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Relationships: Proceed with Caution

The Mental Health Foundation defines relationships as ‘”the way in which two or more people are connected, or the state of being connected”.

Relationships include the intimate relationships we have with our partners, ties that we form with our parents, siblings and grandparents; and the bonds that we form socially with our friends, work colleagues, teachers, healthcare professionals and community.

    “A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation;        you are human only in relationships.”    – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

If you wish to be heard, you must first be willing to hear.”  – Irshad Manji

If you don’t trust people, people will not trust you.”   Lao Tzu

More from the Mental Health Foundation:                                                                  Relationships pdf
Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives, yet we can often forget just how crucial our connections with other people are for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected.It’s not the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship; it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. Living in conflict or within a toxic relationship is more damaging than being alone. As a society and as individuals, we must invest in building and maintaining good relationships and tackling the barriers to forming them.Having close, positive relationships can give us a purpose and sense of belonging. Loneliness and isolation remain the key predictors for poor psychological and physical health. Having a lack of good relationships and long-term feelings of loneliness have been shown by a range of studies to be associated with higher rates of mortality, poor physical health outcomes and lower life satisfaction. In seeking to combat loneliness and isolation, however, we need to be aware that poor-quality relationships can be toxic and worse for our mental health than being alone. Research shows that people in unhappy or negative relationships have significantly worse outcomes than those who are isolated or have no relationships.Longer working hours, money problems and less time to spend with family have been reported as some of the most important stress factors for relationships. Having few close relationships has been linked to higher rates of depression and stress in older adults.Engaging in community helps us feel connected, supported and gives us a sense of belonging. Involvement in local activities, such as volunteering or playing sports as part of a team, has been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing.When it comes to keeping physically well, we recognize that exercise and eating well require commitment and dedication. We need to adopt a similar approach to building and maintaining good relationships! For many of  us, our approach to building and maintaining relationships is passive – it is something we do subconsciously and without deliberate effort. We often overlook that it requires an investment of time to maintain good relationships.Five things we can do to build our feelings of connection:

  1. 1. Put more time aside to connect with friends and
  2. 2. Try to be present in the moment and be there for your loved
  3. 3. Actively listen to what others are saying and concentrate on their needs in that
  4. 4. Share how you are feeling, honestly, and allow yourself to be listened to and
  5. 5. Foster healthy relationships: being around positive people can increase our mental and our physical health!


Tips for building relationships and learning to trust:

Be honest with yourself. If you are honest with yourself, you can be honest with other people

Express your concerns

Go slowly! Do not idealize the situation; consider the relationship clearly and thoughtfully

Build trust step by step. Start trusting each other in small matters

Trust is a perception of honesty; competence and value similarly are essential

We creatively build our reality through social interaction using social structure as our guiding behavior

Remember: The judgments we make about others depend not only on their behavior but on our interpretation of the social situation

Love and Relationships

Regardless of how old we are, if we can think, we have thought about love. We know the definition is very broad, but we often allow ourselves to be duped into thinking “love” means “romantic relationship”. Love certainly includes romantic relationships, but it is really so much more.

Almost everyone wants:
• To feel valued / valuable.
• To love and feel loved.
• To feel safe.
• To make sense of our life.
• To share joys and sorrows with close friends or family.
Why do we lie?

• To look good. We choose to present an image of ourselves as attractive and desirable. We are afraid to share information that may make us look bad.

• To avoid unpleasantness. We conceal information that we believe may cause conflict. We go to great lengths to create false, superficial harmony. We get to know ourselves and each other better as we reveal and negotiate our differences.

• To avoid hurting feelings. We don’t want to upset people by saying something that might hurt or make them angry.

Detecting lies can be difficult. Scrutinize three elements: voice, body language, and facial expression. Other possible signs of loss of trust: withholding information, mixed messages, refusing to negotiate.

Basic Sociological and Relationship Concepts to consider:

Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Uncertainty is unpleasant and therefore motivational; people communicate to reduce it.

Strangers, upon meeting, go through certain steps and checkpoints in order to reduce uncertainty about each other and form an idea of whether one likes or dislikes the other. The contents of the exchanges are often demographic and transactional. Where are you from? Do you have any pets? Demographic information is obtained: sex, age, economic, or social status.

When the new acquaintances are ready to get to know each other better, they begin to explore the attitudes and beliefs of the other by asking questions about values, morals, and personal issues. They feel less constrained by rules and norms and tend to communicate more freely with each other. One factor which reduces uncertainty between communicators is the degree of similarity individuals perceive in each other (in background, attitudes, and appearance).

Three basic ways people seek information about another person

  • Passive observation only, no contact
  • Active ask others about the person in question
  • Interactive communicate directly with the person

The primary determinant of individual behavior is the social situation in which that behavior occurs. Social roles, competition, or the mere presence of others can profoundly influence how we behave. We usually adapt our behavior to the demands of the social situation, and in ambiguous situation we take our cues from the behavior of others.


Refers to a recognized social position that an individual occupies. An example would include being a father, accountant, male, and husband.

Ascribed Statues

Ascribed status is a social position a person receives at birth or assumes involuntarily later in life. Achieved status refers to a social position that a person assumes voluntarily and that reflects a significant measure of personal ability and choice. Most often there is a combination of ascribed and achieved factors in each of our statuses.


Refers to behavior expected of someone who holds a particular status. Some roles are imposed (child, brunette, left handed) and some we choose (mom, jerk, conservative, Packer fan)


What we expect from people in certain roles, such as:

  • Parent: caring, doddering, responsible, cautious
  • Runner: non-smoker, careful, healthy, energetic
  • Dead Head: groovy, dancer, vegetarian, mellow

Social Construction of Reality

Refers to the process by which individuals build reality through social interaction. While statuses and roles structure our lives, we shape our patterns of interaction with others. People build reality from the surrounding culture. Therefore, perceptions of reality vary both within a single society and among societies the world over.

Social Norms

“Unwritten rules”. Adjustment to a group typically involves discovering its social norms. Two ways: Noticing uniformities and observing negative consequences.

Social Reality

Subjective interpretations of other people and of our relationships. Social Reality determines whom we find attractive, whom we find threatening, whom we seek out and whom we avoid. The judgments we make about others depend not only on their behavior but on our interpretation of the social situation.

Nonverbal Communication

This concept refers to communication using, not speech, but body movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Types of body language– smiles, eye contact, and hand movements. Most nonverbal communication is cultural-specific. Three ways in which emotional life differs cross-culturally include: (1) what triggers an emotion, (2) how people display emotions according to the norms of their culture, and (3) how people cope with emotions.

Principle of Proximity

Frequent contact best predicts our closest relationships.


People usually find it more rewarding to strike up a friendship with someone who shares their attitudes, interests, values, and experiences. If we have just discovered that we share tastes in music, politics, and attitudes toward education, we will probably hit it if off because we have, in effect, exchanged compliments that reward each other for our tastes and attitudes. Most people find marriage partners of the same age, race, social status, attitudes, and values.

Self Disclosure

Sends signals of trust. “Here is a piece of information that I want you to know about me, and I trust you not to hurt me with it.”

Physical Attractiveness

While we claim we are not so shallow as to value people by their looks, studies show that looks do matter. Fortunately, people actually consider ‘average’ features to be the most attractive. Evolutionary theory suggests that people whose physical features suggest they are healthy are seen as more attractive.

Expectancy-Value Theory

People usually decide whether to pursue a relationship by weighing the value they see in another person against their expectation of success in the relationship (Will the other person be attracted to me?). People with low opinions of themselves tend to establish relationships with people who share their views, that is, with people who devalue them. On the other hand, individuals who appear to be extremely competent can be intimidating; we fear they will reject our approaches. When highly competent individuals commit minor blunders, however, we like them better.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Mental adjustments that account for people who voluntarily undergo unpleasant experiences. When people’s cognitions and actions are in conflict (dissonance) they often reduce the conflict by changing their thinking (cognition) to fit their behavior. This explains why smokers rationalize their habit.

Fundamental Attribution Error

We tend to attribute other peoples actions and misfortunes to their personal traits rather than to situational forces. This helps explain why we often hear attribution of laziness or low intelligence to the poor or homeless, rather than an externally imposed lack of opportunity. For ourselves, however, we attribute our success to internal factors, such as motivation, talent or skill. We attribute our failures to external factors beyond our control, called a self-serving bias; probably rooted in the need for self-esteem due to social pressures to excel.


Prejudice is a negative attitude toward an individual based solely on his or her membership in a particular group. Prejudiced attitudes serve as filers that influence the way others are perceived and treated.


Discrimination is a negative behavior, an action taken against an individual as a result of her or his group membership.The source of discrimination and prejudice that is perhaps the most pervasive is an unthinking tendency to maintain conditions the way they are even when those conditions involve unfair assumptions prejudices and customs. If similarity breeds liking, then dissimilarity can breed disdain – find commonalities! Social distance can make it easier to treat members of an ‘out-group’ with contempt.

Power of the Situation

Power of the situation can have a strong influence! What happens when you put good people in an evil place? A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment Conducted at Stanford University: http://www.prisonexp.org/

Becoming an Ex

This experience is common to most people in modern society. Unlike individuals in earlier cultures who usually spent their entire lives in one marriage, one career, one religion, one geographic locality, people living in today’s world tend to move in and out of many roles in the course of a lifetime. It’s hard to shake former roles, however, and the ‘ex’ must repeatedly demonstrate the behaviors of the roles they are now in.

Cooperation can change people.

Working with diverse people we learn all people are just people, not objects to be hated and/or loved for their perceived and distant media or culture-derived social value. We share a small country and a small planet! We are mutually interdependent on each other. Whether we recognize this or not, we have a working relationship based on shared goals.