HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS 101

CONTENT WARNING: interpersonal violence, gender-based violence

In my time here at Carolina, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop many of my personal passions, and in some cases to a level of expertise. I’m a member of a sorority here on campus, which has opened doors of opportunities for me to learn and grow over the past four years. My junior year, I learned about, trained for, and joined a group called Delta Advocates.

Delta Advocates is the first (and only) group created on a college campus specifically by and for sorority women in an effort to advocate for those who have faced gender-based and/or interpersonal violence. Those who are selected as DA’s are thoroughly trained to be an empathetic and active listening resource as well as a person who gives support for anyone who seeks information on how to move forward from an instance of gender-based violence. The initial training involves participating in Haven and OneAct facilitations, a Delta Advocate weekend retreat, and biweekly meetings for the rest of the year to continue learning.

It’s safe to say that I have had knowledge on several facets of gender-based/interpersonal violence drilled into me as well as how to address them, but one subject my particular group of Delta Advocates liked to focus on and facilitate was the topic of Healthy Relationships.

I believe it’s always the right time to educate people about healthy relationships and identifying unhealthy relationship patterns, but especially around Valentine’s Day I find it appropriate to talk about something so on par with the subject of love but not as often addressed.

Generally, our facilitation goes a little bit like this:

WHAT IS A RELATIONSHIP?

Though the word “relationship” first elicits the idea of a romantic relationship, this is not the only type of relationship that exists in your life. You have many relationships: professional, familial, platonic, romantic, sexual, and so on. It’s important that every relationship you partake in is a healthy one.

WHAT DOES A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOK LIKE?

There are a few necessary standards in every type of relationship for it to be considered “healthy”.

Here’s a list of qualities you should strive to exhibit in your relationships and to look for in others:

  • RESPECT: the simple “golden rule” we all learned in elementary school: treat others the way you would like to be treated.
  • HONESTY AND TRUST: this means that you/the person you’re in a relationship with should consistently say what you/they mean and do what you/they say.
  • EMPOWERMENT: you advocate for and respect yourself in the limits you set. If you are not comfortable with something, you should feel comfortable not to do it, and the person you’re engaging with should empower you for it.
  • CONSENT: It’s simple: only a “yes” means yes, any other answer is not acceptable to proceed. There should be no fear or pressure in your/their answer. Additionally, consent does not just concern sex- it can be as simple as borrowing a friends shirt or getting a hug from someone. There needs to be a mutual agreement about the terms and conditions of the situation.
  • COMMUNICATION: you should feel comfortable to be open and honest with any of the relationships you have.
  • EQUALITY: there is fairness and negotiation in the relationship, and both people share equal responsibilities. Obviously, this particular quality gets a bit more complicated with parent-child or boss-employee relationships, but what is most important about these kinds of relationships is that the power dynamic is acknowledged, but all other qualities listed above are exhibited

THE MUST HAVE/ PREFFERED /DEAL BREAKER EXERCISE

When my DA group would facilitate discussions within our sorority, we would often have the group individually do this exercise. It’s important to know (with any relationship) where your limits are and what you’re looking for in the relationship. For a boss:

MUST HAVE: effective communication skills

PREFERRED: to be kind, and lead in a more “hands-on” manner, rather than completely authoritative, but this is not 100% necessary

DEAL BREAKER: if they exhibit any sort of discriminatory/inappropriate behavior towards my coworkers or me.

Every person’s columns will be completely different- and that’s exactly the point. If we know where our goals and limits lie, we are able to eventually only engage in relationships that exhibit the kind of behavior that’s important to us.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN

The Four Horsemen are four different tactics/qualities that exhibit unhealthy relationship behavior:

CRITICISM: this is a verbal attack on someone else’s character (not the same as constructive criticism).

CONTEMPT: attacking someone’s sense of self

DEFENSIVENESS: victimizing yourself

STONEWALLING: withdrawing from conversation or conflict (often known as the silent treatment)

Below is a helpful chart about the four horsemen with examples of how they might look or sound, and how to avoid them in your own relationships.

RESOURCES:

If you feel as if one or some of your current relationships exhibit some of these unhealthy patterns, it’s important to reach out if you have the ability and desire to do so. Obviously, I don’t have all resources available around the world, but you can most certainly talk to a guidance counselor, social worker, your local rape crisis center or the police and they will point you in the right direction for your particular situation.

In the case that you are a UNC student, here’s a list of resources:

Happy Valentines everyone, never forget that there is always someone there to help.

All images and information retrieved from: https://studentwellness.unc.edu/programs/self-care/healthy-relationships

Art of the day: I’ve always found this song to be beautiful and empowering, especially after knowing the message behind it. Kesha is an artist who has faced gender-based violence and discrimination and has found her voice (literally and figuratively) after coming out on the other side of the situation.

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