Healthy Living

Use new year to strengthen relationships

Each new year brings with it, New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like me, these resolutions often focus on getting healthy — recommitting to exercise, trying to get my five servings of fruits and vegetables, or downloading the latest app to track my calorie intake.

But 2021 has begun with unique challenges. Over the past year, many of us have spent more hours in our homes than we ever thought possible. We haven’t seen our friends or relatives over holidays or other special occasions. Many have been trying to work from home, home-school kids, and keep the house clean; while others have not been able to see aging parents. Last year about 4,000 Iowan families lost a loved one to COVID-19.

Given the difficulty that was 2020, what should we resolve to do in 2021?

Vowing to exercise more, eat healthier, or any other goal that improves your health and well-being is certainly important, but could I offer another suggestion?

Decades of scientific research has shown that the quality of our closest relationships — our families, our partners, and our friends — determine the quality of our lives. Those who feel safe, connected, understood and supported in their relationships tend to be happier, healthier and live longer.

So, what is my suggestion? In 2021, I think we should resolve to reprioritize our closest relationships — find ways to strengthen ties, have difficult conversations, find new ways to connect and be present.

This is easier said than done. There is so much information out there about who we should or shouldn’t be in relationships with, and what we should and shouldn’t say to our loved ones. But there is also a lot of bad advice out there.

That’s where I come in.

I’ve been lucky enough to study close relationships for more than a decade. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a professor in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. I’ve worked with hundreds of couples and families in therapy, read the latest research about relationships, and I’ve written and published some of this research myself.

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That doesn’t mean that I always do the right thing in relationships, just ask my wife, family and friends. Nor does it mean that the ideas and information I’ll share here will always work for you. Relationships are complex.

But the best relationships are the ones that are committed to growth.

Growth comes from learning, reflecting and acting. My hope is that as you read this column over the next year, you’ll think about the ideas that are presented and see what fits for you and your closest relationships. If what I write makes sense and could provide a chance to repair or enhance one of your relationships, perhaps you’ll give it a try. I know that it won’t always work but resolving isn’t about doing it right. It’s about being committed to creating something better.

Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a professor in the University of Iowa College of Education. He is also the co-host of the Attached Podcast. Comments: priestjb@gmail.com

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