Unless we live alone on a desert island, relationships are some of the most important elements of our lives. According to the Mental Health Foundation, those of us who are well connected socially to family, friends or our community are healthier - both physically and mentally; happier, and tend to live longer than people who are less connected.
This is the topic of our latest episode of Deal With It, brought to you by Corsodyl Toothpaste, who are on a mission to get us talking about the uncomfortable issues we choose to ignore – whether that’s bleeding gums or bleeding relationships!
Relationships of all kinds are often central to our happiness and sense of wellbeing. That’s not to say that they are effortless (and the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has tested many of them to the limit) or free from conflict. As we’ll see, effective communication and keeping ourselves grounded in the real world can help us understand others and thrive in our relationships.
Host Ellie Taylor got insights from Oliver Burkeman, bestselling author and psychology columnist into some of the trickier 21-century relationship issues.
Dating in the digital age
Bumble, Tinder, Grindr, Hinge… the potential for finding friends, fun or perhaps your soulmate is sitting right there in your phone. But there are many pitfalls: the number of ‘fish in the sea’ can feel overwhelming; social etiquette gets lost online; contacts can be obnoxious. The chemistry of meeting someone in person is lost online: “It’s not always great to make connections on the basis of how someone chose to present themselves,” says Oliver. Self-esteem can take a hit with constant disappointment or rejection, and it’s important to remember that dating apps are designed for failure so people go back and try again. Better to keep a social balance of friends and family connections, with dating apps just one of several avenues to meet people.
Broaching personal grooming and hygiene
You’ve found that special person and things seem to be going well with your relationship. However, there are some aspects of them that are starting to grate on you. Perhaps you cringe when they tuck their shirt into tightly belted trousers, or insist on wearing comfy old trainers on date nights out. They let their nails grow too long and perhaps don’t floss their teeth, leaving something to be desired in the minty freshness department. What can you do? You don’t want to descend into a relationship of daily criticism, nagging and fights. The best advice is to focus on those issues that affect you personally: nails are scratchy but a tucked shirt cannot harm you. Bad breath because of poor oral hygiene affects you and everyone around and may be a sign of gum disease; gentle communication to brush teeth regularly (ideally with gum-loving Corsodyl toothpaste) does everyone a favour.
When it gets complicated: make up or break up?
When a relationship feels stale, under strain, or you have that uneasy feeling it might not be working, how do you make the decision that ending it is for the best? The benchmark for evaluating a relationship used to be how ‘happy’ it made you, but as Oliver points out, “you can’t just navigate through life on happiness because that might end up not making you very happy”. Rather ask, “is the relationship growing me as a person, or shrivelling me up from the inside?” Nine times out of ten, we instinctively know the answer and what we have to do.
When you make the choice to break up, Oliver advises taking a mature approach, and no contact for the first months: “Make the break really clear and make sure the people you’re reaching out to for support are your friends and not the person you’re separating from.”
All by myself: loneliness
Loneliness can increase your likelihood of dying by 26%. This startling statistic is usually accompanied by a picture of an elderly person, but in fact a third of millennials report feeling always or often lonely, making the social media generation the loneliest generation.
“It’s all bound up with social comparison, and the sense that everybody’s hanging out without you, and not only that, but that they’re having a really good time and doing things in a much more accomplished fashion, so you get this effect that it seems as if you’re missing out on a lot more than you are - FOMO” explains Oliver. The relentless nature of social media means you only get to see the highlights of people’s lives, not the humdrum normality that makes up 90% of the rest. It’s easy to compare and feel inadequate.
Loneliness is relative: gregarious people deprived of social contact will feel more lonely than natural introverts who are generally happy with their own company. Rather than craving a deep and meaningful relationship to combat loneliness, says Oliver, “we need human contact, but we don’t necessarily need the human contact you think you need… it actually really matters to deal with somebody at the Post Office or to chat over the fence for 30 seconds with a neighbour. These things count, they can really make a difference to your emotions for the day”. And while the advice to volunteer, or join clubs and societies and to meet more people is sound, it’s unrealistic to expect these to magically transform our social circles overnight. It’s the little interactions that have the greatest impact.
Give yourself some slack
As well as being kind to others, we need to be kind to ourselves. Oliver leaves us with a final thought: ‘If we treated our friends how we treat ourselves, a lot of the time we would be incredibly bad, mean friends. A lot of people are generally a lot nicer to other people than they are to themselves.’
Check out the latest Deal With It podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts
And don’t go neglecting your relationship with your gums! Gum disease affects nearly 50% of adults, it can cause bad breath and bleeding gums and if left untreated can lead to receding gums and eventually tooth loss. Two thirds of sufferers ignore this serious problem but Corsodyl toothpaste is here to help. When used twice daily it is clinically proven to help stop and prevent bleeding gums, so get on with it and deal with it. Find out more…