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Everyone Deserves Healthy Relationships-But What Do They Look Like?
From the online content we consume watching television or movies, to the information overheard from friends and family, relationships and dating can seem like a confusing topic. What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy? Why is it so important to talk about as we think about our dating lives?
Relationships can take on multiple forms and don’t need to be romantic or sexual. Healthy relationships, whether they are between partners, friends, or family help us develop general well-being and a sense of belonging. Navigating through these relationships however, can often be tricky. For many students, university or college may be the first time you will be sexually active or engaging in an intimate relationship. Much of our information about relationships usually comes from talking to our friends and family or from the media we consume as I mentioned, but this isn’t always the most helpful.
We tend to idolize what we see on tv. For example, although many of us grew up “shipping” Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl, we often ignored the fact that both characters were emotionally controlling and possessive. Another no so great example of a relationship includes that of Anastasia and Christian in 50 Shades of Grey. This one-sided relationship shows us how problematic jealousy and unequal power dynamics can be. Examples such as these give us a distorted outlook of how a relationship should be, as they recharacterize abusive behaviors as “love.” It’s impossible to follow an exact rulebook when it comes to healthy relationships because they are all unique. However, there are a few key things that work to create a culture of respect, consent and open communication that can make a relationship enjoyable for everyone involved!
Navigating relationships is not easy, but a clear line of communication is key. In many instances it’s easier to hide your feelings instead of expressing what you’re thinking - we have all been there. Be sure to communicate your needs openly and make sure you’re honest with what you are communicating about. On the other hand, it is also important for you to be an active listener, free of judgement to be open minded to your partner(s) needs. This is a component often missed when talking about communication but is as equally as important. Communicating over a text message might seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s often hard to be clear with what you are feeling. Think about HOW you are communicating-emoji’s aren’t always going to get your message across how you hope.
To engage in positive communication, try to:
- Talk face to face
- Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings instead of using “you” which can come across as attacking or defensive. For example, “I feel unhappy because we haven’t been spending much time together” not “you haven’t been spending time with me lately”
- Give your partner(s) your full attention; face them and make eye contact, and don’t text or be on your phone
Creating boundaries is an important way to ensure your relationship is healthy. Boundaries are rules and limits that determine our level of comfort with something. They protect us from emotional and physical harm and are extremely important in any relationship. Think about what you are comfortable with and make this very clear to those close to you. Understand that everyone is different and may have different needs and wants. Each person’s values, feeling and needs should be treated equally and without any resentment. It may seem awkward to communicate these boundaries but it’s important to ensure you are creating a safe and comfortable environment for yourself and your partner(s).
An important part of setting boundaries in a relationship is respecting these boundaries and practicing consent. Do not push or coerce someone when it comes to engaging in sexual activities with your partner(s). Even if you were in the middle of something, all boundaries need to be respected, no matter how big or small they are. Consent is required every time you engage in sexual activity and can be withdrawn at any stage-people change their mind- and that’s ok! Consent, however, is not only important when it comes to engaging in sexual activity but should be practiced in everyday situations as well. This includes asking for permission before hugging, holding hands or posting pictures of each other online.
Relationships that aren’t healthy often involve control, fear and a lack of respect for boundaries. Unhealthy relationships are sometimes hard to spot and aren’t as clear cut as it may seem. When thinking about the idea of abuse, we often relate it back to physical violence, but as mentioned, harmful relationships are not limited to this type of violence. A few examples that are found in unhealthy relationships include:
- Boundaries not being respected
- Not practicing good consent
- Isolation from friends and family
- Not taking responsibility for their actions
- Verbal put downs, criticisms, name-calling
- Sexual violence
All relationships go through periods of stress and difficulty; however, a relationship should not fill you with a sense of fear or dread. Positive relationships should make you feel energized, uplifted and supported. Your friends, family or partner(s) should support and respect your needs to create an environment free of judgement or stress. Remember - relationships should be fun! The Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office is a great resource for more information on healthy relationships and is a safe space where you can share you experiences without any judgment. Additionally, SFU Health and Counselling Services can provide individuals with further information on sexual health and counselling.
About the author: Jasleen Bains is an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University, pursuing an International Studies major and Communications minor. She is a member of the Active Bystander Network through the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO). She has an interest in learning about intersectional feminist theory, ethnic media and identity politics.