by Guest Author – Janna Davis, Graduate Student at Boise State University
Relationships are the cornerstone to many of our lives. We have relationships with our parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and partners. What is a healthy relationship? Who has them and how do they develop? Society is flooded with images of relationships. Turn on the TV or go online and see a plethora of relationships. Between reality television, fictional shows and books, and the internet, how are men and women of today supposed to figure out the “right” way to act in a relationship? Which are the good depictions of relationships? How do we know? According to LoveisRespect.org, healthy relationships start with two things, equality and respect. Quite simply, this means valuing your partner and demonstrating that value in respectful ways.
Communication is one of the first skills needed to begin developing a healthy relationship. Specifically, in romantic relationships, this means listening to our partners and being open to other ideas and thoughts. Maintaining a healthy relationship means talking and listening to your partner, even when arguing. According to the University of Indianapolis, you need to first know what it is you want to say, especially when emotions are running high. If anger enters the equation, communication tends to stop. So when the argument starts, pause and make sure you know what it is you want to say so you can articulate your feelings well, without resorting to name calling or verbal/nonverbal intimidation. After you have identified what it is you want to say, make sure you are willing to listen to your partner. If you are still in that brainstem, high emotion mode, take a break. Remembering that a healthy relationship revolves around equality and respect means remembering that you are not the only one who has something to say! The next step requires coming up with a solution that both parties can live with, also known as compromise. The last step is critical and often forgotten. The University of Indianapolis stresses that it is important to “express your appreciation” because everybody needs to know that the effort put into developing and keeping a healthy relationship is prized.
Another piece of communication is letting your partner know when you are unhappy or if something is bothering you. Although previously I focused on arguments and communication, speaking up is vital because it can actually prevent arguments. You have a right to voice your opinion (respectfully!) if you are upset. Holding emotion in, staying silent, can lead to the creation of unhealthy relationship habits. According to LoveisRespect.org, “speaking up” creates boundaries that give you a “deeper understanding of the type of relationship you and your partner want” so that you do not have to feel like you are “walking on eggshells.” Feeling comfortable enough to be yourself and express what you are thinking and feeling is essential in the development of any healthy relationship.
In addition to communication, LoveisRespect.org emphasizes the importance of privacy. Many couples feel that being together equates total honesty and complete sharing. While honesty is imperative, this notion can be taken too far, especially in our modern digital lives. Sharing passwords, showing texts, and reading the emails of your partner does not constitute honesty. This actually goes too far and invades the privacy of your partner by asserting unhealthy power and control. By demanding that you have access to these digital aspects of your partner’s life, you are actually forcing your partner to give up his/her privacy, which is not a reasonable request. This seems like such a small thing, but everyone has the right to receive messages from people outside of the relationship with the expectation that those messages will not be read. This also tests another aspect of a healthy relationship: trust. Honesty and trust go together and reflect another key component of healthy relationships, which is boundaries.
Okay, so I started by asking what a healthy relationship is. After having read about the parts of a healthy relationship, I want to identify what a healthy relationships is not. Truthfully, images of unhealthy relationships are more prevalent in society. I think this may be due to this acceptance that unhealthy is “realistic” and relatable. Maybe because there is a misconception that people in healthy relationships never fight, which is not true. Human beings are wired to disagree. It is impossible to get along with someone, especially someone we are around constantly, without arguing at times. That is when communication, speaking up, listening, and showing equality and respect become so important. Unhealthy relationships thrive on power and control. So how you do you know if your relationship is healthy or not? Planned Parenthood urges people to listen to their feelings. If something feels wrong, it probably is. If you feel uncertain, tentative, scared, or unhappy, the relationship may be unhealthy. Generally, when we feel like someone is treating us badly (in a relationship or otherwise), we are not wrong. Planned Parenthood states that “people can hurt their partners verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically.” Their website lists signs to look for when considering whether a relationship is healthy or not. There are obvious signs of abuse such as hitting, shoving, or other physically aggressive and intimidating behaviors, but there are also more subtle signs of abuse. Asserting power and control is never a good thing and this can be in the form of monitoring behavior, timing how long it takes to go somewhere, isolating someone from family and friends, or disrespecting healthy boundaries by checking texts or emails.
LoveisRespect.org offers steps to take if you identify signs of abuse in your relationship. First, realize that people can only change if they want to. We do not have the power to change someone simply because we want to. If your partner is showing signs of abuse, you have to understand that you cannot change that alone. Next, you have to focus on you and “your needs.” This means paying attention to your personal health like your stress level and whether or not you have enough energy to take care of yourself. Also, make sure you have a support system that can help you take care of yourself. This could be a circle of family and/or friends. Since a sign of an unhealthy relationship can be isolation, it is crucial to make sure you have people outside of your relationship you can turn to. Finally, LoveisRespect.org urges that if signs of an unhealthy relationship are present, you should at least think about ending the relationship. It is true that sometimes relationships need what LoveisRespect.org calls a “booster” which means reconnecting with your partner and evaluating why you are in a relationship to begin with, but this requires both partners to realize the relationship is in some type of trouble and a mutual commitment to work on it. In an unhealthy relationship there is often one partner who does not see that the relationship needs a “booster” or has unhealthy aspects. This is when ending the relationship may be best. Planned Parenthood also has entire section on their website devoted to giving advice and tips to safely ending an abusive relationship.
Upon identifying that a relationship is not healthy, safety is a major concern. This is especially true when the relationship is not just unhealthy, but abusive as well. Having a support group may not be enough to safely end an abusive relationship. This is where the WCA comes in. Organizations like the WCA provide a safe place for people to go when in an abusive relationship. Safety, healing, and freedom are three parts of the WCA and their mission statement. Their website (http://www.wcaboise.org/) offers many options to find out more information on how to leave an abusive relationship. Not only that, but since healing is a part of the WCA, there are ways to help individuals figure out how to move forward in a positive manner and recover from any lingering emotional trauma. It is important to know that you are not alone and there are always choices and organizations such as the WCA, to help keep you safe.
“Developing Healthy Relationships.” University of Indianapolis. 2014. Web. 28 March 2014. http://healthservices.uindy.edu/counseling/coRelation.php.
“Healthy Relationships.” Love is Respect.org. 2007-2013. Web. 28 March 2014. http://www.loveisrespect.org/dating-basics/healthy-relationships.
“The Truth about Unhealthy Relationships.” Planned Parenthood. 2014. Web. 28 March 2014. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/relationships/safe-your-relationship-19917.htm.
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