Interpersonal Relationships, Social Health, and our Physical Health

“Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Studies show that social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, for better and for worse, and that these effects emerge in childhood and cascade throughout life to foster cumulative advantage or disadvantage in health.”

Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez, The Journal of Health and Social Behavior

This is a powerful statement. We cannot look at health and mental health and ignore the important role inter-personal relationships play in our lives.  And I believe we would all agree that relationship skills are learned behaviors and that relationship patterns start very early on in our lives and exert an enormous influence into our adult lives.

Healthy Interpersonal Skills

Some examples of healthy interpersonal skills include:

  • Feeling good about yourself/positive self-talk
  • Accepting feedback
  • Able to cultivate lasting and satisfying personal relationships
  • Using communication and listening skills to move through conflicts and challenges
  • Practicing forgiveness, non-judgment, and acceptance
  • Using honest and open communication, even in conflict
  • Taking responsibility for your word
  • Practicing empathy

The Challenge

When I read this list, it is a bit overwhelming. I struggled for years with interpersonal relationships.  I was stuck in old and unhealthy patterns.  My lack of self-worth and attitude of not good enough had me riding on the defensive all the time; I was angry, easily hurt, loved the blame game, and did not understand the value of forgiveness.  

Relationships and interpersonal skills are not easy work and can be challenging for many of us.  Developing these skills takes determination, courage, a desire to cultivate strong personal and working relationships, and an understanding of the value and benefits of these skills.

If we are honest with ourselves how many of us have fallen victim to:

  • Holding onto a grudge and not forgiving someone
  • Gossiping about a person we disagree with
  • Not telling the truth in order to be liked or “not get caught.”
  • Fallen apart at negative feedback
  • Blaming others
  • Judging
  • Feeling like we are not good enough…


Social Health Equals Physical Health

Healthy social skills demand practice, hard work, and a commitment to building cultures of trust, communication, kindness, and collaboration.  To cultivate positive relationships, we must first get out of our own way and be willing to dig deep into our relationship with ourselves. Healing that relationship is the first step to cultivating new interpersonal skills

As challenging as it may be to cultivate these skills – the impact of NOT is far greater. In an article by Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez, in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, they write,

“Relationship stress undermines health through behavioral, psychosocial, and physiological pathways. For example, stress in relationships contributes to poor health habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Stress contributes to psychological distress and physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate and blood pressure) that can damage health through cumulative wear and tear on physiological systems, and by leading people of all ages to engage in unhealthy behaviors (e.g., food consumption, heavy drinking, smoking) in an effort to cope with stress and reduce unpleasant arousal.”

How can we improve our own relationship skills?

  • Attend workshops or online classes
  • Work with a coach or seek out mentorship
  • Ask for feedback and be willing to listen
  • Practice encouraging and loving self-talk and work on our own intra-personal relationship
  • Explore more deeply our emotional IQ and its impact on our relationships
  • Create collaborate teams in our work environments and practice these skills openly
  • Observe those with strong interpersonal skills
  • Cultivate a mindset of positivity
  • Practice listening and practice speaking up and sharing your opinion
  • Learn to practice empathy and non-judgment

It is essential that we make a commitment and challenge ourselves to play a bigger, healthier relationship game so that we can pass that legacy onto our youth, to our co-workers, and to our families.