Do We Need Relationships To Thrive?

Do We Need Relationships to Thrive?

 Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D.

 

We are raised to believe that being self-sufficient, self-reliant, and self-motivated is not only a good thing, it is often seen as the only sign of maturity.  A young man or woman reaches the age of 21 and people begin asking when he or she is going to move out, when they are going to begin earning their own keep, or when they have become truly independent (which is code for “have you separated from your parents?”)

 For over a century, psychological science has confirmed this belief: that maturity is the same as self-sufficiency.  But all that is changing!  Get ready for the Century of Relationships.  The revolution has already begun but perhaps it is not yet common cultural knowledge because it is still a gathering storm in the halls of academe.  Just a few decades from now I think we will be shocked that the Marlboro Man or John Wayne or the Frontier woman were seen as a model of mature adulthood.

 

Fields as disparate as neuroscience, sociology, and medicine are all arriving at the same inescapable conclusion.  Relationships help us heal from surgery or heart attacks, grow in complexity and creativity, live longer happier lives, and have a better quality of experience in the last decade of our lives.  Here are a few tidbits of fascinating findings that everyone should know about –

 

 

  • Dan Buettner, researcher and author of “Blue Zones” describes 9 lessons he learned from studying tribes that live healthy past 100 years.  The last three lessons are Belong, Put loved ones first, and Join a tribe that supports healthy behaviors.  What is the underlying theme?  Healthy relationships support healthy lives.
  • Louis Cozolino, clinical psychologist and author of the books, The Neuroscience of Relationships and The Healthy Aging Brain, makes it very clear.  Supportive loving relationships are the cornerstone of physical as well as mental health and longevity. 
  •  Daniel Siegel, originator of interpersonal neurobiology and author of multiple books on neuroscience and relationships including TheNeurobiology of We, emphasizes that the quality of our relationships will determine not only our satisfaction with life but also the quality of our life experiences as we age.

 

 

  • Positive Psychology researchers such as Martin Seligman, Shelly Gable and Barbara Fredrickson argue that being able to express positive feelings towards someone, being able to talk about happy experiences in close relationships, and finding gratitude in relationships are crucial to lasting happiness.
  • There are a growing number of researchers and psychologists who study Adult Attachment who are arriving at the same conclusions.  When people are able to experience a “secure attachment” in an adult relationship, they are actually able to be more creative, more content, and more productive in their lives (even with aspects of their lives outside the relationship).

 

So let’s go back to our title question:  Do We Need Relationships to Thrive?  We know that positive relationships do increase longevity, productivity, and happiness. But do we “need” relationships?  Intuitively and emotionally we know the answer is yes.  Researchers tend to be careful about making causal statements but I believe we are on the path to discovering the answer to that question very soon. 

 

Harry Harlow with his famous experiment with monkeys showed that baby monkeys reared with “wire mothers” simply withered and failed to thrive without the warm and emotional nourishment of the mothering relationship.  John Bowlby who studied children in hospitals and orphanages showed the same with human children.  I think we are on the brink of discovering the same about human adults – that without human-to-human connection we are not as likely to reach our optimal levels of purpose, health, or well-being.  We will soon discover that the myth of the self-sufficient adult is simply not wise or necessary. Within decades research will unequivocally show that the Marlboro Man would have died of stress and illness caused by emotional and social isolation long before his cigarette smoking killed him. 

 

As his Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama famously said,

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

 

Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and National Marriage Seminars and Licensed Clinical Psychologist, has been a Certified Gottman Therapist and Workshop Leader since 2006. She is the founder of the Austin-based Center for Relationships (@ctr4relships). Follow her on Facebook at the Center for Relationships and on Twitter @VagdeviCGT. 

 

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