Positive relationships with friends and loved ones are associated with better physical and mental health. Research has shown that healthy relationships can help people stay healthier, recover from illness more quickly, and even live longer.
But, having a healthy relationship, no matter how much you care for the other person, takes effort and hard work.
“Relationships are like bank accounts where we make deposits and withdrawals all the time,” comments Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health psychologist. “There are some simple things that we can do to keep the relationship healthy and ensure, like a bank account, they are never overdrawn.”
Mirgain offers four recommendations for helping maintain positive relationships:
Make Time Together a Priority
Between work, kids, volunteer activities and personal interests, it can be easy for quality time together to get lost in the shuffle. But, it’s important to protect time with your partner.
“Revive date night,” suggests Mirgaine. “Protect your time together and make sure when you are together, you’re focused on each other.”
That means no talking about the kids over a romantic dinner, and leaving the to-dos for another day.
Mirgain is also quick to point out time with a partner isn’t the only priority. Friendships need nurturing too. Finding time with close friends can be challenging, but is equally important. Making time for our important relationships keeps them healthy and may be one of the most significant investments that we make.
Make Small Deposits Frequently
Mirgain explains that when it comes to the relationship bank account, a deposit is something that makes the other person feel valued, understood and appreciated.
“It’s doing small things over time that build large relationship account balances,” she says.
Mirgain points to research on marriage that found solid stable couples had five times as many positive interactions as negative ones. And, there were five times as many deposits as withdrawals.
Mirgain suggests thinking about gestures that say, “I care about you” or “I was thinking about you” to the other person, and then do them often.
It could be as simple as giving a compliment or a hug, speaking with kindness, encouraging the other person toward a goal or even just smiling more.
“These deposits are simple ones but are at the center of a healthy relationship,” comments Mirgain.
Communicate on a Regular Basis
It’s so easy to assume the other person knows what you need or want. And get frustrated when he or she doesn’t respond like you need. But the reality is, no matter how well you know each other, it’s impossible to read each other’s minds.
“Relationships stay healthy when both people are talking, including sharing their feelings, opinions, needs and concerns,” says Mirgain.
It’s important to talk about issues as they occur, rather than let frustrations pile up. And when you talk, Mirgain says be mindful of how you approach the conversation.
“When giving feedback use ‘I’ language instead of “you,'” she explains. “‘I feel’ or ‘I need’, instead of ‘You never listen.’ Try to walk in the other person’s shoes for a while and express empathy for his or her experiences.”
Resolve Conflicts at the Right Time and with Kindness
While you should deal with issues that as they arise, it’s also important to remember timing is everything. You may be tempted to handle the problem right away, but if you’re both upset, it could just make matters worse. Instead, wait until both of you have had a chance to cool off.
“Take a deep breath and calm yourself, which can even mean going for a walk,” says Mirgain. “You will have a more productive discussion if you can step back and agree to return to the issue when you’re both calmer.”
While you can apologize, you can never take back words once they’re spoken. So try to remember to keep comments focused on the issue, not the person.
“Communicating with contempt for the other person, being defensive or belittling the other person’s views can truly hurt a relationship,” says Mirgain. “When we think of the bank account analogy, over time the negative communication style can overdraw the account.”
It can be easy to take the relationships in our lives for granted. But, by being mindful and making frequent deposits in the relationship account, we can truly enjoy our loved ones and better health.
University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority