adequate sleep, a good diet and not smoking.” So what does a healthy romantic relationship entail?
According to Zampa-Keim, “The hallmark of a healthy relationship is the absence of negativity. Wellness reflects the presence of space — for happiness, health, personal satisfaction and mutual respect.” Whether you have just gotten out of a bad relationship, are looking for love or are in a long-term committed relationship, one thing remains constant: “Wellness should be fundamentally intrinsic, meaning you should determine your self-worth using only internal factors, and not external sources,” she says. “The ability to share your life with another, a partner who inspires you to be your best and healthiest self, and is happy for you when you are, can be fulfilling in a way you cannot replicate platonically.”
Sure, romantic relationships are important to most of us, but at the end of the day they are not what define who we are, and surrounding ourselves with people who care about us — friends, family, colleagues — has proven just as significant. Zampa-Keim adds, “It is equally as important for you to have a network of people who know you intimately and would be there for you in your time of need.” But that is not the end of the story. “Wellness can improve or worsen at the drop of a hat, so you need to stay on top of it,” Zampa-Keim says. “To do that, the first healthy relationship you need to work at is the one you have with yourself. Communication is essential — make sure the narrative in your head is a positive one. Understanding your needs lays the groundwork for you to understand your partner’s, and is the foundation to a strong, healthy relationship.”