by Dr. Sandra Hamilton | Featured Contributor
“Finding the one” and “lucky in love” are phrases that reflect the primacy of romantic relationships in our culture. Though a passionate and profound connection with a life mate is a beautiful adventure, those who choose to focus on other priorities, or have not had the opportunity, may feel that they are missing out on “living happily ever after.” Terms such as “significant other” and “committed relationship” imply a subtle devaluation of other relationships that may keep us from seeing the love that we do have in our lives.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the personal and professional lives of 724 people over the past seventy-five years. The results showed that the presence of meaningful relationships rather than a life partner was found to be a primary factor in living longer, protecting brain health, and maintaining emotional stability. The investigators also found that the quality — rather than the quantity — of emotional connections was more strongly associated with better overall health and well-being.
We have all experienced a moment when we wondered where we belong in the scheme of love and relationships. If you have lost an important relationship, be it friend, family or colleague; or have felt alone or lonely in spite of having many people in your life, consider these strategies to reconnect with yourself and others:
1. Identify your tribe.
Think of five people with whom who you feel most like yourself. Observe, appreciate, and nurture relationships with those five people instead of spending time with ten people that you feel obligated to see, experience dread when you make plans with them, and hide out when you are with them. Limit contact with people who leave you feeling drained, annoyed or numb. Relationships are a two-way street. If you feel worse after connecting with someone — it’s time to cross the street.
2. Seek depth not breadth.
As shown by the Harvard study, a short list of gratifying relationships is healthier than a long list of conflicted relationships with people you can’t count on. We all hold onto relationships that have become toxic or no longer meet our needs. It’s hard to let go of meaningful history with someone, or the hope that a dying relationship will renew itself. Even though the fear of hurting ourselves or someone else can be a tough obstacle to overcome, in the end, you will have more time, energy, and space to meet people that may become part of your tribe.
3. Create engagement.
There is much love to be had in the world with friends, colleagues, family, pets or even the barista at your local coffee shop. Show up and pay attention to what you are offered instead of focusing your attention on people who may never see you for who you truly are.
4. Help yourself by helping others.
Connect with the world by giving to others rather than focusing on not being loved. Serving others will give you a different perspective on your life as well as new ways to develop your innate talents.
5. Connect with people face to face.
Social media offers many opportunities for healthy connection, but can be misused as a substitute for human contact. Observe how much time and energy you spend on your online relationships. If you notice you’re spending most of your free time relating to faces on a screen, it’s time to unplug, look up, and see who’s in front of you.
The ability to spot what’s lacking in a contract or spreadsheet is a useful skill in the workplace, but focusing on what’s missing in our personal life can blind us from seeing the abundance of opportunity for emotional intimacy. Appreciating our tribe, and paying it forward to those in need, is the most powerful antidote for disconnection. Find the courage to let go of the relationships that drain you, and nurture the connections that are mutual. Anyone can be your significant other if you feel heard, seen, and happier for having spent time with them. And remember to take good care of you. A meaningful connection with yourself is the most significant relationship you will have in your lifetime.
Dr. Sandra Hamilton
While taking pre-med classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I became so distracted by psychology courses that I changed my major to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. My contributions to She Owns It are drawn from the professional perspective of a clinical psychologist, as well as the personal point of view of a single working mother and entrepreneur. I have maintained an independent psychology practice for over 20 years, taught as an adjunct assistant professor for over a decade, and somehow managed to survive raising two spirited daughters.
My expertise is grounded in years of working with individuals, couples, and families who have worked their way through catastrophic experiences as well as the inevitable demands of adult life. I admire their tenacity each time they schedule another session in the face of painful insights and difficult feelings.
Therapy is not a haircut. It’s not a quick fix, and you don’t always feel better when you leave.