When you're in a relationship, you're sure to go through physical and mental changes. Physical, in that, well, you're probably getting more exercise than you would if you weren't in a relationship, if you know what I mean. And mental, in that you have a new person to vent about life with, help you sort through any moral dilemmas you have, and in general, feel extra supported and cared for. Basically, your mental health might change when you're in a relationship.
To learn more about how exactly one's mental health can be affected when in a relationship, I turned to Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT.
"The human brain is designed to pair-bond," Richardson tells Elite Daily. "Our brains dump dopamine, endorphins, and other healthy and happy hormones and chemicals when we connect to other people." Basically, your brain rewards you with happy hormones for connecting with other people – which should happen when you're in a relationship with another person.
Richardson says that being in a relationship can improve your health if the connection you share is a positive one.
"When we spend time with people who support and encourage us, we can step into our best selves," she says.
And a partner who is critical and unsupportive can have the opposite effect.
"If we connect to people who judge, criticize, or make us feel less than, we often take steps backwards. Whether it is family, friends or partners, the people that we surround ourselves with are a reflection of the life we have told ourselves we deserve."
Richardson says that research shows good communication essentially can equal a health relationship, which can in turn cause you to have more feelings of "confidence, bravery, and resilience." Who doesn't want those traits?
On the other hand, "when the communication is dysfunctional, there is more likely to be insecurity, mistrust, and fear," she says.
In order to maintain positive mental health changes from your relationship, like newfound confidence or bravery like Richardson says, she recommends you first and foremost take care of yourself.
"Take time to hear from yourself what you need so that you can effectively communicate to your partner," she says. Self-care can take form through reading a book, doing some meditation, getting some fresh air – whatever works for you. For me, I love to take walks, so that's my go-to way to get some time on my own that also gets a little bit of exercise in.
Richardson also suggests that to keep any personal positive mental health effects going, you should be conscientious of your partner, and taking into account what they need, too. "Be and stay curious about your partner, they will grow and change just as you do," she says.
And be sure when you'e determining solutions to conflicts, you go about them in ways that are respectful, gentle, and kind.
If harsh words are used during an argument, that could have lasting damage to your mental health.
"I had a professor in grad school that said over and over again, 'Words kill.' They can kill your relationship and your self worth," she says. So make sure to not let the heat of the moment influence you uttering words that you can, quite honestly, never take back.
As Richardson says, just like how a friend or family member can lift you up or put you down, so can a romantic relationship. With that said, be sure you're surrounding yourself with people who are positive influences on your personal mental health, and that you're a good influence on others', too.