Relationship Health

By John Howard & Peter Craig – April 1, 2018

In this three-part series, we will explore how to take relationships to the next level. part one describes some practical tips on improving the interactions with our partners. 

We all know diet and exercise matter to living a healthy life, but what about the health of our relationships? Multiple studies show that the quality of our relationships is a very significant determinant of our overall wellness, our immune system function, our psychological resilience, and even our lifespan! In fact, more than one prominent study found that our relationship satisfaction may impact our health even more than diet, exercise, smoking, or alcoholism—and that includes real physical health markers like waist circumference and diastolic blood pressure! Do we have your attention?! 

Assuming we all agree that relationship health is one of the keys to living a healthy, happy, and long life, what do we do about it? The answer to that for many of us is…nothing. It’s not just us—we’re living in the midst of a massive social failure in relationship education. None of us get a class on relationship health, so we’re basically flying blind, keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping for the best! Luckily, there are some practical things you can do to increase your relationship health:  

1. Think of relationship health as part of your overall wellness. Many of us focus on diet and exercise as keys to health. We need to invest just as much—if not more—in the health of our relationships. If you go the gym three times a week, take your relationship to the “gym” at least once a week. Set aside regular time to talk and bond with your partner. Don’t neglect it! Our nervous systems tend to get stressed the less connected we feel with our loved ones, and stress is unhealthy! In fact, stress not only degrades the productivity of our workouts and prolongs recovery time, it also wreaks havoc on relationships themselves. One powerful tip is to closely watch your stress and anxiety levels when you’re interacting with your partner and ask for help or support the moment you notice a spike. It brings you together and helps you focus on feeling relaxed with each other!

2. Quality over Quantity: Use the time you have together with your partner wisely. Make more eye contact. At the end of the day, we’re just fancy mammals. Our nervous systems calculate connection and safety in fairly predictable ways, including using eye contact to gauge many markers of connection. It needs a little more time engaged in that activity than we often give it.

3. “Welcome Home”: Dr. Stan Tatkin of UCLA Medical School developed this neuroscience-based exercise that uses the body’s subconscious connection circuits to help prevent arguments and help you feel connected. Here’s how you do it: When you’ve been apart for a while (like after work), greet each other with a hug and no words. Let your nervous systems connect, belly to belly, for 10-15 seconds or more, until you relax into one another. Believe it or not, this helps the fight or flight neurons in your gut sync up with one another—a powerful marker of connection. 

Hope you enjoyed these tips! Stay tuned for part two in the next issue, which explores how to deepen connection. 

John Howard and Peter Craig are therapists at Austin Professional Counseling. They use the latest science to help their clients win at relationships and at life. John is the Founder of Ready Set Love®, a 12-week couples training program you can take online. Peter is a sponsored triathlete on Juiceland’s Dream Team and helps individuals and couples with authenticity, connection, and healthy eating.


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