It’s that time of the year again! Valentine’s Day, that one day of the year where you’re surrounded by mushy love. This day can be fun for some but can be a struggle for others. It’s a day to celebrate relationships, whether with your significant other or your best pals.
Maintaining healthy relationships is a key aspect to your personal wellness. Kayley McMahan, coordinator of interpersonal wellness and sexual health, from the Center for Health Education & Wellness, shared some tips to consider when evaluating your relationships in life regarding your partner, family, or friends.
When evaluating your relationships, there are some key components of a healthy relationship that you will want to look for. Having these in a relationship is a good sign; it’s an indicator that your relationship is healthy!
- Equality. When thinking about healthy relationships, we can think about equality as the center. The rest of these components all grow from and depend on equality. Equality means you both are equal to one another, especially in status, rights, opportunities, and power. Equality is about making decisions together, having the same amount of voice and power, and knowing you all have an open seat at the decision-making table.
- Trust and Support. Trust means that you can believe one another, rely on one another, and be good to one another. You support each other’s passions and goals. You emotionally affirm and understand each other. You have the comfort of knowing that you aren’t being manipulated, misled, or taken advantage of.
- Safety and Comfort. A relationship cannot be healthy if it isn’t safe. Safety means you know and can trust that they won’t intentionally hurt you. They ensure you can express yourself, and you do the same for them. You both create an environment where you feel safe and comfortable. Ultimately, they and the relationship feel like “home” to you.
- Negotiation and Fairness. Relationships aren’t always easy. Conflict happens. The key is to seek mutually-satisfying resolutions to conflict. Accept changes, and be able to “agree to disagree.” It’s important to be willing and able to compromise (without letting yourself be a doormat). You both should prioritize fair, equitable distribution of responsibilities.
- Honesty and Accountability. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. In healthy relationships, it’s important to accept responsibility for yourself and your actions, admitting when you are wrong, apologizing, and seeking to make amends. Communicating openly and truthfully is also very important. The ability to share your feelings and discuss potentially hard things, like sex, is so important. Partners should talk openly about sex before ever having it. Finally, hold one another accountable. If your partner sets out to do something, hold them accountable and be their champion.
- Respect. Appreciate one another’s viewpoints, opinions, beliefs, and decisions. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you should respect each other’s opinions. Part of respect is also setting, observing, and respecting each other’s boundaries. This includes boundaries related to your time, your priorities, your limits for how you will be treated, and sex. Even in relationships, consent is required.
- Independence. Relationships can be great, and most of us in relationships really like our partner, but it’s also important that we don’t make them our entire world. You should give each other room to breathe. Prioritize yourself (self-love for the win!). Take time alone for yourself, as well as with others you care about, such as friends and family. Don’t expect each other to give you everything you need, to complete you, or to solve all of your problems.
Just as there are tell-tale signs of a healthy relationship, there are also relationship “red flags,” or signs of unhealthy and abusive relationships. If you see these red flags in your relationship, then you may be experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship.
- Power and Control. Power and control are at the center of unhealthy and abusive relationships. The desire to have power over and control a partner is a sign that equality is not a value of theirs. At the root of each of these signs is power and control.
- Abuse. There are many forms of abuse that can be present in abusive relationships:
- Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can include always putting you down, calling you names, humiliating you, playing mind games with you, making you feel bad about yourself, making you feel guilty, and making you feel crazy.
- Physical abuse. Common examples of physical abuse are hurting each other directly like hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, pushing, pulling hair, biting, tripping, or grabbing the person. Throwing objects, punching in doors or walls, destroying valuables or sentimental items, prohibiting them from leaving a room to go to school or out with friends are all signs of physical abuse as well. Excuses are never a good sign and using alcohol or other drugs does not justify violent behavior.
- Sexual abuse. Examples include using drugs or alcohol to get sex, pressuring or forcing a partner to engage in sexual activity, rape, and sexual assault, and using coercion and guilt to get sex. If a person has an active sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV infection and does not disclose to their partner prior to sexual activity, then their partner was not able to give informed consent.
- Economic abuse. In unhealthy and abusive relationships, economic abuse often becomes prevalent when partners live together or have shared income, but it can be present even if that isn’t the case. Economic abuse is about controlling your access to money to control you. This can include preventing you from getting or keeping a job, controlling your access to money (e.g., not letting you have access to the bank account), and/or taking your money from you.
- Isolation. Isolation is about keeping you from being around others. Isolation can include controlling what you do, who you see, where you go, who you talk to, and what you read or watch. It also can include limiting your involvement with others, including your loved ones. People who use isolation will often justify their actions through jealousy, or even frame their behaviors from a lens of “concern” for you (e.g., “I’m just trying to protect you from ____”).
- Coercion and Threats. Abusers and toxic people may use coercion and threats to manipulate their partner into doing what they want you to do. Threats can include threatening to leave you, commit suicide, embarrass you, or threaten to physically hurt you. This also includes following through on these threats and actually hurting you. Coercion can include pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do, including illegal actions. This can also include coercing someone into having sex, which is not consent.
- Minimize, Deny, Blame. When these abusive behaviors happen, sometimes abusers will use what is called “gaslighting.” Gaslighting is essentially psychologically manipulating another person into either thinking something was their own fault or questioning whether it really even happened. This can look like making light of the abuse, saying it didn’t happen, saying you caused the abuse to happen, or shifting the responsibility of that behavior off of themselves and somewhere else. This can even happen if the behaviors aren’t necessarily “abusive” but unhealthy.
- Intimidation. Intimidation is behaving in a way that frightens others, as a means to make them do what they want; this is another power and control tactic. Intimidation can include making you feel afraid by using looks, actions, or gestures, displaying weapons, smashing or throwing things when angry, destroying your property, and abusing pets or children.
College is a time to explore your identity and figure out what you want for your life, including relationships. It’s important that you identify your expectations related to relationships and set boundaries. You deserve supportive relationships, whether they are relationships with family, friends, or a partner.
If you or a friend are experiencing relationship violence, you are not alone. There are a number of on- and off-campus resources available to you. Visit Title IX to learn more about next steps, including reviewing this list of supportive resources. You can also learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships at loveisrespect.org.
If you or a loved one are seeking resources for dating violence and abuse, visit Love is Respect. If you and your partner want to seek couples therapy, visit the Student Counseling Center (865-974-2196). A 24-hour referral line for students in distress and can be utilized by calling 865-974-HELP (865-974-4357).