Have you ever stopped to think about the impact of your relationships on your overall physical health? Scientific research over the past several decades has shown unequivocally that high-quality relationships are one of the most important protective factors in preventing disease. An impressive recent iteration of this research came from Harvard University’s Harvard Study of Adult Development. As one of the world’s longest studies of adult life, this whopping eighty-year longitudinal study proclaimed healthy relationships to be a better predictor in warding off mental and physical decline than your social class, IQ, cholesterol levels and even your genes!
Among married people in particular, marital satisfaction has been proven to be a significant predictor of both men’s and women’s physical and mental health and longevity. Those with happy marriages and without significant marital problems have better overall immune function, less cardiovascular disease, better mood and memory as well as less physical pain than those with unhappy marriages. Those who are not married are not necessarily worse off, but they still need to have close relationships in order to optimize their physical health, whether they be with lovers, friends, or family.
Everybody Needs Somebody
But why is your marriage, or your committed, intimate relationship, so important to your physical health? And why is a bad marriage so bad for your health? It all has to do with the physically damaging effects of interpersonal stress. Let’s face it: There isn’t really any “good” kind of stress. Although you may get a high from working hard on a big presentation for work, even good stress doesn’t feel good when it goes on for too long. All stress needs to have an end to it.The problem with interpersonal stress in a committed relationship is that it tends to be acute and chronic. That’s because when you are committed to someone, you go home to them at the end of the day. In fact, you could say that they are your home. If the relationship is really insecure in terms of the way it functions, you can bet it’s going to take a huge toll on your brain, nervous system and your entire body.
What creates this interpersonal stress in your intimate relationship is anything that your nervous system perceives as threatening behavior from your spouse. The experience of threat is brought about by things like feeling betrayed, abused, neglected, misunderstood, criticized, stonewalled, not trusting the other person, or fighting all the time with no repair. These kinds of ongoing threats don’t just create relationship problems.
Interpersonal Stress Creates Massive Wear and Tear on Your Body
The effects of this interpersonal stress impact all of your body’s major organ systems: metabolic, cardiovascular, immune and neuro-endocrine. Activation of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are useful in the short-term to help you deal with time-limited stressors, but when these biochemicals are overused, it can lead to serious illnesses like hypertension and heart disease, as well as weakening your body’s overall immune function.
As a couple, you can agree to eliminate any behaviors that are threatening to either one of you in your relationship. This means that anything that is perceived as a threat by either partner needs to be taken seriously. This includes first and foremost, dealing with threats to the safety and security of the relationship itself. Once you reach the commitment stage of relationship, if you find yourselves still “auditioning” for the role of intimate partner in each other’s lives, this has to stop. This level of insecurity about whether or not you are going to stay together as a couple will take an immense toll on your physical health. These threats must be dealt with if you really want to solve your relationship problems and build a relationship based on love and trust, not to mention get healthy.
Couples Therapy May Be a Critical Part of Your Healing Journey
Couples therapy can help you create a relationship that is truly fair, sensitive and mutual—“good for me, good for you.” When couples prioritize the safety and security of their relationship and create a system that is truly mutual, they maximize each other’s physical and mental well-being, fostering the optimal conditions for true healing to take root.
If you are looking for someone to walk with you every step of the way to help you and your partner get out of pain, let’s connect on the phone and see how I can help you get the results you want much faster.
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