Quality Relationships - the Key Ingredient to Mental Wellbeing in Young Professionals

By Ivy Mugambi


 "A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all men, women and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong” 

Brene Brown


Relationships are an important tool for survival. They promote feelings of wellbeing, confidence and contribute to mental wellness. They can be the greatest source of pleasure or a great source of pain. There is a correlation between people who have healthy self-esteem and are in healthy relationships. You can see this in how they speak, act or feel about themselves. 


Significant Relationships for Young Professionals 


Young professionals are at a stage where they are finding themselves, becoming independent and practicing autonomy within all their relationships. At this stage in their lives, they need both horizontal and vertical relationships. 


Vertical relationships are with someone older who has more life experience and can offer advice when needed – it could be a parent, a caregiver or a manager. Career development benefits from having a mentor or a manager that is supportive but also challenges one to grow. A healthy relationship with superiors mitigates against psychosocial risks in the workplace such as burnout. It is most beneficial compared to having a manager who bullies or belittles work efforts resulting in professional unhappiness and stress.


Horizontal relationships are with peers, people who are going through the same life stages and experiences so that they can do life together. These could be friends or work colleagues that you hang out with after work. They too are navigating roles, responsibilities, loyalties and even pressures from families. Owing to the amount of time spent together, peer relationships revolve around encouraging and supporting each other. In a workplace setting, horizontal relationships involve collaboration and communication to accomplish goals.


Horizontal relationships could also be of a romantic nature between husband or wife or partner. Intimacy versus isolation is a big thing among young adults between 19 and 35 years old. As they are on a journey to finding themselves, they also take the opportunity to find their romantic partners, and even get married. Navigating a romantic relationship can be a big deal. There is a lot of trial and error. When the relationship is healthy and loving, this leads to a close and intimate relationship. However, if there is failure in forming a loving and strong relationship, what may follow is isolation and loneliness.


Building blocks to relationships 


There are a number of essential building blocks that help create and sustain healthy, fulfilling relationships. Below are the top 3. 


The first building block is self-awareness. To have successful interpersonal relationships, start with being in tune with yourself. When you don’t know who you are and what you want, it is difficult to foster healthy relationships with others. People who don’t have healthy relationships with themselves tend to become controlling or people pleasers. In addition, they may have rigid or invisible boundaries that affect their self-esteem, how they see themselves and the world.


When you are self-aware and know your strengths, weaknesses, values, needs and wants, you become mindful of the people you surround yourself with. You attract people who pour into you, and, in return, you reciprocate that. In such instances, it is not wrong to want to please another in a loving and healthy relationship. It means you are mindful of the other person’s needs and make them feel seen or heard. There are also benefits to a firm and structured way of thinking. It means you are not swayed easily and have something different to contribute. Ultimately, self-awareness also leads to resolving conflict in a timeous and effective manner.


The second building block is communication. It plays a huge role in all healthy relationships. For communication to be effective, it must be honest and clear – both verbal and non-verbal. It is important to know your own communication style. For example, are you a passive communicator – someone who doesn’t say much and is always agreeable? Or are you a passive aggressive communicator who resorts to silent treatment, ghosts, and blue ticks’ people instead of opening about your feelings? Or are you a clear and assertive communicator who can articulate your experiences and your feelings?


Communication and listening go hand in hand, you might be a great communicator but your efforts – verbal or non-verbal – are futile when there is there is no one hearing you. 

 At the core of relationships is reciprocity or a mutual understanding. Listening is the skill that communicates empathy and validates relational concerns and issues. 


In the workplace, withholding information or unclear instructions can result in a stressful work environment. It feels good when communication between you and your colleagues and manager is open and effective in a way that allows you to flourish in your professional life.


It also feels good when you communicate with your partner, family, or friend, about the difficult day you had at work, and they hear you – and even show empathy. However, it is discouraging when the other person speaks past you and ignores you instead of acknowledging your feelings. Not being heard and seen affects mental and emotional wellbeing negatively and usually becomes a presenting problem when people seek therapy.


The final building block involves the setting of boundaries. Terry Cole, a Psychotherapist who has written on Boundaries, describes the importance of boundaries as “breaking free from Over-Functioning, Over-Delivering, People-Pleasing, and ignoring your own needs so you can finally live the life you deserve” and create strong, healthy relationships.

Boundaries in relationships are very important because you get to determine what is yours to take accountability and responsibility for and what is not yours and out of your control.

When you have worked on your communication skills, but the other person is not willing to change their unhealthy behavior, you need to set boundaries. These need to be clear and communicated with lucidity. For example, you handed in a project report on time and your manager sends you an email late at night with questions on the project. Acknowledge the mail and inform them that you will address their questions during working hours. 


Before you jump into relationships with others, it is very important to introspect on how you would like to be treated and how you would like to navigate different relationships.

Relationships serve an inherent need for human beings who have a basic need to connect and to belong. Remember, 3 keys to establishing healthy relationships require intentionality in cultivating healthy self-esteem, working on your communication skills (mean what you say and say what you mean) and lastly establish healthy boundaries.

Quality strong relationships over a lifetime are correlated with happiness, success, good mental and emotional wellbeing and increased longevity.  Make time to cultivate the right relationships for you and your mental wellbeing.