As humans, we are social creatures who have a need to belong in close relationships. You might ask, “Why do we have the need to belong?” It may be a part of our human nature to establish close relationships with others, speculated to have evolved from the days when early humans lived in tribes in hostile environments (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). Those who formed connections with others were more likely to survive and have children, giving them an advantage and becoming an adaptive trait. Although this view is speculative, there is no doubt that having caring relationships with others is essential for a good life. If the need is not met, problems (explained below) can result. If you think about it, punishment sometimes comes in the form of solitary confinement, which is deprivation of social interaction. And being entirely alone for an extended period of time is highly stressful for most people.
Close Relationships = Better Health & Mental Health
Some of the strongest support of the need to belong comes from research of people who have lost their close ties to others. Problems can range from health issues such as higher blood pressure, weaker immune systems, to even earlier death! Across the life span, those with few close relationships (whether friends or lovers) were two to three times more likely to die over a nine-year span. And if those stats aren’t scary enough, the quality of the close relationships we have also impact our mental health. Couples were generally happier if they report their marriage as satisfying than those whose marriages are less pleasant.
How Do We Satisfy Our Need to Belong?
Our need to belong is fulfilled with frequent, pleasant interactions with people in lasting, caring relationships. We don’t need many close relationships; the quality of the relationships matters much more than the quantity. The need to belong is satisfied and our drive to form additional relationships is reduced when we are given stable affection and acceptance. So the take-home message is this: We crave close relationships with people whom we feel accepted by, and it doesn’t matter so much who they are as long as they provide us support.
People have all kinds of close relationships with one another and relationships can vary, but as we’ve found out, closeness with others is essential for a good, long life. So how do romantic relationships differ from other close relationships? In the next relationship post, we’ll look into those details.
|This is a guest post by Stacey Yan, a good friend of mine. Stacey has just completed her MSW degree (also has a BA in Psychology) and is currently enjoying her off time hiking around the various trails of Southern California.|