Love Really Is All We Need

The health benefits of relationships

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Love's all we need: it makes us happier and healthier.

    Take an evening stroll through DuPont Circle, and you’ll, no doubt, see couples hand-in-hand walking together. 

    Sure, you might see the occasional bickering couple pass by (she wants to see the new Justin Bieber movie, he doesn’t), but instead take note of the ones who are smiling and laughing -- you know, the ones who just seem to click.

    In reference to those blissfully happy couples passing by, note this:  research has shown that love has its perks -- there are positive, healthy benefits to being in a relationship.  Studies have shown that married people live longer than those who are single, have lower rates of cancer and heart attacks, and have reduced anxiety and blood pressure levels.   

    Ashley and Nate, both residents of the greater D.C. metropolitan area, agree that their relationship leaves them as happier individuals. 

    “I don't know if it's really the fact that I'm in a relationship that makes me happier, but that it's a loving one,” said Ashley.  “He's my best friend that I can be intimate with.  It's hard to imagine not having him in my life.”

    In addition, there’s the assurance of knowing that the significant other is emotionally there at all times.

    “It's nice knowing that someone can accept me for my ups and downs, and I can count on him to be there," she stated. "When I get upset or angry, he is the best person to put me in a good mood.  It's amazing how he can make me laugh, just by making a face.  Nate also reminds me of what I have to be thankful for and that makes living much more peaceful.”

    Let’s not forget, of course, about the obvious physical benefits of having a constant companion, either:

    “Let’s face it, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be happy having someone who is willing to have sex with them on a regular basis," Nate said.  "When it’s with someone you really care about, it is a sharing between two individuals who love each other.  That bond makes people happier and healthier…not to mention, it can be a great stress reliever.”

    Keith Miller, LICSW, of Keith Miller Counseling on 19th Street, is a counselor to couples and identifies that society naturally gravitates toward relationships. 

    “Well, we’re social mammals, for one thing.  Without meaningful relationships we literally die.  Some very sad studies have shown this to be the case,” said Miller. “Having predictable and consistent relationships throughout our life literally translates into our brain functioning a more relaxed state, where it can regulate health and fight disease most optimally.”

    Miller also explains that life naturally involves a series of relationships, including the child-to-parent relationship established immediately upon our birth.  For the majority of us as adults, most of our day is dominated by relationships at the workplace.

    “I’m in a relationship with my accountant, but I probably won’t cry or throw a fit if she tells me she needs me to do more for her or if things aren’t really going to work between us.  That’s because we only interact with each other in the front hall or parlor of each other’s lives,” he said.

    Despite all types of connections, it’s still that one bond in which we can expose the ugliest facets of ourselves, disclose our fears and secrets, and show our vulnerabilities that provides unconditional happiness.

    “The real question is more about The One relationship, where somehow you and another person have willingly decided to let each other into parts of your life where no one else goes.  Most of us don’t keep our deepest, most valuable hopes and dreams and expectations to be loved unconditionally in the front parlor.  These are kept in a vault somewhere deep inside your house,” stated Miller.

    As Miller adds, it’s not just the romantic cuddle sessions by the fireplace and the long walks on the beach that make us happier and thereby healthier.  It’s also knowing that the other person is going to be there for you, even when the going gets rough.

    “It’s not daily doses of Prozac you are walking down the aisle with.  Relationships offer us the chance to be happy if we can learn how to flex and move and push where the relationship needs it,” said Miller, “just like getting on a surfboard does not make you a surfer.  You’ve got to know how to go with the waves and know exactly where to push into it, all at the right time.”

    For Ashley, learning to accept Nate’s constant need for attention was challenging at first.

    “It was challenging because of my personality, but it is definitely something I can get past.  When we walk through the mall, I can expect to stop and talk to five different people he knew at some point in life,” she said, “rather than letting it bother me, I tease him about it and use it as an opportunity to meet new people.  It actually helps me go into certain social situations with less anxiety.”

    She admits that loving his flaws strengthens their relationship, because embracing him as an entire individual is what love and, ultimately, happiness in a relationship is about.

    “Knowing someone who I can share all my dreams with, it’s a feeling I can’t explain," Ashley said.  "Love is definitely a powerful and positive emotion.”