Writing in The New York Times, Liz Brody recently tackled the idea that fomenting strong social connections can help us live longer, happier lives – and she also delved into what happens when those strong connections are ruptured. For Brody, who two years ago lost her partner of over four decades, the supreme sadness she felt over that loss prompted her to examine the very real consequences of heartbreak and loneliness. She discovered that, according to John Robbins, author of Healthy at 100, relationships are very important to overall health.
Brody cites a study from 1983 that found that men who used more first-person pronouns (“me” and “I,” for example, as opposed to “us” and “we”) were more likely to suffer heart attacks. A Yale study found that people not strongly connected to others were three times more likely to die. And yet another study found that, for men who had survived a heart attack, those with strong social connections were only a quarter as likely to die as those not socially connected. As Brody writes: “In study after study cited by Mr. Robbins, people in loving relationships with spouses or friends were healthier than those lacking this intimacy, even when the latter had healthier living habits.”
Brody passes on some sage advice a psychologist offered where relationships are concerned: “Listen with regard when others talk. Give your time and energy to others; let others have their way; do things for reasons other than furthering your own needs.” It can be hard to trust people – especially when it makes you vulnerable. It can be hard let go of the need to be right, even when that serves only a divisive, winners-and-losers mentality in what should be an equitable partnership. And it can tough to forgive and be generous, especially if you feel like you aren’t getting the same level of care. But there is an increasingly persuasive body of science and wisdom indicating not only that we should do these things, but that we must. For both our bodies and brains, it’s important to learn how to be more loving, more patient, more curious and more giving.