On this last day of February, after the Valentine’s Day flowers have wilted and the chocolate has all been consumed, we are left with only the memory of Valentine’s Day 2023 – and, of course, the best gift of all, the LOVE. Love is a beautiful thing and worthy of gratitude, not just one day a year, but every day.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Anyone who has ever been in a mutually supportive, loving relationship knows just how wonderful it feels. Within the comfort and security of a loving relationship, you often feel protected, empowered, and confident. It is the perfect environment to grow and thrive. In fact, research has shown that love, within a healthy relationship, can have many therapeutic benefits to mental health, and can even help in the treatment of mental illness. Let’s talk a little about that …

What defines a loving, healthy relationship?

First, know that there is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. All relationships have challenges, but it is how you communicate and support each other through these challenges that help you to grow together and strengthen your bond. Every relationship requires work, but it is worth the effort.

Common characteristics of a healthy relationship include;

Trust. You feel safe and comfortable with your partner. You can be vulnerable knowing that they will love and support you. You feel free to be your unguarded, unedited self.

Safety. You know your partner will never intentionally cause you harm, physically or emotionally.

Mutual Respect. You value and respect each other. You honor each other’s boundaries.

Equality. You both make an equal effort in nurturing your relationship and make important decisions together.

Good Communication. You feel comfortable discussing every aspect of your life; your successes, problems, financial concerns, work stress, failures, etc.

Honesty. You are both truthful and forthcoming with each other, without the fear of being judged.

Support. You support and encourage each other through good times and bad. You support each other’s hopes and dreams.

Responsibility. You both take ownership of your words and actions. You admit when you have made a mistake. You avoid placing blame.

Separate Identities. You give each other the freedom and space to be yourself; each with your own separate, unique, and uncompromised identity.

How does a loving, healthy relationship benefit mental health?

Relationships are an important aspect of life. When we are socially connected, we are happier, physically healthier, live longer and experience less mental health problems than those who are not supported by strong social relationships. These relationships do not necessarily need to be romantic to be beneficial; any close, supportive relationship is beneficial to our health. However, being in a stable intimate relationship has even more significant benefits of increased self-esteem, trust and empathy, along with lowered rates of anxiety and depression.

Other mental health benefits of healthy relationships include;

Happiness. We are simply happier when we feel safe and loved.

Self-Worth.  Ideally everyone should have a strong, positive sense of self-worth. However, when you are loved by someone else, it helps to solidify the fact that you matter, that you are important, and that should anything ever happen to you, it would break your loved one’s heart.

Healthier Habits. You are more likely to adopt and adhere to healthier lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy foods, exercising, and avoiding substance abuse. Though these are physical health habits, they also promote good mental health.

Increased Resilience. When you have a partner to love and support you through hard times, it can help you become more resilient to stress and other unwanted emotions.

Emotional Support. When you feel secure in your relationship, you are more likely to share your thoughts and feelings, rather than keep them bottled up, which is extremely beneficial to emotional health.

How can a loving, healthy relationship aide in the treatment of mental illness?

Mental illness effects more than just the person experiencing it, it affects everyone around them and every person that loves them, in some way.  Luckily, when you are in a loving, committed relationship, you never need to go through something like this alone. That means, should you ever receive a mental illness diagnosis, your partner or loved one can and should be involved in your treatment.

A mental illness diagnosis can be difficult and overwhelming, so having a loved one by your side for emotional support can help immensely. Not only that but having them actively involved in your treatment plan can also be extremely beneficial. They can help to provide valuable information about your symptoms and ability to function at home. They can help ensure that you comply with treatment recommendations, help with medication management inside the home, and help track and report medication side effects and other relevant information to your treatment provider.

Never feel ashamed, or perceive yourself as a burden, by having your loved one involved in your mental illness treatment. When you love someone, you are invested in their health and well-being. This is what we do for each other in a loving, healthy relationship.

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