Relationships play a huge part in our mind and body wellness. If you’re working towards better mind health, it’s important to take some time to consider your friendships and your relationships with family and your partner, if you have one, and even the relationship you have with yourself. Are they healthy, positive and supportive? Making even small improvements – or dealing with any challenging issues – can help you feel better about yourself and the people in your life.
Research shows that people who are more socially connected with others are happier, healthier and live longer than those who aren’t. You’re also less likely to suffer from mental health problems. But it’s important to remember it’s not a numbers game; it’s about quality not quantity. Having thousands of connections on social media, but no close friends in real life, isn’t the same. And living with a toxic relationship is far more damaging than being single.
Building and maintaining healthy relationships is vital for your mental health. But what does a ‘good relationship’ look like? Supportive is the key word here, which means lots of healthy communication.
It pays to start with you. Think about how you ‘talk’ to yourself: how much of your inner chatter is positive and how much is negative? Try to take a more balanced view. Be nice! Say you meant to get to the gym today, but didn’t go; instead of telling yourself you’re fat and lazy, tell yourself it’s fine, you can go tomorrow. You’ll be surprised how soon you begin to feel happier. And this more positive, balanced relationship with yourself will help you take that approach with others too.
When it comes your relationships with the people in your life, good communication is essential. That means, knowing you can both talk openly about your feelings and be heard. Take the time to check in with your partner, friends and family members on a regular basis, and really listen to what they have to say. It can help to repeat a person’s words back to them and ask questions. It’s called being an ‘active listener’ and will help you build really good relationships.
There will be times in any relationships that you disagree and argue, and your emotions take over, which can be difficult to cope with. Again, healthy communication is the answer. Listen to the other person; don’t just assume you know what they’re thinking or about to say. Ask questions to help you understand their point of view. Consider if there’s another way you could look at the situation, or a way to compromise.
No relationship is perfect. But you know it’s healthy if you feel physically and emotionally safe with that person. Can you speak your mind without fear? Do you make decisions together? Are they happy for you when you’re happy? Do you actually enjoy each other’s company?
If you feel unhappy or scared around another person, even if you love them, you could be in a toxic relationship. The signs you’re in a toxic relationship include not feeling supported or encouraged. It may be that your partner criticises you constantly or makes hurtful remarks. They may show signs of jealousy or react angrily, rather than positively, to your successes.
Controlling behaviour is common too: do they always ask where you are or try to stop you seeing certain people? It could be a red flag if you ever lie about where you are or who you’re with to avoid their reaction. If your partner ignores your needs and you always do what they want, regardless of how it affects you, you’re in a toxic relationship.
Remember, if a relationship is affecting your mental health, it’s always ok to leave.
A good relationship, of every kind, also relies on setting clear boundaries. Boundaries are all about respect and understanding that there’s a clear difference between me over here and you over there. They allow you to maintain your individuality and respect the other person’s needs and feelings.
Setting boundaries really means agreeing on what is acceptable behaviour for each person, which can be physical or emotional. An example might be whether you like to hug friends, or whether kissing your partner in public is ok. Maybe you need time alone every day. It might be around financial issues: do you keep separate bank accounts when you move in together; do you always split the bill?
Discussing your feelings and limits early on, will help you to develop a healthy, lasting relationship.