Our relationships shape the quality of our lives. From our parents and friends made in formative years to our life partners and coworkers, our relationships’ impact is often underestimated.
Early in life, without human touch, infants may die. Skin-to-skin touch increases the neurological development process in small children as well as other processes2. Physical and emotional connection releases oxytocin2, responsible for trust, empathy, and bonding3. A recent study identified high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, disability, cognitive decline, and depression among the conditions affected by loneliness4 – or the lack of relationships. The importance of our relationships can’t be overstated.
You are who you’re (and have been) with.
More than any other type, family relationships play an underlying role in our well-being throughout our lives7. Our families are our first experience with relationships. It has a large effect on how we conduct future relationships. The way we express or repress our emotions, communicate, handle stress, and interact with our significant other all stem from what we observed in our close family relationships8.
We were born programmed to bond, to engage in relationships. Especially with our primary caregiver, often our mothers. This bond’s quality is said to predict the success or failure of our relationships, emotional balance, the ability to enjoy being ourselves, find fulfillment in being with others, and the ability to bounce back from disappointment, discouragement, and misfortune9.
From this relationship, we are found to develop an attachment style or bond. This attachment bond is thought to impact future relationships, either strengthen or damage our ability to focus, be conscious of our feelings, and/or calm ourselves. This attachment bond also greatly influences the ability to deal with adversity9.
The four types of attachment bonds are Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Disorganized.
Secure Attachment types tend to have high self-esteem, are comfortable sharing their hopes and dreams, and can ask for support and comfort when they need it.
Anxious-Preoccupied types desire love and intimacy, yet their low self-worth causes them to be clingy, needy, and jealous. They can be known as fun-loving, but this is often an attempt at attention-seeking behavior to earn love and admiration.
Dismissive-Avoidant types may desire a loving relationship but are plagued with some deep-seated internal struggles. They dismiss the need for love and affection simply because they don’t know how to conduct themselves. Parents were most likely physically present, but not emotionally.
Finally, Disorganized types were usually raised by a caregiver who was dealing with trauma themselves. Their behavior was probably fearful and unpredictable. And so they learn to see the world as a threat, are preoccupied with pain and loss, and may have trouble socially10.
Of course, Secure attachment is the ideal. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can help those with Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant and Disorganized.
Studies show that younger brothers and sisters teach the older empathy. Sibling bullying is tied to depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Relationships between siblings are a critical factor in adult well-being11. People emotionally close with their siblings rate a higher level of life satisfaction and lower levels of depression12.
Healthy family relationships express appreciation and affection, commitment, communicate positively, enjoy their time together, have a sense of spiritual well-being, and manage stress and crisis well12.
Jim Rohn, the motivational speaker, famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”14 This has several implications. First, you want to be loved and accepted by those closest to you. Secondly, you also need to be challenged and able to take criticism. A good friend is not always an enabler but will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. And finally, perhaps most importantly, how influential these folks can be in your life.
It is said that most people have an average of 5 intimate bonds, 15 close friends, 50 friends, and 150 casual friends15. This is based on Robin Dunbar’s research. She goes on to theorize that we only have the mental capacity to have 150 casual friends. Further, this is due to our evolution in villages containing about 150 people in population16.
Friendship is important in fulfilling the basic human need of being accepted. It improves socioemotional movement throughout life and helps us cope with stress. Charity even helps with decreasing illness 17.
Friendships are defined by five dimensions. Their dyadic nature, the emotional bond between the two, the fact that it’s voluntary, it’s egalitarian, and it’s a form of companionship13.
Studies show that being physically within 25 feet of a high performer can positively affect your performance by 15%. On the other hand, being near a low performer is detrimental to your account. This can decrease your routine as much as 30%1.
It has long been known that acquaintances or “weak-tie” friendships positively correlate with happiness. The more “weak-tie” companies you have, the higher reported happiness17. These folks could be your yoga instructor, the barista, cab/uber driver, or fellow coworkers. Some companies have used this information to set up a workspace to set up chance encounters between employees17 to drive creativity and collaboration.
The point is that people in our periphery are impacting our overall well-being. We wouldn’t consider friends but still connect with on an, albeit, shallow level are affecting us.
There are all kinds of research suggesting that healthy, committed, romantic relationships boost health and even life expectancy. Healthy relationships tend to have the following characteristics:
They listen to one another.
They openly communicate without judgment
They make time for each other.
They remember important details about the other’s life.
They engage in healthy behaviors together18.
Married people undergoing heart surgery are three times more likely to survive the first three months. Married folks also report lower stress levels, a greater sense of life purpose, and healthier behaviors18.
From my romantic relationships, I’ve learned everything from properly folding my clothes to how to properly groom to how, to be honest with myself, and become more self-aware. Relationships, whether current or not, impact who I am and what I will do. The journey through life is really lived with others inside of our relationships, both close and acquaintances. It is important to understand their impacts on us so that we can be mindful of how and why others affect us in the way they do.
In sum, you are who you’re with and who you’ve been with…