How Interpersonal Connections Impact Our Well-Being
A psychotherapist breaks down the role relationships play in our physical and mental health and ways to maximize their benefits.
Relationships influence various aspects of our lives, whether we’re cognizant of their impact or not. We all have our own ways of approaching, developing, and nurturing these connections. We often do it without considering the flip side: how do they nurture and benefit us? Our connection to ourselves and the people in our lives play a role in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Tapping into this awareness can make our relationships stronger and healthier for our well-being.
Sadaf Siddiqi is a New York City-based psychotherapist and founder of the digital mental health brand Being. Siddiqi emphasizes the power of a secure relationship, which she describes as “one of the most fulfilling experiences” that one can have as a human. She tells rē•spin, “Your ability to show up in healthy ways will often be impacted by experiences starting in your childhood. While you can’t change your past, you are responsible for taking ownership of your future — and that starts in the present.”
The multidimensional effect of relationships on our health and well-being
Studies have shown that healthy relationships — whether familial, friendship, or romantic — are linked to higher self-esteem and lower chances of developing anxiety or depression. Romance, specifically, can even change our brain chemistry. Siddiqi explains, “Oxytocin is a hormone that is often attributed to love because it’s released during affectionate physical contact, like cuddling or hugging. This creates intimacy between people and helps them develop a stronger bond.”
On the other end of the spectrum, relationships that skew towards negativity have been shown through studies to have the ability to impact not only our mental health but also our physical health over time. This has overarching consequences on our overall well-being. This can show up in the form of a lowered immune response and ailments such as migraines and stomach issues.
“In our everyday life, relationships have the power to provide support, comfort, and companionship, which are things that we all need to thrive,” Siddiqi says. “In the presence of harmful behaviors like contempt or criticism, relationships can decrease our overall quality of life by adding to our stress levels. This impacts things like our ability to sleep, focus at work, and how we connect with others.”
Communication and compromise
There’s a saying that the hallmark of a healthy relationship is an easy relationship. Siddiqi says that notion belongs in the land of romantic myths and misconceptions. Even the most secure relationships require work to continue to mature over time. “You will need to communicate and compromise to the best of your ability throughout all of the stages of your time together,” says Siddiqi. “This means working together to find the right balance of boundaries, support, and honoring each other’s love languages.”
When we forge a romantic connection, there can be unrealistic expectations. We may even believe that our partner will automatically understand what we need and vice versa. While emotional connection and deep understanding of one another is important, we cannot expect partners to read our minds. Siddiqi suggests taking the guesswork out of these situations. “While it’s true that some people may be more attuned to you, in a healthy relationship, it’s your responsibility to express your thoughts and feelings with your partner,” she says.
In an ideal world, interpersonal relationships — whether romantic or not — are 50/50 in terms of how much each person is willing to invest in them. Yet we all know that’s not how humans operate in a flawed and nuanced world. This is especially true topped with our ever-changing emotions. Some days, we may have more to offer than others. “That’s okay, as long as you are communicating and being honest with each other,” says Siddiqi, who emphasizes the importance of engaging in transparent and honest dialogue. This is especially true when you’re overwhelmed and asking for help.
The benefits of boundaries
Setting boundaries with others and ourselves is key to creating healthy relationships. It also helps us to maintain our mental and physical well-being. Siddiqi describes personal boundaries as understanding your own limits and being able to properly regulate your emotions. It is also ensuring you’re developing and maintaining an identity outside of your relationships. “It’s a great way to avoid codependency or people-pleasing,” she says.
Establishing boundaries with a romantic partner can encompass everything from expressing your needs to being upfront about acceptable behaviors. Show your vulnerability with intention, suggests Siddiqi, who explains this concept as sharing your feelings without engaging in what she calls “emotionally dumping.”