Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
Julie and Sergei were in my office wondering what was going wrong. We see other couples hand in hand, talking, laughing. So good together, happy, in love. But we struggle. We barely talk, and if we do, we argue. We both want a good relationship. This doesn’t feel right.
If both of you really want it better, you can have it better.
I shared some true stories of people on cloud nine. People like …
Musicians Helen and John, together nine years and touring overseas lots. We met while studying at the conservatorium. We’re best friend, lovers, and we make beautiful music together all the time.
Professionals Charles and Marlene, together three years after messy divorces. We’re both so happy! He hates it whenever I’m away. We have a real spark, and great sex. He treats me like an angel. Life couldn’t be better.
School teachers Sandra and Phillip, together thirteen years and love their weekly Latin dancing. When my sister divorced, I told Sandra we would never break up. Why should we? We laugh, have fun and keep fit together. Having kids has added to our happiness.
We all want it. Life on cloud nine: love, laughter, fun, sex and glamour.
Don’t be fooled though. I know all of these real-life couples. They seemed happy, but are all now divorced.
You just don’t know what’s going on in another relationship. Chances are that they go through tough times, just like you, and have problems, just like you.
Don’t compare your problems with other couples’ appearances
A good, strong relationship actually lives on cloud eight, enjoying good times and sticking together through hard times. Here’s the reality, the stories of real-life “cloud eight” couples.
Alma and Freddy, three kids, twenty-two years together. We don’t handle conflict well and we don’t resolve things. She battles depression, and I often feel alone with my work stress. But my wife and family are the best thing that ever happened to me.
Colleen and Bill, together fourteen years, run a crisis centre for homeless children. Soon after we married he had an affair. It hurt bad. I still cry about it. It’s made me more jealous and controlling. Still, he knows me so well. He knows how to make me happy. And he does. I’m thankful, even though it’ll never be perfect.
Skye and Kyle, seven years together after separate divorces. Kyle is unemployed and PTSD-anger plagues him. Skye is understanding, but struggles with her weight and low mood. Living with mental illness is no fun, but when he’s well and it’s just the two of us, life is amazing.
Iris and Vlad, together forty-two years.
I know her well. You don’t think her demands, criticisms, and moods drive me crazy? The hell they do. But she’s also loving and caring. A good woman.
Oh yeah? Well he’s a selfish slob who drinks too much. But he’s loyal, patient, and warm. A good man.
Sorry to burst your romantic bubble, but a real relationship takes the good with the bad. It stays together through big problems, and yes, I know that some problems can get very big.
It’s OK to have problems. It’s great if you can handle them. It’s just not helpful to walk away from them. Work on life on cloud eight with occasional visits to cloud nine.
Science have proven the benefits of a personal relationship:
It protects your emotional health and wellbeing.[i]
It protects your physical health.[ii]
It protects you against loneliness.[iii]
It protects your resilience.[iv]
It protects you against unhappiness.[v]
It protects you against addictions.[vi]
It protects you against anxiety, bipolar and depression.[vii]
It protects you against suicide.[viii]
This is not idealistic babble. This is scientific fact. No pill can do all this. A good relationship is your great asset. It lets you share good times, share bad times, and journey together through this crazy thing called life. If your relationship is good, you end up with half the problems and twice the fun, even if that means life on cloud eight.
On your deathbed, you won’t be counting up the money or the travel adventures, you’ll ask yourself have I loved and have I been loved?
Love is life’s bottom line.
Next month I’ll talk about handling relationship problems.
[i] Waite, Linda J., and Evelyn L. Lehrer. "The benefits from marriage and religion in the United States: A comparative analysis." Population and Development Review 29.2 (2003): 255-275.
[ii] Wilson, Chris M., and Andrew J. Oswald. "How does marriage affect physical and psychological health? A survey of the longitudinal evidence." (2005).
[iii] Woodward, John C., Jackie Zabel, and Cheryl DeCosta. "Loneliness and divorce." Journal of Divorce 4.1 (1981): 73-82, and de Jong Gierveld, Jenny, Theo Van Tilburg, and Pearl Dykstra. "Loneliness and social isolation." (2016).
[iv] Oswald, Ramona Faith. "Resilience within the family networks of lesbians and gay men: Intentionality and redefinition." Journal of Marriage and Family 64.2 (2002): 374-383.
[v] Easterlin, Richard A. "Explaining happiness." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100.19 (2003): 11176-11183.
[vi] Johann Hari “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY9DcIMGxMs retrieved 26 May 2017.
[vii] Weissman, Myrna M., et al. "Cross-national epidemiology of major depression and bipolar disorder." Jama 276.4 (1996): 293-299.
[viii] See for example Trovato, Frank. "A longitudinal analysis of divorce and suicide in Canada." Journal of Marriage and the Family (1987): 193-203, and Stack, Steven. "The impact of divorce on suicide in Norway, 1951-1980." Journal of Marriage and the Family (1989): 229-238.
Over the past years, Caroline’s relationship stories have been aimed at letting you know that it’s OK to make mistakes, and that your relationship is your greatest asset. They have a magic as she is able to weave together ideas worth pondering in the context of a simple events or nature-filled landscapes.
As Caroline takes a break, I’ll take this more into the direction of sharing practical information, derived from my clinical practice, for you to use to make goodness in your relationship more of a reality. Making a good thing better. Caroline will still choose the photographs, though, she’s quite proud of her vast collection of intriguing nature shots. The main message is simple:
Your relationship is your greatest asset.
It’s worth investing in it further
To make a good thing better.
Long-term relationships are the spice of life. They are the reason so many people are happy. They are the reason some are unhappy; they want their relationship to be better. Long-term relationships can hurt and heal. They promote love and life; anger and resentment; sadness and joy. They’re complex. If you are brave enough to have opted in to one of these, then you have chosen to live life more deeply, more intensely and more meaningfully.
If the bravery of committing to a long-term relationship has left you shaking at the knees, join the club. Welcome to life on cloud eight. (Though we still plan occasional visits to cloud nine.) Caroline and I have been in relationship for over thirty-five years and it has filled our lives with love, joy, warmth and happiness. It’s also been the source of frustration, pain, problems and hurt. Neither of us get it right all the time and our relationship is a lot of work; but the lasting love is worth every exasperating moment and every aching argument.
What’s the one thing that people long for the most?
A long-term relationship.
Not the fairy-tale, but the reality.
A good, solid long-term relationship can give belonging, love, security, protection, a shoulder to cry on, someone with whom to share joy, sadness, love, sex, hopes, dreams and successes and failures. It gives us the opportunity to grow old with someone. It protects us from naval-gazing, selfishness, drifting, getting lost, and, above all, it protects us from loneliness. The brain hates loneliness. Many fears and vices – alcohol excess, drug use, gambling, risky sex – are borne of loneliness.
As a psychiatrist, I have seen the struggle of people in unhappy relationships: drudgery, broken dreams and unreasonable compromise. I have seen people lead problem lives because of problem relationships instead of powerful lives because of powerful relationships. I have seen the devastating impact of separation and divorce. Divorce is a large risk factor for suicide. It often triggers a major depressive episode. I’ve also seen the elation of two people as they work it out and keep it together.
When the going gets tough, it seems our society offers us two choices: break-up or live with unhappy compromise. But there is a third and very viable alternative: nurture your relationship so that it flourishes. Nurture means work, like tilling a garden, but it also means pleasure and joy from the blossoms, fruit and seasons weathered and overcome. In a relationship that may have been battered by the demands of a too-busy society, that means rediscovering the person you first fell in love with; rediscovering the fun things you shared; rediscovering the joy of just beginning to know and trust someone deeper; and bravely being your authentic self to go over deeper.
No matter how tough the going gets, the person you once fell in love with is right in front of you.
Keep talking. Share life. Share more.
A healthy relationship will have its fun but you’ll also need to work through minor rights violations (you’re being a jerk) and tolerate human frailty (now, you’re being silly). You’ll need to tolerate a tendency to be hurtful, while striving for harmony. Working through these frustrating things is the hallmark of a healthy relationship.
It’s a windy day . We’re sitting on the beach watching the breakers. A flash of chestnut and white swoops down in front of us to snatch a small fish held out by a kindly fisherman. It was one of two Brahminy Kites that own the skies over the stretch of sand we walk each day. We named them Juan and Svetlana. I don’t know why.
They seem to be always together. Not always flying together, wing-in-wing but always keeping a Kite eye out. We have watched them battling wild weather, playing games, and searching for food. Committed. Attached. Alive.
They are not looking out for a better deal.
They are not afraid the other will leave them.
Their eyes are on each other and they battle life together. Other predators attempt to overwhelm them. But they are so much stronger together.
I started thinking about all the predators that threaten relationships in our society: commitment-phobia, the fear of missing out, our focus on productivity over relationships, career opportunities, the lure of transient sex, and the list goes on. Commitment is the seemingly largest hurdle.
That both people need to commit to stay together is self-evident. Sometimes one person says that they will commit to the relationship provided they get a better deal. A healed relationship, with mutual give and take, is a better deal. Commitment allows your relationship to become your greatest asset. The most helpful attitude is doing whatever it takes to achieve this.
Thanks to stability from commitment; love can grow way beyond the honeymoon period. The longer two people are together, the more attached they become, and the more love there can be. This happens with commitment. (Provided you spring clean your conflict bugs). It’s the fairy-tale “ever after” bit of “happy ever after.” It’s living the dream of growing old together. If you want “happy for a short time only while the fun lasts,” you are not ready for a long-term relationship.
I’m not sure if it was Juan or Svetlana who had secured the evening meal. It didn’t matter. It was refreshing to see that the Kites seemed unburdened by years of gender roles. We watched as the Kite battled against, but overcame, a very powerful gust of wind and flew back to the nest with their heavy earnings.
Treat your relationship as a secure anchor in a world of change, difficulty and uncertainty. Affirm your love, commitment and support often, in words and actions. You’ll by making your relationship stronger by doing this.
Commit to loving. You want love, right?
Above all, never stop trying.
People don’t break up because they stop loving., they break up because they stop trying.
Their commitment fails to meet the wind.
Both my parents are over 90. I recently had the privilege of being on a holiday with them. We had dinner together, watched movies, played some gentle sports, did a bit of dancing, spent time just staring at the sky.
Yes, they were doing all of these things and more at 90. Amazing!
They have been together for 66 years.
A lot of what they talked about were simple things:
Mum always having a dinner waiting for Dad
Dad’s protection of Mum (even when she protested!)
Mum’s intuitive way of bringing my father into conversations.
Just before our trip, my Mum got really sick.
“He was wonderful, nothing was too much for him to do. He took such gentle and loving care of me.”
I have been thinking about this idea of what romance really is for a long time now. On this holiday, the answer was right in front of me.
Being romantic is being selfless.
Romance involves giving, going out of your way, spending time, spending money, showing you care and fulfilling some of your partners needs rather than your own. We tend to like it when someone goes out of their way for us. If we could have more of that for ourselves, and do more of that for someone else, life would be better. Your relationship certainly would.
Selflessness doesn’t sound very romantic or sexy does it? But it is. Especially in our contemporary world where individualism and getting what you want and need in a relationship seems to be of paramount importance: selflessness appears more of an inconvenience than something to strive for. If you want your relationship to last for a good while, then give selflessness a go.
Here are some tips on being selfless to your love partner:
Compliment them honestly on something, anything, everything.
Listen, listen, listen to what they say, mean and feel. Listening is a very selfless act.
Appreciate who they are: their body, mind, mannerisms and aspirations.
Ponder what you can do to bring a smile to their face today.
Show genuine compassion and concern for their parents and siblings.
Be grateful for how they enrich your life.
Say ‘thank you’ often.
Seek to understand them.
Think of how you can help fulfil their emotional, physical, intellectual and social needs.
After a wonderful two weeks together, I watched my parents walk down a corridor back to their room after I said goodbye. It is difficult for each of them to walk alone. So they hold each other up. That image will stay with me forever. True selflessness is holding each other up through good times and tough times.
I used to lie to Christian.
Sure, I’ve never cheated on him or stolen from him, but I’ve lied.
(Christian lies too, but a lot less and he tries not to.)
I lied about how much I had spent clothes shopping.
I lied about what I thought about other people.
I lied about what I had disclosed about him to friends.
I lied about what I was really feeling.
So…what’s wrong with that. Everyone lies don’t they?
We were having this conversation while walking along a lonely beach.
We talked about how we are at one of those points in history when it’s become socially acceptable to lie. In this post-truth age, the media, the political world, the business world, and many other areas of society sanction and even applaud lying. Lying is not frowned upon. Getting caught lying is.
I thought I was very clever when I got away with lying: “Ha! He didn’t know.” “Great, won that one.”
When he suspected I was lying, I doubled my efforts to cover it up with more lies. (BTW, this is not that easy for me to be disclosing – it’s making me cringe).
Pride. Shame. Guilt.
“So what happened? Why did you stop lying?” Christian asked.
“You started calling me out on it. Oooh that hurt.”
But it wasn’t only that. I realised that I was getting myself into tighter knots.
From Christian’s perspective, if I was lying about seemingly small things, was I lying about the glue of our relationship?
What if I was lying when I said “I love you”?
I looked down at the sand, remembering what a mess I had gotten into.
A sand bubbler crab surfaced out of its hole and was leaving its sand balls everywhere. At first I thought it was an intricate planned pattern. But as I looked closer I couldn’t see any reasoning or patterns. Just a mess.
It reminded me of the tangled web of deceit I had been weaving.
As I moved closer, the crab scurried back into its hole. Yes, that was it. I had been afraid of being my authentic self. Too afraid of rejection. Of not being loved for who I truly was.
Not lying is a risk. You can never be guaranteed that someone is going to accept all of you. But the aim is always to grow together and this will always mean taking the good and the bad while reaching towards as much good as you can.
You need to live with authenticity: to think, say, and do what you believe and have it line up with what you feel you believe. Your brain wants integrity. Inauthenticity leads to self-loathing and depression. When we can be our true selves, we can share that truth with another person. When we live the mask, we share lies.
Lying is the antithesis of living authentically and being true to your self.
As we turned to go back home I shared a thought, “What if both people in a love-relationship are lying?”
“I see this so often in couple’s therapy. They need to reach for a deeper truth where you are able to accept the other person for their strengths, their faults, and even their lies because of the love. It’s deeper trust for realer love” said Christian.
I still lie about little things. Old habits and templates from childhood are very difficult to break. But I try to be authentic daily. I want the foundations of our relationship to be built on solid, trustworthy ground. Not on sand.
Tears were streaming down his face as his wife recalled that terrible moment from their wedding 14 years ago when she collapsed.
“I had lost a lot of weight for my wedding. I was trying to impress.”
“He wasn’t there at the church when I arrived, where was he?”
We were talking with some acquaintances in New York City, (originally from Naples). They shared their story of heartbreak and triumph with us.
Stefano was late, delayed by his mother. Still trying to convince her to come to the wedding. She wouldn’t budge. Nicola, (not Italian), was not considered good enough for her youngest boy.
Shortly after their vows, under the scornful gaze of her new in-laws, exhausted, anxious and fearful, Nicola collapsed. Stefano explained
“She just fell down into my arms, my beautiful bride. I remember, I wrapped her in my jacket until she came to.”
For their early marriage, everything was against them: family, finances, cultural differences. They argued ferociously. His family were trying to pull him away from her. She was feisty, ambitious and prone to outbursts. He was calmer but torn. They were pulling them in different directions. After five years, Stefano’s mother had not even met Nicola. He visited his mother once a week. It was a sore point between them. He started spending more and more time at family gatherings. She threw herself into her work.
They were pulling in different directions.
They were doing less and less together. Nicola felt she couldn’t say anything about Stefano’s family and Stefano felt he had no right to ask Nicola to cut back on her long work hours and time spent with her girlfriends. They respected each other’s right to live the way they each wanted. They gave each other freedom. That’s what marriage is about isn’t it?
I squeezed Christian’s hand tighter. (We’re aware of the “rights” and “freedom” point of view.)
Just being in a relationship with each other curtails your freedom.
I have a right to do what I want. Sure you do, even if it hurts. For many people, the effort a long term relationship needs is too much of a demand on their individual freedom. They also don’t want to infringe on someone else’s freedom by making demands. People reluctant to limit each other’s freedom may break up: I don’t want to limit your freedom, and I don’t want you to limit mine, so bye-bye.
Yet, as people, we always put demands on each other: from a demand that others won’t kill us, to a demand that you drive on your side of the road, to an expectation that others add to our happiness. Every close person limits your freedom in a profound way. A long term relationship makes demands: not sleeping with others, not hitting to get your way, and not being a total slob.
Without any demands, yes, the arguments stopped, but they started growing apart. They told their friends that this was the ultimate marriage, that they had worked things out, but they confided to us that that was one of the loneliest and most heartbreaking times in their relationship. Even the arguing was better.
One mid-winter’s night they decided to end their “perfect freedom marriage.” Stefano explained:
“The boiler had broken again and it was freezing cold. We made the decision and decided to say goodbye forever. Nicola was shivering. We both were. From the cold in the air and the cold in our hearts. I took my jacket off and wrapped her in it. She looked up at me with sad, sad eyes. Then we both cried. The memory of that moment long ago at the wedding came back to me, when I had wrapped my darling bride in my jacket.‘
“What can I do to make it right again?” he said.
“Choose me” Nicola said in a hesitant voice.
“Choose me too” replied Stefano.
From that point on Stefano never saw his mother again. Nicola cut back on her gruelling work hours. They now have a family of their own and spend every spare minute they have together.
A close, personal relationship makes many demands. Having someone make these demands is actually part of the happiness and bliss. It is part of that wonderful feeling of belonging. Both people make demands; both make sacrifices.
Nicola and Stefano still don’t have much money and they still argue, but hanging on their coat rack just beside their front door is a well-worn jacket that was all that was needed to hold their love together.
When you hear those two words, what do you think “it” is? A football game? A meeting? A meal?
“It” is the most important thing we crave above all else, whether we are willing to admit it or not. “It” is a love relationship. Just ask someone who has had a love relationship then lost it, or someone who is not in one.
How many times a day are those two words said worldwide?
We do know, however, that statistically the most common reason for “it’s over” in a marriage is an affair. So its common. So heaps of people are doing it. Does that stop the hurt? Is there any way to get over the hurt?
Ok, so today we are touching on the big one: infidelity. The seemingly unforgivable. I can’t say here what can be written in books or said by therapists. But I do want to touch upon one of the most important steps in the forgiveness process: deciding to forgive.
“He only told me about the affair three years after it was over. I had no idea. How could I be that gullible? It was a work colleague. I was at home with our twins, barely two-years-old. He was ‘working back late’ to pay off our mortgage. It wasn’t just the affair, it was knowing that the person I loved lied to me and accepted my love while he shared his with somebody else. Then he continued to lie. It shattered me.”
World falling apart.
Dreams ripped to shreds.
Aching inside that never leaves.
Deep, deep hurt.
This is what Christian hears behind the closed doors of his office.
A while back, I wrote about Georgia and Sam who went through an “it’s over.” They have found a way to reconcile, but Georgia has since told me there was an affair involved in their breakup and she is finding it hard to forgive Sam.
“It just hurts so much. I keep thinking about him giving his love to another woman. He says it was just physical, that it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it doesn’t help. Why wasn’t my love enough for him?”
She started crying. So much hurt.
“I want to forgive him but how can I even consider forgiving when I feel physically sick every time I think about it?” She was torturing herself.
Infidelity, if it is to be forgiven, needs to be understood and strong feelings processed. This is difficult. It leaves an emotional scar from which many relationships do not recover. How to handle an affair depends on your personal values and the values you forged as a couple. There is no right or easy answer. Each relationship is different.
The contract at the beginning of any love-relationship usually includes there are some things we won’t do with others, one of them is expressing physical intimacy. This is usually expressed in marriage vows, an agreement of sexual exclusivity, or some shared understanding discussed or assumed early in a relationship. An affair acts against this core contract; the sense of betrayal is great. It’s serious: when you’re in breach of contract, the deal’s off.
Getting past an affair means being aware of the damage done to the contract. It will mean putting together a new contract. There are many ways to do this (See Heim “Forgive”)
Re-writing a love contract is a start. A good start. Often the couples will need a therapist to help guide them through. But you have to want to forgive in the first place. You have to decide to forgive. We talked about that first step last week: deciding.
“I want to forgive him. You see, there’s the kids, my parents, our friends” Georgia continued.
“But what about you?” I said
“I still can’t believe he did that to me. I’m still in shock.” Georgia continued.
The second step to forgiving is accepting. Accepting that it really happened.
“Yes, that’s the hard part, accepting that it happened” I replied.
Georgia continued blow-drying my hair. “You’ve got quite a few grey hairs starting here”
“What! Where? No I don’t!” I retorted.
“Caroline, you have to accept that you will go grey one day.”
We both laughed. It felt good and eased some of her pain.
“I still don’t know how to start forgiving.” She sighed.
“You’ve started.” I replied. “You’ve decided to choose love over payback. It’s powerful.”
I think Georgia will make it, but it’s a long road ahead. They’ve decided not to go with the therapist and work through the issues themselves. But they’ve decided to work on it, so their chances of success are much greater.
I want to let you know that I will now be posting monthly. Please look out for it around the beginning of each month or subscribe to get it directly into your inbox (you can unsubscribe at any time).
“Goodnight” Christian said.
I didn’t want to say goodnight. I didn’t want to say good morning, I didn’t want to say anything.
This was the night after our last argument. (I wrote about it a few months ago.)
I didn’t want to reconcile, I didn’t want to keep talking about it, I just wanted it all to go away.
I had just been editing some of Christian’s writings and remembered this:
Forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation; you don’t necessarily need to be back in relationship to forgive. With your love-partner, however, you need to reconcile. It’s part of the deal. Otherwise you can’t go on living together comfortably. Without reconciling, you’re in a stand-off, a cold war; the relationship virtually ends: sure, I forgive you, I just don’t want to talk to you anymore.
Part of the deal? Really?? (It is so annoying to be married sometimes.)
I also had a proverb going round and round in my head. I had been at a meeting at a service club during the week and we had to write a piece of advice in a card for one of the members that was getting married. About one third of the members had written:
“Don’t go to sleep while you’re still angry with each other.”
Far out! All these “shoulds” screaming in my ears. I hate “shoulds” and spend most of my life getting rid of them.
To stops the “shoulds” I started thinking about what we were arguing about and tried to make sense of it. Christian had said some things that hurt me and I said some more hurtful things that surprised even me. They seemed to come from left of the Nullarbor (a huge, flat, arid desert in South Australia).
Why would a person who loves you want to hurt you? In most cases, they don’t. They don’t mean to. But something inside them “makes” them do it: conflicting emotions, strong desires, unmet needs, unfulfilled ambition, greed, selfishness, jealousy or some other inner conflict. Something. Rarely is someone just mean.
Sometimes, you, their love-partner, become collateral damage in a desperate struggle happening deep inside their head. Your relationship mirrors what’s going on for them:
People who criticize are usually very self-critical
Hard task-masters are usually very hard on themselves
People who lie often, often lie to themselves
People who say they hate you, often hate themselves
People who push you away, often feel unworthy of love
People may hurt you to hurt themselves: self-sabotage
People who are insecure will test you to see if you are loyal
People who manipulate are usually deeply insecure
OK, so something was going on inside me and I was working it out on Christian. This needed much more thought. But right now I needed to do something to reconcile. Even though I didn’t really want to, I wanted to at the same time. (Humans are so complex and contradictory.)
“Goodnight” he said again … I begrudgingly gave him my hand.
There’s something powerful about touch. In the soft pressure of his hand I realised that Christian was my greatest ally … against myself and my own sometimes terrifying thoughts. As I was his greatest ally against his own terrifying thoughts.
“I’m sorry and … I … forgive you for what you said.” (sort of.)
It was a bit strained, a bit forced, a bit artificial, but there was a huge part of me that wanted to reconcile. (After I said it I felt my temperature go back to normal.)
“Me too” he replied.
At least we were talking again.
Love. It will keep getting up and trying again. It will work hard to forgive when hurt (even if it doesn’t want to). And it will wake up in the morning with fresh eyes and a heart that knows that its greatest ally is the person walking beside you.
We only hurt the ones we love the most.
I believe New Year’s resolutions are overrated.
I also believe that daily resolutions are underrated.
Each day has new possibilities a new sun rises. Each day you can make good choices.
I just don’t think it should be done only once a year and tied to a calendar date. I see so many people fail miserably by February. They let themselves down and feel worse than before.
The two most common New Year’s resolutions are related to health:
I’m going to eat healthier
I’m going to get more exercise
Your relationship is not only your greatest asset, it’s your greatest health benefit too. It saves you from the negative effects of bad health: especially mental health issues.
They protect your emotional health and wellbeing.
They protect your physical health.
They protect you against loneliness.
They protect your resilience.
They protect you against unhappiness.
They protect you against addictions.
They protect you against anxiety, bipolar and depression.
They protect you against suicide.
Every one of these facts has at least one scientific study to back them up (See Heim 2016, 4). This is not idealistic babble or romantic rubbish. This is scientific fact. No pill can do all this. No amount of exercise can do all of this. No special diet can do all of this.
If you want to do something on New Year’s day to help your health, take the below relationship health check. All of these questions cover aspects that we have looked at over the past year. Click on each question to link to each entry. They are related to questions about your love partner, but nearly all can be applied to any very close relationship that you are invested in.
When your partner needs to share something, do you really listen?
Do you avoid conflict in your relationship just to hide from the truth?
Do you trust your partner enough to let them know what’s really going on inside?
Do you rate the health of your relationship by comparing it to others?
Do you use the “cold shoulder” as silent warfare in your relationship?
Are there unspoken words between you that you don’t have the courage to say?
Do resentful thoughts separate you from your love-partner and feed your pride?
Are there family or friends speaking poisonous words into your relationship?
Are you so different that you seem to always be in conflict?
How honest are you in your relationship?
Are you loving your partner the way they need and want to be loved?
Are you on top of all of these aspects of your relationship? We certainly are not. But each new day of the year is fresh start, an opportunity to work on your relationship in some way. When you are working on your relationship, you are working on your health: physical, mental and emotional.
Look forward, love forward. Happy New Relationship, every day, from us both.
“Great view from up here.”
“Looks like more rain.”
“Crazy weather huh?”
We had climbed a small mountain and a young man started up a conversation with us. He was alone and, we sensed, was hungry for a talk, some human connection, anything to assuage the aching loneliness in his eyes. The small talk was like cotton candy, nothing lasting. When he left us he still seemed sad.
We stayed up for another half hour, soaking in the fresh air and glorious views. Two sea eagles swooped and circled around each other. A couple took selfies. Two joggers past us on their way down. Everyone seemed to have someone to share the experience with. Except the young man.
Except thousands of people worldwide at Christmas.
Mother Theresa said that poverty was not the biggest problem in the world … it was loneliness. And the late Robin Williams said that loneliness was not being alone, it was being surrounded by a group of people who make you feel like you are alone.
You can be lonely in a crowd.
Lonely when you stop work (a great day-time companion).
Lonely when your kids leave home.
Lonely in a relationship.
Lonely in a meaningless job.
Lonely when you move house.
And then there are the big ones: lonely because you have been abandoned, family members have died, you are divorced or separated and haven’t found anyone.
We all experience loneliness to some degree.
I know this is heavy to contemplate at the season of hope and joy. But please keep reading, there is hope.
As we descended the mountain I felt heavy. My heart despaired for all those that would be alone again this Christmas. I had to get myself together, we had an event to prepare for.
Wherever we live, we hold Christmas Carols for people. We have just moved and we didn’t know any of our new neighbours, but left invites in mailboxes anyway. We spent all afternoon preparing the house, baking gingerbread, decorating the tree, but we were tinged with sadness. The empty heart-shaped gingerbread reminded me that our boys were far away. They’ve left us. It hurts.
Christian sees the devastating effects of loneliness too often.
Loneliness is a bitter experience. Intense, prolonged loneliness is a risk factor for suicide. We go to extensive efforts to avoid it. Our brain drives us to find a bad relationship in the absence of a good one, or to feel good through alcohol, drugs or other addictions. Loneliness, depression and addiction are closely connected.
The time came for people to arrive. The music was on, the candles were lit. We waited. No one came. We felt worse.
Just as I went to blow out the candles we heard a knock at the door. Ten people, young and old, spilled over the threshold, laughing and chatting. My heart soared. We shared drinks, talked, laughed, ate and sang carols. Unbelievable. Strangers. We found out we were all displaced people, from all over the world. We all were hungry for companionship, togetherness and community.
As obvious as it sounds, the best way to overcome loneliness is to be with people and share smiles, hugs and laughs. Being around people raises oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine to bring about good feelings.
But what if you are alone … really alone on Christmas? We know that “all is not calm, all is not bright” for many, many people. Those that cry themselves to sleep. (And who am I to talk about real loneliness?)
The next day we received a phone call from a neighbour who lives alone. She arrived late at the carols and knocked and knocked. She could hear the laughter and merriment, the singing, but we didn’t hear her. She returned home. I was upset for her.
Perhaps if she had knocked a little harder … or just pushed the door open. She would have been welcomed with open arms.
Everyone stayed very late that night. Strangers being together, sharing joy. We all parted with a hug. Strangers no more.
Maybe there is hope at Christmas.
What brought us together? Music, some drinks, being displaced and all searching for community; companionship.
Christmas does hold a spirit of joy and peace that transcends small talk. It is in music of carols, in a child’s smile, in good will in giving gifts, lights in shop windows, the smell of live Christmas trees, and the anticipation of peace descending on Christmas Eve.
Stop, listen for it. Let it wash over you.
If you have friends and family, you are fortunate. If you are alone, or missing someone, try knocking a little harder at a closed door. Christian and I, and many others, will be thinking of you. Even strangers hug and share merriment. Consider yourselves hugged.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post once a month. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.