Insights: Getting Relationships Right

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What are we taught in school? To solve problems, to analyze, to complete tasks, and myriad other concepts, but there is something more important that should be a priority above anything else: Relationships.

If we get our relationships right, we get life right.  Life will always be presenting us with challenges, and at times ones we wonder if we will ever make it through. If we have invested in our relationships those problems will seem more manageable.

As the poet and writer Barbara Johnson said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

Studies show that people who have strong relationships are able to heal faster, have less physical and emotional illness, live longer, manage stress better, and are happier.

Relationships are so important to us that the need is built into our DNA to seek out friendship, partnership and companionship. Without them we are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, addiction, isolation, and even premature death.

In the movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks is stranded on an isolated island. He uses a volleyball that he calls Wilson just to talk to. It becomes real to him.

Look at what most stories, movies, songs are about? We are hardwired to need and want relationships. It is the main reason people come to therapy. Most of us want great relationship and yet struggle to keep them working. Why?

Well, attachment is a complex issue—more complicated than I have room for in this column, but here are the basics: When we connect to anyone, it makes us vulnerable, it can trigger a fear of lose, of being hurt. It means having to figure out where each person begins and ends, with such questions as what do I give up to be with the other person, what do I hold onto, and how do I take care of myself and make my relationships important, to invest in them.

So many questions; the answers are not that easy. Add in to all of this the chemical release of oxytocin and dopamine, which make us attach in our relationships. When they start to struggle, especially romantic relationships, the pain can be excruciating when we withdraw from these chemicals. Even with these fears and possible pain, we keep going out there wanting and creating relationships.

Why? Because when we have a good relationship with anyone, the rewards are incredible. So incredible, often we go to unbelievable lengths to preserve them.

Relationships also go beyond the romantic. I just moved two weeks ago, and a woman I see on my morning walks found out I had moved and dropped off some homemade muffins and a card. We do not know each other well and yet she went out of her way to do this. It still has left me with such a wonderful feeling of being cared for, of belonging, of being noticed.

So this week as you look at all the problems that need to be solved or all the dishes that need to be done, do not forget to ask yourself what can I do to show the people in my life that they matter?

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected]

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