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Relationships: Why do they matter so much to us?

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Relationships create psychological space and safety so that we can explore and learn. This space offers emotional and psychological resources for times of stress.

Human beings are social, we grow and develop when we interact with others. We seek out relationships and attempt to make connections even when it’s challenging. The “belongingness hypothesis” states that people have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others. Belonging to a group or community gives us a sense of identity. It helps us to feel a part of something larger than ourselves.

People are happier when they spend time with other people more than when they are alone. Surprisingly this is true for both introverts and extroverts! Additionally, the positive effects of connecting with others lasts long after your social gathering has ended. When you feel a sense of connection with others you also tend to experience more happiness and this can be contagious. With all this happy energy flowing there is a greater experience of joyfulness overall. Psychologists call this the “upward spiral” of positive emotions and increased happiness.

Sound great, right? It’s usually not surprising that good quality relationships can bring us happiness and satisfaction. So why do so many of us experience frustration, dissatisfaction, and conflict in our relationships? When these kinds of emotions emerge in our relationships if can be more difficult to see the possibilities of connection and safety that might be offered. Not all relationships are the same.

It’s important to determine which relationships are most important to you in your life. This might reflect the specific people that matter to you or the kinds of relationships you value. It’s worth asking yourself:

  • Who do you spend the most time with?

  • Who do you spend the most time thinking about?

  • What relationships motivate you?

  • Who are the most important people to you?

After you’ve narrowed down the list of who matters it’s also worth exploring how do these relationships become more meaningful. Just knowing someone doesn’t create a meaningful connection. Remember we’ve all got that desire too deeply connect with others, but that doesn’t just happen. It usually requires intentionality and discernment. To begin figuring this out it’s worth asking yourself:

  • What are important qualities for these important relationships to have?

  • What do I want my relationship with my partner, children, etc to be like?

  • What words describe my ideal relationships?

  • What words describe the worst kind of relationships to me?

This kind of self-reflection can illuminate the ways that we may be doing the opposite of what we desire. Maybe you want a satisfying and connected relationship with your partner, but in answering the questions above you notice that you aren't really prioritizing that or creating space for connection. In counseling and therapy we sometimes call this relationship mapping. Doing the work to understand the types of relationships that are important to you. This kind of reflection can help us to seek ways that our current relationships might be helping or hurting us. From there we can craft a new vision that lines up with living the life we desire. Counseling and psychotherapy often help us to reflect deeply on our lives, relationships included. Feel free to reach out today.

Kara Wolff, PhD


Kara E. Wolff, PhD
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