Why relationships matter
July 17, 2020

After 17 extraordinary weeks, life is returning to some degree of normality. Weddings are back – although small, and with no handshakes or hugs. Only the bride and groom can embrace. Now there is a chance to get away for socially distanced excursions to the coast and the countryside. Families are reuniting even if it’s with elbow bumps rather than hugs.

This week, OnePlusOne is celebrating the first ever Relationships Week organised with our colleagues at Relate.

Relationships have borne the strain of Covid-19. The media report fallouts for families, a rise in domestic violence, a spike in separation and divorce, and the attendant risks for children.

The pandemic is still with us and it seems it will be for a lot longer. Everyday life and livelihoods have altered and will continue to change. A range of impacts are being assessed by national and local government, health authorities, employers, and charities. While we mourn the deaths, we worry about the ongoing impact of the pandemic on physical and mental health, children’s educational outcomes, and damage to the futures of young people and the cohesion of communities. 

Professor George Vaillant of Harvard Medical School has studied the lives of men from their 20s to their 80s. He concluded that what really matters in life are our relationships with other people – they help us cope with adversity. That capacity explains why some people flourish in the face of difficulties, while others flounder.

Forming and maintaining relationships seems to be getting harder. We may be more connected digitally – video calls help us stay in touch virtually – but staying connected emotionally is harder. The evidence shows that the quality and quantity of social relationships are decreasing despite the technology. More and more people are becoming socially isolated. So, we must work harder to make and maintain relationships.

Physical and mental health are strongly associated with wellbeing, and the impact of relationships on health starts in the early years of life. Adversity in infancy through disrupted childhoods and poor nurture can influence health across a lifetime. In adulthood, the quantity and quality of relationships and social ties matter – not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. This will have an economic impact on the UK and the world in the post Covid-19 era. 

As we plan for economic recovery and debate the impacts of Covid-19, we should factor in the value of relationships. Our forced isolation has brought deprivation, but it has also heightened awareness of just how much we rely on others.

Relationships are not just nice to have, they are the stuff of life.