Healthy, High-Quality Relationships Matter More Than We Think

Healthy, High-Quality Relationships Matter More Than We Think


Any relationship, whether with a friend, co-worker, family member or romantic partner, inevitably impacts our well-being. The important question, though, is whether impact is ultimately negative or positive. When looking at our relationships with others, experts say that the most important factor to consider is the quality of a given relationship.

That’s because research suggests that high-quality relationships can lead to a variety of positive outcomes. “A high-quality relationship is one in which we have an ongoing sense that our partner has our back,” says Alexandra Solomon , a licensed clinical psychologist, author and host of the Reimagining Love podcast.

Solomon adds other factors that can come into play, such as a sense of trust and commitment. “Commitment is essential,” Solomon notes. “That sense that you were here yesterday, you’re here today, you’re going to be here tomorrow. That sense of continuity helps us relax and makes it safe enough to be vulnerable.” Beyond that, the authors of a 2005 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that those who shifted into more committed relationships over time were rewarded with improvements in their overall well-being.

Romantic Relationships

When it comes to our romantic ties, Solomon emphasized there are physical and emotional health benefits that come with a rewarding relationship; in other words, when there’s emotional safety and physical connectedness between partners. And according to authors of another study published in the Cognitive Therapy and Research journal, close, supportive relationships can be crucial for dealing with stress.

Relationships that aren’t “high-quality” can lead to negative outcomes, too. “There’s science that indicates that when relationships are strained – when there is a kind of chronic, unremitting conflict – there are negative health consequences,” says Solomon. “So, relationship stress and strain affects our physical health and our emotional health in very negative ways.”

One 2018 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who were “not too happy” in their marriage were over twice as likely to report worse health (and nearly 40 percent more likely to die) over the follow-up period than those who thought of themselves as “very happily married.” While the authors note that the research on the longevity and health benefits of marriage is firmly established, people in unhappy marriages may be a particularly vulnerable population.

Another 2019 study even emphasized that emotional abuse within a marriage can lead to an increased risk for suicide for women, with infidelity ranked as one of the strongest predictors. “Love and abuse cannot coexist,” Solomon adds. And while there’s plenty of research that illustrates how loneliness can be bad for one’s health, being in a relationship with just anyone isn’t going to automatically lead to positive outcomes. The key, Solomon says, is fostering a healthy relationship.

How to Build Healthy Romantic Relationships

So how exactly do you foster a quality relationship? Solomon notes that there’s an entire field of relationship science dedicated to understanding what distinguishes healthy couples from unhealthy ones. “It’s very hard for me to imagine creating a high-quality relationship without both partners, being willing to practice relational self-awareness,” Solomon says.

While a healthy couple will utilize rational self-awareness, unhealthy couples e, for example, may look like pointing a finger at the other person and saying things like, “We’re having this problem because of what you did,” Solomon says. Whereas shame emerges when one partner says to the other, “We’re having this problem because of what I did.” Rather than employing blame or shame, Solomon recommends people look at their own behavior and try to understand why they’re having that reaction. In other words, being willing to check in with ourselves before resorting to finger pointing or feeling ashamed.