Did you know that being in a satisfying intimate relationship is good for your emotional and psychological wellbeing? Research shows that being in a good quality ‘marriage-like’ relationship is good for mental health.
Early findings indicated that being married was better for mental health than being single, particularly for men. More recent research indicates that the quality of the relationship is significant, with particular mental health benefits associated with ‘good-quality’ or supportive relationships and a greater likelihood of psychiatric disorder associated with relationship dissatisfaction.
Well, this makes sense when you think about it in practical terms. When you’ve had a rough day, it feels good knowing you have someone who cares about how you’re feeling, someone who will be there to listen. When you’re troubled by something, or when you’re facing a challenge or crisis, being able to share your concerns with another person who cares is comforting. A problem shared does indeed feel like a problem halved.
Similarly, there is pleasure in being able to share your hopes, dreams and achievements with someone who supports you. When we are connected to a significant other in a supportive and loving relationship, we have an awareness that someone ‘has our back’, that someone holds us in their thoughts in a caring way. It’s not difficult to see how this has an impact on our emotional and psychological wellbeing.
You may have noticed that these comments make a general assumption that one’s intimate partner does indeed listen, care and support. Certainly, when we first get together in a relationship, that’s exactly what we do. Usually, when we are dating, we are on our best behaviour. Then, when we decide to enter a committed relationship, we are filled with positive intentions and warmth and goodwill towards our partner.
Over time, the cares and worries of daily life can erode this goodwill and warmth. The busy-ness and challenges of modern life, and sometimes unfinished business or experiences from the past, can interfere in relationships and create distance and disconnect. Couples can find themselves caught in a cycle or pattern of interaction that creates distress and distance, rather than connectedness and warmth.
So, what happens to us when our primary relationship is drifting, when we are feeling disconnected from our partner, or when we are in conflict with them? Not surprisingly, this impacts on our overall wellbeing. According to the research, relationship distress contributes to depression and anxiety.
Again, this makes sense when you think about it in practical term. When relationships are distressed, the behaviours towards each other can include criticism, judgement, arguments, verbal abuse, withdrawal, neglect. I am sure that by just thinking about a relationship characterised by those behaviours, you will get the feeling of how that impacts on your emotional and psychological wellbeing. Even if the relationship is not highly distressed, but just drifting, there can be a feeling of loneliness, sadness or even hopelessness.
And yet, despite general dissatisfaction, some couples plod along in the relationship, choosing not to leave and not to make changes. Even distressed couples who are well aware of their distress, choose to tolerate it for the sake of staying together. I understand that there are all sorts of reasons for choosing to stay in a relationship, and they don’t always involve contentment.
That being said, I also understand that staying in an unsatisfying or distressed relationship can have a negative impact on wellbeing. As mentioned above, the research indicates that relationship distress is linked to depression and anxiety and I’m sure you can see the link for yourself.
It need not be like this. Having acknowledged the dissatisfaction or distress in the relationship, couples have choices around staying together and changing the way they relate, or working towards an amicable separation.
This is where couples counselling can help. Relationship counselling can help couples learn new patterns of interaction that enable them to rebuild or strengthen their relationship and develop a strong positive and supportive connection. Couples CAN create the relationship they want, with greater understanding, connection and warmth. Or, the counselling process can help couples reach a clear decision about separation, and support them in doing so amicably.
Either way, if your primary relationship is dissatisfying or distressing, it can be impacting on your wellbeing and it need not be. Change is possible and help is available.
Relationship Counselling is now available at Inverloch at the Community Hub every Monday, with out of hours and some weekend appointments also available.
There are also books available that can help you understand what is happening in your relationship and identify changes you can make:
“Hold me Tight” by Sue Johnson
“Seven principles for making marriage work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver
The following workbook can also help if you want to strengthen or deepen your relationship:
“An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us” by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald