Health: Are Your Relationships Healthy?

The family doctors of Burnaby have been presenting free talks in our campaign to raise health literacy called the Empowered Patient. Our goal is to provide the information everyone in our community needs to live a healthy life and get the most out of our healthcare system.

A key message is that healthcare is self-care. How you live today is the best predictor of your future health. The four foundations of self-care are: 1. what you eat (consume, drink, smoke or inject), 2. what you do (physical activity, risky behaviour), 3. how you feel (managing your emotions) and 4. how you relate (your important relationships).

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When you think about it, you shouldn’t be surprised that your relationships can foster or harm health. Every week, I see patients who are distressed by conflicts at home – either with their spouses or their children.

When patients request a stress leave from work, the problem isn’t just the workload. It’s usually difficulties with co-workers and supervisors. Bullying is common in our schools and in our workplaces.

When I see people with depression, I always inquire about friends. They can be a crucial support or they may contribute to maladaptive behaviour, including excessive drinking or abusing drugs.

Attending to your most important relationship is fundamental to your health and happiness. Work can consume as much of your life as you allow. Consequently, you may invest less time and energy in what you value most.

For any of your relationships to thrive, you must attend to them. Nowhere is this more important than in your relationship with your significant other.

Here are five tips to focus your attention:

  • Nurture emotional intimacy

After a busy day of work and looking after children or household chores, we may save nothing for our partners. Agree on making a habit of checking in with one another each day. How are you feeling? How was your day?

  • Be affectionate

Express positive feelings. Remember that every person expresses love and has a need to feel loved in different ways. Some use words, some prefer physical affection, some appreciate kind gestures and some like presents.

  • Schedule regular dates

When we get busy with the rest of life, time together to have fun can be postponed indefinitely. Write it in both your calendars. Commit your time to what matters most.

When things get stale, have an affair – with your own partner.

  • Text each other during breaks throughout your day

Leave love letters. Sneak in a date during your lunch breaks.

  • Consider a refresher on communication

Too often, cohabitation morphs from co-operation to competition. We may begin to see our partners as competitors, and we may keep a running tally of who gets their way and who’s giving in. If you’re not sure who’s winning, ask your friends who’ve been listening to your complaints. Many couples develop negative stereotypes of one another. We may begin seeing the other in a negative light and misinterpret every action negatively.

Common thought distortions include mind reading (we make negative assumptions on the other’s intentions without checking them out), all or nothing thinking (we see all the bad and none of the good in the other) and excessive blaming (when something goes wrong or is left undone, it’s the other’s fault. That’s the risk of being the only other person around).

It takes a very reflective, honest and insightful person to recognize these thought distortions. The rest of us may need a refresher on communication or couples counselling.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is the Physician Lead of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. For more on achieving your positive potential in health:

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