Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Connection: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Our brains are built to work most effectively in healthy relationships.

Imagine a seventy-five year-old African-American man, ten years into retirement and suffering with arthritis, high blood pressure, and cataracts. Nothing life-threatening, just painful reminders that his best days are behind him. Still, his life is rich with 8 grandchildren spread across the country and enough money tucked away to see them regularly. Both his parents were dead by 75, but he has high hopes of reaching 80. Despite following the latest health trends closely, he has not heard about the extensive medical research on the one factor most likely to give him those extra five years – a healthy relationship with a spouse. The biggest factor in helping men age gracefully is not genetics, wealth, or the latest statin for cholesterol. The key to longevity in elderly men is their perception of having a healthy relationship with a partner.

Lisa Langhammer, used with permission
Source: Lisa Langhammer, used with permission

Now imagine an Italian American teenager growing up in a chaotic home. Her black attire and multiple body piercings effectively separate her from other people. When she walks through the mall and grown adults turn away from her in fear and disgust she feels a welcome surge of power shoot through her body. While most of her peers have their license, she can’t stand the thought of being trapped in a car with either parent to practice driving. Deep inside, she feels about 6 years old and as much as she hates her parents, the thought of leaving home terrifies her. At this tender age, she has no awareness that her best hope for a successful transition to adulthood is her relationship with her music teacher, Mrs. Tasker, the one person who saw through her dark anger to find the talented, young woman who dreamed of singing in a rock band. Last year Mrs. Tasker compared her to Pat Benatar, a complement that runs through her thoughts everyday, giving her the impetus to keep playing music. The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health conducted by Resnick and his colleagues tells us that one supportive relationship with a caring adult can literally change the trajectory of this troubled teen’s life.

What do these two people, from very different walks of life, have in common? The capacity to heal, emotionally and physically, in healthy connection. A healthy human relationship is the gift that keeps on giving, the well that never runs dry, and the most effective buffer we have to manage stress in our hectic lives. No matter who you are or where you live, when you are in healthy relationships you increase the chance of living longer and dying happier. Why? Because the human brain is built to work most effectively when the human body is in healthy relationship.