Satisfying relationships not only make us happy, they also influence our long-term health as much as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and not smoking. It is well known that those with strong social connections benefit mentally, emotionally, and physically—with lowered mortality rates compared to those who are socially isolated. The reverse is also true, however, for as fulfilling and satisfying a healthy relationship can be, so a toxic relationship can create stress and anxiety, which can manifest in a variety of intimately connected ways, such as headaches, sleep issues, upset digestion, and more.

In a long-term study conducted at Harvard Medical School, Professor Robert Waldinger directed the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Researchers started tracking sophomores (a second-year university or high-school student) at Harvard in 1938 and over the past 80 years have found that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.

Interestingly, the study found that a high level of satisfaction in relationships at age 50 was the biggest indicator of good health at age 80. And good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. Those in their 80’s who felt they could really count on their partner had sharper memories for a longer amount of time.

Although our intimate relationships are of primary importance, other relationships such as those with our parents, siblings, children, and friends are equally important and have a vital role in our well being.

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

— Robert Waldinger

So remember, in order for your relationships to thrive, you need to nurture them. Relationships are like the flowers in your garden, they require attention. The essence of a good relationship begins with communication. Open, honest and regular. Talk about areas of discomfort or discontent, don’t sweep them under the carpet and hope that they will go away.

Ignoring them only adds resentment and anger. Try not to always criticize – sometimes a compliment or validating someone’s efforts will go a long way and help to give so much back to your relationship. Sharing common interests, dreams, hopes, and wishes will unite you and help you work together towards achieving that which you desire. This is a great way of uniting people.

Relationships are a journey with many bumps along the way. Acceptance and forgiveness will go a long way in helping you to be compassionate and understanding. Acceptance and forgiveness don’t mean accepting poor behaviour and making allowances for you to be hurt. You can still have boundaries; however, we must understand that we are all human and there are times when we as humans make mistakes.

Just like we have weeds in our gardens, so too are there toxic relationships in our lives. Weed them out. They do not bring joy and happiness and allow you to live in harmony. Let go of those that bring you down, and make room for relationships that are uplifting and healthy.

Relationships are beautiful and messy, complicated but also sometimes so sweetly simple. No two people are alike, which means no two relationships will be either. Working on your relationships allows you to grow while also extending that opportunity to someone else, plus it’s a vital part of health and longevity. Give these practices a try and notice how your relationships begin to shift in a more positive direction.