It’s no secret that leading a healthy lifestyle can help you live longer. But what’s often overlooked is the importance of having healthy relationships. Studies have shown that strong social connections are just as crucial to your health as eating right and exercising regularly.
Social interactions help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost immunity. They can also improve your mental health and cognitive function. So, if you want to live a long and healthy life, don’t forget to focus on your relationships.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to be friends with everyone you meet. But it’s essential to have a few close relationships that are supportive and meaningful. This is important because how we interact with others profoundly affects our mental and physical well-being.
You, like me, have probably had an experience of an unhealthy or bullying relationship.
I would say most people have experienced bullying to some degree during school. And thankfully, there is now more awareness around the issues of bullying. We have moved as a society for teachers and peers to call bullying out. Rather than ignore or victim blame – which was the standard go-to approach during my school-age experience.
My first out-of-school experience of bullying was in my first workplace. When I graduated from university, there was an extreme lack of jobs for teachers (seems to swing in roundabouts), and I was very grateful for getting my first job. However, the principal ruled his staff, much like he did the children, with strict brute force. So when he balled me out in front of all my colleagues for talking when he was, I was at first surprised – was he yelling at me? The staff meeting hadn’t started; others were chatting as well. Then I felt my face burn with shame. I could barely hold it together while he yelled at me with the full force of his voice and very pointy finger. Everyone was silent and looked down at their shoes.
As soon as the meeting finished, I went straight to the toilets and burst into tears. I was embarrassed and horrified in equal measures. I wanted to go home. But I could not leave as I had a class to teach and a job to keep. Other women sought me out to tell me not to take it personally. They had had similar experiences, and apparently, he always went “harder” on young women.
I was not equipped with the strength to stand up to him. He was entirely out of line to talk to anyone like that. It also hurt that no one stood up on my behalf to call out his bad behaviour.
It was a good day when I got a new job and was able to leave.
One of my fundamental values is kindness. So, although bullying is nasty for anyone on the pointy end of the bullying stick, I have had real trouble not taking it personally. I can get stuck on the rift of “what have I done to deserve this?”
Since then, I have had other bullying experiences. My ex-husband, my father-in-law and also 2 (once) close girlfriends. Each time it has happened, the hurt is no less—however, the ability to spot the behaviour and make efforts to call it out. Then removing them from my life is much, much quicker.
Or, as I like to say now: “I am too old for that shit. You can fuck right off.”
Unfortunately, removing specific people from your life because they are bullies has collateral damage. It can be challenging to remove yourself from one person when they come with a subset of connections. This part is sad. But like the advice they give you before taking off in a plane: Secure your breathing mask before helping others.
How to spot toxic relationships
Meaningful connections are an essential part of our lives. They help us feel supported, loved, and connected to others. But conversely, unhealthy relationships can have a significant effect on our health.
It’s essential to be aware of the signs of an unhealthy relationship so we can take steps to protect our health.
When it comes to relationships, there are a lot of different things that can be considered “unhealthy.” However, here are some signs that your relationship may not be as healthy as it could be:
- You’re always walking on eggshells. You feel you have to tip-toe around this person all the time. You should be able to be yourself without feeling like you’re going to upset them.
- There’s a lot of drama. If it feels like every day is a new crisis, that’s not healthy. Relationships should be relatively drama-free.
- Disagreements are ok. Constant arguments are not. If you constantly argue or feel on edge, it might be time to reassess the situation.
- Abuse – verbal or physical, or emotional is not ok.
What I know about healthy relationships
Healthy relationships should fill you up. And it is ok to have friendships for all seasons. Some seasons are short and fun-packed, and others are long and enduring.
I still have some beautiful friends I made during my school days (that’s a long time, and weird that we were kids together, and now we are all in our 50s!). Of course, we don’t talk all the time – but I know what they are doing in their lives and when the opportunity arises, we connect.
I have some very close friends from my university days. We were wild and naughty together. We travelled together. Nursed hangovers and later held each other’s babies; now, I am friends with their adult children. And they are with mine.
I have friends from my workplaces and random connections that have just stuck when travelling through life and across continents. And I have beautiful friendships with my husband, four adult children, and extended family.
These relationships don’t happen by chance. They are a curated group of people that I chose to hang out with and take an interest in their lives.
What I know about healthy relationships:
- They stick up for you. For example, if I were in a space where someone was balling me out that was uncalled for, they would have my back.
- They celebrate your wins like their own.
- They are there for the shitty times. And bring champagne. Or make tea. Or bring a meal. And do the dishes before they leave.
- They are comfortable calling you out when needed and reminding you that you’re a good egg most of the time. (AKA – they deliver home truths with love).
Health is not just about eating well and exercising.
I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and discussing health. And recently I went to a wedding of a dear friend. Unfortunately, the wedding, like many, had been postponed due to the pandemic. This meant that for me, and I am guessing most of the guests – this was the first wedding in a loooonnnnggg time.
Weddings, especially small weddings, are pretty special events. You know that you have been specially picked by someone you love to be there – so chances are that everyone around you, who you may or may not know, is pretty special too. So I found myself smiling and being delighted by the joy of the occasion and the joy of the other people around me being equally delighted.
I left with my cup full of love and gratitude for good healthy relationships.
So, remember: Your healthy is equally dependent on healthy relationships with people as on food and exercise. And life is far too short to be putting up with shit that does not serve you.
One small change.
Do you need to re-evaluate your relationships and make changes? Removing a toxic person/s from your life will be difficult in the short term. But pay dividends in your long-term health and well-being, build your resilience, and give you the ability to identify shitty relationships quicker.
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