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Relationships and Cancer: Are They Linked?

Focused on Health - August 2010

by Adelina Espat

Spending time with others usually makes us laugh more and worry less. We’re more likely to have a positive outlook becausefriends we’re less likely to feel lonely or depressed.

But how do relationships affect our health?

One recent study says that people in healthy relationships are twice as likely to live longer  than those in unhealthy relationships. Other studies even suggest that treatment may be more successful for cancer patients who have the support of friends and family.  

But why? Over the years, researchers have found that keeping a strong network of friends and family can boost a person’s mental health and reduce  stress. That’s good news because too much stress can harm a person’s immune system, which defends the body against infections and diseases, including cancer.

While no research directly links social relationships to cancer risks, several studies link successful relationships to improved health. And, a healthy body means you will be in better fighting shape when infection or disease knocks on your door.

Positive relationships take work

Building strong relationships takes work – they just don’t happen overnight. But the evidence above proves that surrounding ourselves with friends and family definitely makes the effort worthwhile.

The only way to reap the positive benefits from relationships is to nurture each one. If you don’t invest the time to make your relationships work, you may experience the opposite effect – increased stress and loneliness.  And, this does not equal a healthier you.

If you are struggling to make relationships work for you, try these strategies:

Are you listening?phone friend

The most important part of building a healthy relationship with friends, family members or a significant other is listening. When you listen, you show someone you’re interested in understanding his or her thoughts and feelings.

Not good at listening? The trick is to be attentive and not interrupt when someone is speaking. When done right, listening leads to understanding. And, if you understand someone else fully, then you know what to do to get closer and work better together.

Stay connected to friends and family members

The tips below are not new, but they are good reminders. Sometimes we forget the most simple, yet important, actions needed to make relationships work.

  • Keep in contact as much as possible
  • Share feelings openly
  • Talk openly with each other
  • Spend time together
  • Be honest
  • Be a good listener
  • Be willing to compromise

Strengthen intimacy with spouse/significant otherloving couple

For most adults, marriage or being in a committed relationship is the foundation of their social support network. Research shows that a happy relationship is good for a couple’s health. At the same time, an unhappy relationship may have the opposite effect on a person’s health.  

Make your relationship work in favor of your health by following these tips:

  • Practice active listening and constant communication
  • Keep physical intimacy alive
  • Spend quality time together
  • Try new things together

Always remember the key to healthy relationships is trust, respect, positivity and communication. Never stop communicating! The best relationships are based on sharing.

Related Links:

Video: The Power of Sustainable Changes in Diet and Lifestyle (MD Anderson)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center