There are many ways to define love. Generally speaking, love is whenever there is a deep feeling of affection, that’s also accompanied by feelings of trust and hope. Perhaps this is why we’ve found ways to celebrate love throughout the centuries.
Now that we understand more about the biology and chemistry of love, we realize that love has numerous health benefits when the relationship is healthy and loving, such as the following positive effects.
Love can make you happy.
Dopamine, the reward-associated chemical in the brain, is especially active during the first stages of falling in love. According to science, romantic love is one of the best predictors of happiness. “The Harvard Study of Adult Development has assessed the connection between people’s habits and their subsequent well-being since the late 1930s.,” writes Arthur C. Brooks in The Atlantic. “Many of the patterns uncovered by the study are important but unsurprising: The happiest, healthiest people in old age didn’t smoke (or quit early in life), exercised, drank moderately or not at all, and stayed mentally active, among other patterns.”
But these habits pale in comparison with one big one: The most important predictors of late-life happiness are stable relationships—and, especially, a long romantic partnership,” Brooks adds. “The healthiest participants at age 80 tend to have been most satisfied in their relationships at age 50.”
“In other words, the secret to happiness isn’t falling in love; it’s staying in love.”
Being in love promotes self-worth.
The self-worth of every individual should be independent of other people and relationships. It does, however, contribute to self-esteem if they are loved. Being loved by someone means that you matter, that you have value, and that someone would be heartbroken if you were no longer around.
If you're suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, it can be difficult to see your value in the depths of a mental illness. The love you receive from someone who cares for you can be lifesaving at times like these. Having that love might even make you seek treatment that you probably wouldn’t have pursued without it.
Love helps us heal quicker.
“Generally, we see patients with strong social support having better recoveries,” said Benjamin A. Steinberg, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the cardiovascular division of the University of Utah Healthcare. “That can be from friends or family, or even support from an animal partnership, like a pet.”
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are thought to be responsible for improved recovery, according to Steinberg.
Love eases stress and anxiety.
“When people feel securely attached, their stress levels go down,” Dr. Helen Riess, director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Empathy Effect, told Time. “Just being in the presence of someone who greets us with positive regard and caring can actually lower those levels of cortisol and adrenaline and create greater homeostasis, which means that your neurochemicals are back in balance.”
In fact, it’s been found that even just thinking about your partner can help you manage stress.
Additionally, love can also help ease anxiety. “The feeling of loneliness stimulates anxiety, which is mediated by different neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine,” Riess says. “Also, cortisol and adrenaline levels rise when people feel insecure and threatened,” which increases your body’s stress response. In short, feeling close to someone can soothe anxiety.
Love encourages healthy habits.
The correlation between adherence to mental health treatment and a positive relationship with your partner suggests a larger trend: a positive relationship with your partner supports healthy behaviors on all levels.
You are more likely to adhere to a healthy lifestyle when you have a happy and healthy relationship. Some of these habits are eating well, exercising, and not using substances. Good mental health is a result of these physical health behaviors as well. Perhaps your relationship will even encourage you to practice more positive mental health habits, like engaging in productive conflict resolution and opening up about your feelings.
Love helps you live longer.
Compared to singles, married couples live longer. Research indicates that those long-term benefits are in part caused by social and emotional support, better adherence to medical care, and having a partner who can hold you responsible for living a healthy lifestyle and prevent you from making unhealthy choices.
Research has shown that couples with children have a lower rate of substance abuse, lower blood pressure, and less depression than singles.
Mental health and treatment benefit from any type of social support.
In addition to romantic relationships, relationships, in general, are packed with benefits. Any kind of social support has been shown to be beneficial to mental health time and time again. But, there is more significance to social support's quality than to its quantity, based on studies. As such, it's better to have one or two strong relationships than a large number of acquaintances.
The following are several ways that social support can benefit mental health:
The ability to cope with stress more effectively
Choosing a healthier lifestyle
Healthier mental well-being throughout life
Social support is the most significant factor in improving adherence to treatment plans for those suffering from mental illness. If you have a healthy relationship or relationships backing you up, you are more likely to follow through with your treatment.
Don’t forget about self-love.
There is a lot of truth in the statement that you cannot love others until you love yourself. In a healthy relationship, two people must rely on each other but also be independent of each other. The pair must value themselves as well as their relationship.
In addition to caring for each other, make time to attend to your own self-care. Treat yourself with compassion and kindness, just as you would your partner. Do your best to improve yourself while forgiving yourself for your flaws. And, don’t forget to recognize and appreciate your best characteristics.
Mental illness cannot be healed by love, no matter how beautiful the relationship is. Seek professional assistance if your mental health is interrupting your daily and putting a strain on your relationship. Even if you are getting help on your own, it will ultimately make your relationship healthier, happier, and stronger.