It’s no surprise that each year, Valentine’s Day focuses on love, romance and affection. It’s a time where people around the world try and find the perfect gift in the form of flowers, tasty chocolates and sparkling jewellery. But this year instead of focussing on romantic love, focus on the art of loving. Research suggests you can be happier, physically healthier, live longer and have fewer mental health problems by building connections with your family, friends, neighbours and community. Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives yet most of us complain about them and our approach to building and maintaining them is passive.
The number of friends you have and whether you are a part of an intimate relationship is not important, the quality of your close relationships matter. The reason close, positive relationships are important is that they give us a sense of belonging. Loneliness and isolation remain key predictors for poor psychological and physical health however it’s just as important to mention that living in conflict or within a toxic unhealthy relationship is more damaging than being alone. To make matters even more complicated, the way we interact and form relationships has changed drastically over the past decade. The evolving family structure, reliance on online technologies, longer working hours and how we define community means that who and how we connect is more challenging than ever before. Working as a dating and relationship coach, I notice the impact over-reliance on dating apps is having on the use of basic social skills in daily interactions. People need to relearn how to connect with people face-to-face. An element of my 90-day ‘Let Love In’ programme teaches people relational skills to include how to approach strangers to initiate friendly conversation. This sounds very basic but the art of communication has changed so much that people are terrified of approaching someone they do not know for fear of what the other person may think of them.
Information on how to create and maintain healthy relationships and tackling the barriers to forming them is not so readily available but the supports you need exist, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. Most campaigns that seek to promote our mental health and wellbeing, mention the importance of “connection” but the question of how to connect still remains. So, what can you do today to start building and maintaining healthy relationships? The following are some suggestions to increase the quality of your connections.
Offer quality time and be more present
Listen to ensure you are really hearing the other rather than considering your response
All relationship skills require practice, do more of this
Identify barriers that prevent you from building the kind of relationships you desire and seek the help you need to overcome them