We are approximately one month out from the publication of Rebecca Traister’s new book chronically the recent rise of single women as a political force. Now more than ever American women are choosing to opt out of marriage in favor of their own careers. What looks on the surface as a progressive shift in American culture really may be, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of the vital importance that relationships of all types have on our overall well being and financial success. American values have always promoted independence over interdependence. This, in combination with buying into the notion that success and happiness requires status and working long hours, few young Americans realize the sacrifices they are making with regard to their future well-being and happiness when they completely neglect their personal lives. While some will eventually find the balance they desire, a growing population of adults will struggle to surround themselves with healthy individuals. The cost regarding productivity is high when one chooses unsupportive relationships or simply lives in an environment without access to such relationships.
We have long known the impact negative experiences have on an adult’s well being. In 1998, Drs. Felitti and Anda published a groundbreaking article attributing early death and major medical challenges to adult experiences with adversity in childhood. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has shown that trauma, abuse, and the lack of supportive relationships is tied to a multitude of substance abuse, mental health, and medical problems. The more risk factors an adult experiences the more likely he or she is to have multiple diseases and face an early death. This cycle continues generation after generation with little incentive and money to support moving the cycle in a healthier direction.
Despite ongoing research indicating that over two-thirds of the American population has suffered from at least one ACE event, prevention programs are not always widely supported. There is strong data supporting programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership, which helps families learn better parenting skills through the use of highly trained home visitors. Why is this important? Early intervention can teach parents how to have a meaningful and emotionally available relationship with their child. This relationship promotes healthy brain development and often leads to better overall well being for both the parent and the child. Not only do these programs stop the cycle of intergenerational trauma, they intervene and change the pattern leading to a significantly lower cost in the need for adult social services, including incarceration. The programs are economically advantageous and yet the United States falls way behind other countries in its support of early intervention programs.
We have known for years that the right relationship has profound neurobiological benefits on children. Many, however, do not realize that the right adult relationship can also play a role in how we regulate our emotions and can either support or inhibit healthy adult development. Dating, cohabitation and possibly marriage, therefore, become equally important developmental milestones for adults and leave room to question why we do not value romantic relationships and friendships as much as the parent-child relationship from a policy perspective. Shouldn’t we be supporting all healthy relationships?
Healthy living and the overall happiness of our adult population rests on the premise that our citizens can access and profit from healthy relationships. We would be wise to listen to our researchers and clinicians about the prevalence rates of relational trauma that occur and fund programs that aim to change these dynamics from birth. Families’ need paid family leave and reliable day care. Relational violence needs to be decreased. Single adults need to be supported in their search for a partner who is kind, supportive and adds value to their lives. Work-life balance should not be a luxury. It should be made a priority so that we can nurture and respect the very people who are capable of providing the emotional support needed for all of us to thrive. Doing so would not only make us happier but would support a more productive and healthy lifestyle for everyone.
About the Author: Jennifer B. Rhodes, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of the bi-costal relationship consultancy, Rapport Relationships. Dr. Rhodes completed her doctorate degree at Yeshiva University and her post-graduate training at Tulane University Medical Center and the Institute for Abuse, Violence, and Trauma. She currently also maintains a private practice in New York City. Dr. Rhodes is a member of Ladies America, a Thought Partner for the World in 2050 Series.