As we prepare to head into the New Year, many of us will reflect on the current year, evaluating outcomes and attempting to predict what alterations we might make beginning in January in order to increase happiness. It’s a ritual that a good number of us will partake in, even if the current year was pretty darn satisfying. Maybe you will vow to get more restful sleep, to eat healthier foods, to increase exercise or to be more generous with your time. It’s no secret that when it comes to New Year Resolutions, the options are endless. In a world of so many choices, is it possible that the best thing you can do for yourself is to focus on increasing closeness with your significant other?
In fact, last January Northstar Counseling Center posted a blog on how relationships can actually save your life. The benefits of healthy social relationships are astounding, decreasing risk of stroke, and heart disease and even lowering blood pressure. Access the full post here.
While research suggests that just expanding your social network and spending time with friends and family has a positive effect on your health, having a healthy marriage has been shown to have an even greater impact on a person’s well-being. In fact, even cohabiting relationships that strongly resemble marriages do not have the same high levels of health benefits (Lunau, K. January 2014, “How Marriage Can Save Your Life”).
The sense of closeness and stability that can come from a healthy marriage can actually reduce your experience of pain! Dr. Sue Johnson, Developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and Dr. Jim Coan, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Virginia, conducted a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of married women. Imagine this…You are asked to lay in an fMRI machine and you are told that you will see a series of Xs and Os. An “X” indicates that you are about to receive a small electric shock around your ankles. What do you think would happened? Well these women were first asked to lay in the machine alone and to no one’s surprise, the fMRI indicated that their brains (especially those parts of the brain that are responsible for fight or flight) were lighting up like the outside of your house when you’re decorating for Santa’s arrival and they reported physical discomfort. Next they asked the same women to hold the hand of a stranger while going through the same experience. The results showed continued activity on the fMRI but with less severity than when the women were alone. Lastly the women went through the same exercise but they held their spouse’s hand throughout the procedure. The results were substantial. Women that reported being in happy marriages, in which they felt securely attached and bonded to their partners, reported minimal discomfort when holding their partner’s hand and the fMRI correlated were their verbal report. Holding hands with their significant other reduced their experience of pain and distress.
While thinking of your significant other, ask yourself the following questions from Dr. Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight:
• Are you there for me?
• When I call, will you come?
• Do I matter to you?
• Can I depend on you?
If the answer is yes consider yourself lucky because you are likely in a securely attached relationship! Or if you feel like your answers need a little work, consider participating in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). Research shows that after completing 8-20 sessions of EFT, 90% of couples report significant improvement to their relationship. If you live in or near the Louisville area and believe that Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy could be helpful to you, please do not hesitate to contact us by calling (502) 414-1301.