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Published on February 10, 2014

Healthy Relationships

Showing kindness and compassion can help you live longer

  For more information

The Behavioral Health
physicians and therapists at
Palos Community Hospital
specialize in all types of relationship
issues. For more information about
how we can help, visit us online
or call (708) 226-2721.

For years now, researchers have been reporting happily married people not only experience an overall better quality of life, but they live longer and healthier ones too. Conversely, studies also show negative interactions between people, including friendships, can have a negative impact on your health. Unhealthy relationships can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, physical pain and even chronic diseases.

“Relationships are a fundamental part of a person’s well-being,” says Adnan Arif, M.D., a Palos Heights psychiatrist affiliated with Palos Medical Group. “When people are struggling with their relationships, there can be so much stress on the inside that they can’t deal with the outside.”

As with job stress, relationship stress can cause you to feel anxious and depressed. Quality of life and ability to function may suffer, and you may begin to feel guilty you aren’t functioning as you should. Guilt can compound feelings of stress, and symptoms can become worse.

“It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on itself,” Dr. Arif explains. “It’s like anxiety and depression are a form of low-grade inflammation. People can develop nausea, migraines, body aches and a variety of other stress-related problems, all of which are caused by elevated levels of stress-related neurotransmitters in the body.”

You’ve Got to Have Heart

Conversely, a healthy relationship provides empathy, feedback, positive reinforcement, mutual support and comfort, and a sense of cohesiveness that helps people feel safe and protected. “A healthy relationship can actually reduce stress and improve your health and well-being,” says Mona Lal, M.D., a Palos Heights psychiatrist affiliated with Palos Medical Group. “A healthy relationship is empowering, energizing, encouraging and understanding.”

Dr. Lal shares her top tips for building stronger, more supportive relationships:

  1. Start with active listening. The goal is to let the other person know they are being heard, and one way to do that is by mirroring, or repeating, their feelings back to them.
  2. Don’t get into a conversation just to prove your point or to prove you’re right. Instead, work on resolving situations by exploring alternative solutions. The idea is to create a win/win situation for both parties.
  3. Don’t play the blame game. It’s easy to put the blame on someone else, but you have to hold back that tendency. Instead, try the opposite approach and ask yourself what changes you can make to improve the relationship. If you empower yourself to make a change, you won’t feel like a helpless victim.
  4. Always assume the best in someone.  
  5. Try not to take situations or criticism too personally.
  6. Don’t be too confrontational when there’s a problem. Express your feelings but then listen to the other person’s. Treating people with respect and care is paramount.
  7. Be committed to the relationship. If you consistently focus on the well-being of the other person – be it a marriage, friendship, being a parent or at work –positive energy will manifest in the relationship, and not only will you earn each other’s respect, but you also will prove your integrity.

If these strategies don’t result in stronger bonds, you may need to seek help. “When a relationship starts to affect you to the point you can’t focus or function,” says Dr. Lal, “and it’s starting to manifest in such physical symptoms as insomnia, anxiety, isolation and depression, then you have to think about consulting a professional.”