Ellis: Improve Your Relationships

Cultivating healthy relationships has physical and mental benefits.

by Simon Ellis | 1/5/18 12:15am

In this age of political divisiveness, social unrest and social media prevalence, genuine human interaction is more important than ever, yet unfortunately overlooked and undervalued. Our conversations have become smiles in passing, our smiles in passing have become Facebook reactions and those have faded to the ever prevalent “let’s get a meal sometime!” texts. There is no debating that the way we communicate has changed greatly, and much of that change has marked a transition from valuable conversations conducive to growth and learning to simple transactional relationships and interactions. With 2018 just beginning, this resolution is worth your attention: Build better relationships.

On campus, the phenomenon is easy to recognize. It’s present when you compliment a friend in passing and together light up the Green with laughter but never find the time to get KAF or sit down at Foco for a deeper or more meaningful conversation. Someone is always too busy or finds an excuse to get out of going on that run or studying together. These kinds of relationships are not only too prevalent and normalized — they are dangerous. Transactional relationships provide a false security blanket in the stressful environment of a Dartmouth term. While it may be nice to have those friends at whom you can smile as you walk to your next class, or know that you can always find them on a night out, you most likely will not be able to count on them in more serious situations.

In moments of stress, difficulty and emergency, the “transactional” friend will likely not be there, which is what makes these relationships so difficult. You can value them for the positives, but once you face an obstacle in your life their sudden disappearance should come as no surprise. Relationships are a give-and-take of trust and experiences that strengthen the bond and knowledge the two individuals have of one another. Various studies have shown direct mental and physical health benefits that result from strong social involvement and social relationships, such as prolonged lifespans and lower instances of mental health issues. However, these results can also indicate the reverse, with negative social interactions and relationships detrimentally impacting individual health. Therefore, genuine relationships are not only a more rational choice but also an empirically healthier one.

Aside from building lasting and genuine friendships, the value of healthy relationship education in marriages and romantic partnerships has been crucial to the reduction of relationship-based violence. A 2005 Connecticut Department of Public Health study focused on addressing the link between sexual or domestic violence and healthy relationships, revealing that the integration of relationship-based training had a markedly positive impact on young men and boys in particular. The department’s curriculum “spans peer, relationship and community perspectives” and the study ultimately suggested that a focus on building healthy relationships is critical in community health programming.

Aside from the data, the difference between toxic relationships and healthy ones is certainly visceral. While each person cultivates their relationships differently, trust is still consistently one of the most important parts of maintaining healthy relationships. Being able to know that you can rely on another person and that you can share your life and opinions with them openly and without hesitation is key. Although building trust takes time and is decidedly difficult, the benefits of healthy relationships make the effort worthwhile.

Should we cut off all shallow and transactional relationships then? Quite the opposite — we should work to revive those relationships. This year, our resolution should be to put more time and thought into our interactions; to follow up on meals, to get to really know the people we call our “friends” and to put effort into creating genuine bonds. At Dartmouth, we can often mix up the networking attitude we use professionally with the way we treat those closest to us, a second-class mistake that has been normalized and needs to change. The long-term relationships we create with time, energy and trust can take us far, and 2018 is the year to build them.