Because what’s more important than your relationship, really?
The other day in therapy, I was detailing some dumb worry I had about my boyfriend when I paused my rambling monologue, frustrated with myself and, frankly, bored with the sound of my own voice.
“Don’t you think,” I said to my therapist, scooting toward the edge of my chair and staring him down, “there’s something pretty pathetic about my coming in here and just talking about boys the entire time? What am I, in high school?”
He cocked his head and half-smiled; that’s his signature move. “Do you think it’s pathetic?”
“Yes!” I said, exasperated. “It’s ridiculous. I’m sick of talking about my relationships all the time.”
“Well,” he said, smiling that inscrutable smile of his, “relationships are important.”
“I guess,” I grumbled.
“What’s more important than relationships?” he asked.
“Um, I don’t know – my career maybe? My kids? My health?”
But really, he was right. Life is all about relationships. Careers, kids, health – all those things are ultimately, intimately, profoundly affected by our relationships. When things are going well with your partner, you’re better able to cope with everything else in your life. Feeling loved, supported and secure makes a huge difference to our health and happiness.
That’s why this year, I decided to forgo my usual resolutions to stop eating sugar, beat my best marathon time, and come up with a book proposal, and instead make relationship-related resolutions. As the veteran of a failed 10-year marriage and an abusive relationship, I figure it’s about time I got the love thing right – and I’m lucky enough to have finally found someone worth getting it right for. I don’t want to blow it.
But as it turns out, making resolutions that impact my own happiness – like running faster and pursuing greater career success – actually could directly affect my boyfriend, and our relationship.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association showed that people with happy partners are far likelier to report better health over time. “This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” said the study’s head investigator and assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, William Chopik, PhD. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”
Bottom line: if I’m happier, my boyfriend might actually stay healthier and live longer. Pretty much a win-win situation.
Chopik suggests three reasons for this: first, happy people are better able to provide support to their partners, because they’re less caught up in their own problems. Second, happy people are more likely to get their parters involved in activities that are good for them; for example, they encourage them to sleep better, eat better, and exercise more. And last but not least, being with a happy person just makes life easier.
“Simply knowing that one’s partner is satisfied with his or her individual circumstances may temper a person’s need to seek self-destructive outlets,” Chopik explains. So, basically, if you’re happy, your partner is less likely to go off the rails and fall into a life of debauchery. That obviously has lasting health benefits, as well as leading to greater personal happiness and relationship satisfaction for both partners.
And so, here are my New Year’s resolutions, dedicated to my partner – or actually, to the two of us:
1. Do the things that make me happy.
Yeah, this seems like a no-brainer, but I often fail to do the very things I know will bring me happiness. In fact, I do the opposite. I mindlessly eat crap when I’m stressed or tired, I refuse to go for a run when I most need that endorphin rush, I overcommit and end up strung out and rushing around, feeling like a failure on all levels. It’s almost like I hate myself. This isn’t just bad for me, it’s bad for my partner. So I’m going to try to stop. I want him to be healthy and happy, so I’m going to do my best to be happy and healthy myself. And if that means going after my best marathon time and being more aggressive about my career goals, I’ll do it.
2. Don’t criticize my partner. Ever.
It feels awful to be criticized. We all know this. So why do we do it to the people we love most? There’s literally nothing good about criticizing your partner – no reason to ever do it. While it might feel satisfying to zing someone in the moment, I feel terrible afterward. Also, when someone is critical of me, they’re never giving me information I don’t already know. I guarantee I’m already berating myself for whatever it is they’re picking on me about, and I’m probably doing it more harshly than they are. I can be pretty mean to myself. When the person I love piles on as well, it feels even worse. I need to remember that this is probably true for my partner as well. Criticism: it makes me feel awful, it makes my partner feel awful, and it never helps anything, ever. So I’m going to cut it out.
3. Be vulnerable. Be brave. Tell the truth.
Yeah, that’s three things – but they’re really all the same (big) thing. If I’ve learned anything in all my years of dysfunctional, toxic relationships, it’s that no one is served by not telling the truth. The person doing the fibbing, or the withholding, doesn’t get their needs met and ends up feeling resentful and misunderstood, while the person who’s not being told the complete truth ends up feeling confused and angry. Telling the truth is often hard. It makes you vulnerable. You have to be brave. But when you do it, it usually feels pretty good. And there’s no other way around it, if you want to live authentically and be happy.
Here’s to a New Year full of health and happiness for us all. Bring it on, 2017.
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Comment: What are your New Year’s resolutions?