It seems that we are quick to buy into schemes or ideas that appear to improve our lives – our physical wellbeing through the latest diets or exercise programmes, our financial wellbeing through considered investments and financial advice, our career wellbeing through training and development, seeking improved qualifications and in our social wellbeing through diversity in leisure activities or in travel and holidays. Of course, all of these can be excellent choices and good places to make an investment in either time or money.
In a wide range of studies and surveys into wellbeing, and those factors that enable us to live healthy and happy lives it’s clear that all factors that influence wellbeing are interdependent (there’s no magic bullet). Additionally, a significant factor is the nature of our relationships – all relationships from the regular casual encounters to our most significant and closest relationships. Surveys from Gallup’s global study of wellbeing which indicated how much relationships shape our expectations, desires and goals, to studies on loneliness and isolation that clearly show how a wide range of health risks grow in people feeling socially isolated or lacking in emotionally rewarding relationships. Other studies have shown that just having relationships isn’t enough – they need to be satisfying and quality of relationships not quantity counts.
In our diverse world, it’s therefore not just traditional high quality relationships such as apparently happy marriages that are important for relationship wellbeing and overall health and wellbeing. Our social integration and close relationships in diverse and varied forms are the strongest indicators of wellbeing, both psychological and physical. This is closely linked to findings from studies into the effects of loneliness. In a survey of 2,200 people in the UK, 10% felt feelings of loneliness and more recent studies reveal that sensations of loneliness are not the same as social isolation. People can be lonely even when surrounded by people if the quality of the interactions aren’t emotionally rewarding. Surprisingly, loneliness is not all about the elderly and feelings of loneliness are significant amongst both adolescents and young adults. Furthermore, there are indications that loneliness can be a pre-clinical sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Close to 15% (2.5 million) of 45-65 year olds in the UK live alone, based on research from the Office for National Statistics, a figure that has increased by 23% over the past ten years. Or to put it another way, roughly 1 in every 3.5 households is someone living alone. Whilst it isn’t suggested that everyone that lives alone is prone to feelings of loneliness, it is a reasonable assumption to make that these trends are a marker for risks of loneliness and social isolation, which in turn are poor indicators of wellbeing.
So with these findings and statistics in mind, the question asked in the heading is a good and reasonable one to ask. Reduced relationship wellbeing doesn’t just happen, nor can it be improved overnight but when considering investments in other areas of wellbeing, adults going through all the other demands of life should consider what investment they are making in relationship wellbeing.
My work as a relationship coach can be seen as an investment in wellbeing; not really about trying to “fix” someone in mid life after experiences from divorce or bereavement or from the challenges of forming relationships at that time of life, but to improve the chances in the area of wellbeing that show the closest correlation to mortality.