By Tom Horvath, PhD
We regularly see criteria for evaluating our health, physical fitness, or financial well-being. If our relationships are the primary source of our emotional well-being (a statement apparently accurate for most people), then guidelines for evaluating our relationships would also be valuable.
Having both one or a few intimates, and a wide range of other relationships, is conducive to well-being. We need to have one or a few people we know very well, and then many other relationships that could be meaningful in various ways. We can compare this situation to the specialist/generalist distinction. We need to be a specialist in one or a few areas (often to make a living), but we also need to have much general knowledge, to get along well in the world.
The following list of relationship aspects (drawn from The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, by Waldinger and Schulz) could be used to consider individual relationships, but let’s focus here on our set of relationships. To what extent do I have in my life what these authors term the “seven keystones” of support? Ideally, except for romantic intimacy, you could name several people for each aspect, and a few of your relationships would show up multiple times on this list.
- Safety and security: Whom would I call in a crisis?
- Learning and growth: Who supports my learning and pursuit of goals?
- Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows what I deeply believe and feel?
- Identity affirmation and shared experience: Who strengthens my sense of who I am?
- Romantic intimacy: Do I have a romantic partner? How close are we?
- Help (both informational and practical): Whom can I call when I need information or assistance?
- Fun and relaxation: Whom do I hang out with and have fun with?
What if one keystone (or more) is empty or under-represented? Time to get to work! Social fitness is attainable – existing relationships can be nurtured, and new ones developed. Your life will be better for it.
If you or a loved one are curious about social fitness and improving your relationships in recovery, our therapy services could be a great fit. Please don’t hesitate to reach out – you don’t have to do this alone.