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Human beings are born with an innate need for relationships. We need them in order to feel loved, supported, validated, heard and understood.

As human beings we are born with an innate need to be connected to others. We need and want to be in relationships with others. We enter into relationships in order to feel loved, supported, validated, heard and understood. We become significant because of our relationships with others and they form an important part of our self-identity (I am a mother/wife/daughter etc). In a healthy relationship we feel safe and accepted. It affords us room to develop and grow. The support we experience in our relationships is one of the most vital antidotes to stress. Social ties and relationships with others have long been regarded as emotionally satisfying and they can help dilute the effects of stress, help us cope with difficult events and reduce the likelihood that stress will lead to poor health.

Being content and satisfied in our various relationships benefits us in different ways. Relationships provide us with emotional support by providing us with someone to talk to and share our difficulties with. This makes us feel less alone in our predicament and helps us feel connected, valuable and cared for. Friends and family can also give us tangible help by providing, for example, financial support, goods and material support. They can also provide us with information that might help us understand our circumstances better and assist us in determining which resources and coping strategies would be best for us when those circumstances are difficult.

Relationships are living things. They require our time, energy, nurturing, care and attention in order to be able to thrive. If we neglect them they start to show signs of strain and struggle. If left unattended, it is likely that they will die. If we value the relationships in our lives we need to take care of them. Life can be lonely without them.

Conflict in relationships is normal and inevitable (even in healthy relationships) and when it occurs it should be able to be resolved through effective communication and negotiation. Sometimes, though, the conflict exceeds the boundaries of what is normal and acceptable and tips over into the realm of abuse. At that stage some difficult decisions will likely need to be made.

No relationship is without risk. If there is no emotional investment there is no risk and then, really, there is no relationship. By their very nature relationships demand a certain level of intimacy and exposure and with that comes the risk of possibly being hurt through rejection, betrayal, loss or disappointment. But conversely relationships also allow us to experience closeness, love, support, companionship, community, joy and contentment. They have the potential to add depth and richness to our lives that very little else can bring.

Take some time then to consider the relationships that you currently form part of and ask yourself :
• Which relationships require more from me?
• Which relationships need less of me?
• Am I doing all that I can to nourish and nurture this connection?
• What can I do differently to improve the interaction?
• Has the level of risk become so great that there is no longer any benefit or purpose? If so, what do I need to do?
• If this is as good as it gets, is it good enough? If not, then what should I be doing?
• Am I a giver or a taker?

If your answers lead you to believe that change is needed, find the courage to make the changes. Relationships keep you connected to others, beware the disconnect.
Bronwen Oberholzer, BA (Ed) BA (Hons) MEd (EdPsych)

Adapted from: Health Society Guide to Stress. Oberholzer B. 2013. © The Health Society of SA.
Used with permission from the publisher.