By Betsy Reed

West Michigan Community Mental Health

Relationships with other people are one of the most important aspects of our lives. Research shows that healthy intimate relationships support good mental health as well. A recently-publicized study by Dr. John Gallacher and David Gallacher of Cardiff University suggests that people in committed relationships have better mental health and physical health. Of course, not all relationships are healthy. In the study, single people reported better mental health than people in strained relationships. However, the study authors concluded that on balance, the benefit of a good relationship “probably is worth making the effort.”

Anyone in a committed relationship knows that indeed it is an effort! Good relationships take work. One of the specific areas that people in relationships must work on is good communication, according to Ludington-based psychotherapist Laura Lyons, LMSW. Sounds easy — but it isn’t. Lyons goes on to say that good communication is not something people tend to figure out by themselves. It takes some learning and some practice to put good communication to work in a relationship.

Most relationships could use a little boost in the communication department. Even if you feel your relationship is pretty decent, you and your partner may experience regular conflicts that are related to lack of communication. You may find yourselves getting stuck on the same issues over and over. It may not mean your relationship is headed for demise, but it adds unnecessary stress to your life. Lyons advises that it’s good to address these small problems in the early stages. As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Counseling with a professional therapist is an excellent option for couples that want to improve their communication skills. Other couples may enjoy attending a weekend workshop, which usually features a combination of group seminars and individual work. A quick online search for "West Michigan couples workshops" will bring up many local opportunities. If neither of these options fit your schedule or your budget, you may choose to seek guidance from the myriad of self-help books available. Lyons recommends the works of Harville Hendrix, Michele Weiner-Davis, or Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages series.

Whichever resource you choose, the most important factor in your success is you work together to improve your relationship. "The mutualness is vital," says Lyons. "It takes commitment from both sides to make positive change happen."

If you want to do something truly special for your loved one, consider making a commitment to work together on building a better relationship. Not only is it more meaningful than a box of candy, it’s better for your health, too!

Betsy Reed is the Quality and Public Relations Coordinator for West Michigan Community Mental Health.