Healthy relationships are a key to well-being

In this article:
  • Developing healthy friendships during childhood helps people learn how to successfully interact with the world around them.
  • Romantic relationships are deeply emotional by nature. It’s important to know when those emotions are healthy and when to draw the line.
  • All relationships require tender, loving care and reflective listening is a powerful way you can let your friends and partners know you care.
What’s better than spending time with someone who brings out the best in you? Not much! When we are with people who make us feel seen and heard, we feel happiness and contentment deep inside. 
The power of healthy relationships to impact our wellbeing is real, and there is scientific evidence that our relationships with others, as well as with ourselves, can significantly affect   our mental and physical health at every stage of life. 
To better understand how relationships play a role in how we feel, both mentally and physically, we spoke with Wren Yoder, PhD, a provider with Swedish Behavioral Health. She provided valuable insight into how we can support healthy relationships of all kinds — platonic, romantic, sexual and the all-important relationship we have with ourselves. 


There is power in platonic relationships

Starting at an early age, the connections we make with other people are essential to developing our emotional, social and cognitive skills. In childhood and adolescence, platonic connections are essential for psychological development. The sense of belonging in these friendships encourages acceptance from peers and helps children build trust in themselves, which is important for their self-esteem as they grow into adults. 
Platonic friends provide emotional support and help children learn how to interact with different types of people and maintain relationships over time, giving them the experiences they need to learn how to behave in various situations and thrive later in life.
As we enter adulthood, platonic friendships remain vital to our development and wellbeing. They help us establish personal networks with neighbors, colleagues and other peers who can give us advice or listen when needed. A healthy platonic friendship provides companionship while allowing each friend enough space so that neither person feels overwhelmed by the other’s presence. 
“Friendships help us understand our place in the world,” says Dr. Yoder, “They give us a reliable sounding board and the opportunity to talk through challenges and difficulties we may face.” 
“A good friend understands your goals and values and can help keep you accountable, engaged and moving in a positive direction, and having multiple friends in our lives helps satisfy our needs for excitement, conversation and relaxation.”  

True romance can lead to better health 

When we experience feelings of passion and share intimacy with someone, it becomes clear that we are in a romantic relationship. Beginning in adolescence and continuing through all stages of life, romantic relationships can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. 
How can you make sure you are in a fulfilling romantic relationship? Dr. Yoder’s number one tip is to listen to your inner voice and any emotions that might be warning signs of something amiss. 
“Ask yourself, does this person make me feel good? Or do they say things that bring me down and make me feel bad about myself? Are they nice to me, but unkind to everyone else?”
“Another warning sign is when a relationship begins to change other aspects of your life that do not feel healthy or supportive, such as a relationship that includes reckless and unhealthy behaviors, or a partner who tries to distance you from other people in your life,” she says.
People with a history of trauma may have difficulty discerning who is safe from who is dangerous. If this is something you have experienced, Dr. Yoder recommends seeing a provider who can help you work through this.

There are good reasons to have good sex

While romantic relationships provide companionship, the sexual aspect of romance comes with intense emotions. 
This is why, Dr. Yoder says, it’s important to remember the most important relationship we have is the one we have with ourself, and why self-pleasure is one of the most powerful things we can do to support the health of the sexual relationships we have with partners.
“Feeling comfortable with ourselves and with our bodies is the foundation for healthy love and sex with another person,” she says. “It is important that we understand what we need from our partner and feel comfortable asking for it, and this includes our emotional and physical needs.”
Healthy sexual relationships with others can also support our overall wellbeing. That’s because sharing in consensual sexual activity releases mood-boosting hormones like oxytocin and endorphins that strengthen the bond between partners, and a strong bond helps us feel confident that we have someone who consistently values and supports us.
Dr. Yoder adds that there is a misconception that as we get older, we automatically lose our desire for sex. 
 “Although sexual desire can decrease with age, this is often associated with other factors like physical ailments or not having a partner rather than age itself.”
“We are sexual beings and our sexuality is a lifelong experience we have with ourselves and share with each other. It’s important to honor that part of ourselves throughout our entire life and not just during our youthful childbearing years.”
She also adds that it is important to remember that for some people, sexual intimacy is not desired and could actually be experienced as harmful. People who feel this way may identify as asexual and may still desire romantic relationships, which can include intense liking, emotional intimacy and physical intimacy (e.g., holding hands, hugging and cuddling).
As in all relationships, asexual individuals should consider what gives them a sense of comfort and connection with others and clearly communicate this to the people they want to have in their lives so that all parties can consent. 
And for people who experience persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain, there is help. Despite being difficult to talk about, these are conditions that can be addressed by a medical provider and you deserve treatment that allows you to fully enjoy your sexuality and the relationship you have with your partner

Healthy relationships take ongoing work

From friendships to committed, lifelong partnerships, all relationships need work in order to stay healthy. One skill you can learn to enhance the health of your relationships is to practice reflective listening. 
“When you are in conversation with a friend or partner, remind yourself to be genuinely open and empathetic to what that person is saying to you,” says Dr. Yoder. “Slow down and take the time to understand what they are telling you, provide reflective statements instead of giving opinions or trying to fix what is going on in their life.”
“If you can summarize and reply with what they said to you, that is a signal that you have heard them. And if you’ve misunderstood them, they can let you know.”
Despite our best intentions, many of us find ourselves in an unhealthy relationship from time to time. According to Dr. Yoder, this is when boundary setting skills become important.
“Setting a boundary can only happen if you tell a person what you need from a relationship and what you are and are not willing to accept into your life,” she says. “If you need them to make a change, be specific and hold them accountable to it.”
“And if the person does not respect the boundary, that is your sign that it might be time to step away from that relationship.”

Give yourself grace when reconnecting with old friends and flames

All long-term relationships, including friendships, intimate partnerships and relationships with family members, go through seasons of change. Sometimes this means we might not see a person for months or even years. 
In recent years, we all experienced these separations to some extent with the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent quarantines, school closings and remote working plans. This isolation was especially intense for people with certain health conditions, family responsibilities and workplace demands, and many of us still have people we want to reconnect with after several years apart. 
“Keep in mind that people have experienced the past few years in many different ways,” says Dr. Yoder. “Give yourself and others grace to find their ways out of the social isolation of the past few years.”
“Most people can’t just jump into big events and a busy social schedule after a long time spent seeing no one at all, so it’s also important to have compassion for yourself as you step outside your current comfort zone.”

Learn more and find a provider

To learn more about building healthy relationships and setting boundaries, contact Swedish Behavioral Health and Wellbeing. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual appointments.
With Swedish Virtual Care, you can connect face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your family and health history. To find a provider, try searching our provider directory.

Additional resources

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Swedish Behavioral Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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