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Let’s talk love. What better time of year is there than February?

Grocery stores are stocked with heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates. Hallmark has revealed this season’s set of valentines and the front of holiday cards are plastered with corny love jokes. Yep, it is officially the time of year when we celebrate love. Right? Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Let’s talk Love

Before you get your head wrapped up in the romance, take a step back and look at your relationship. Is it healthy? This goes for those who are potentially thinking about getting involved in a relationship too. No matter your current status, it’s best to know what a healthy relationship looks like.

Red flags? Deep down, we know the more obvious ones, or at least we think we do. Surprisingly, and yet, far too often it’s hard to see clearly when you think you’re in love. Every relationship will go through its ups and downs. So how do you know that the relationship you are currently in is healthy for you and for your partner?

Hollie White Weighs In

Hollie White, MSW, APSW, is the Project Coordinator for Racine County Family Resources. White shares important details about what a healthy relationship embodies. White works to Improve Children’s Mental Health through School & Community Partnerships which includes Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin.

Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW) reaches statewide, propelling the most promising work and ideas to build a healthier Wisconsin for generations to come. This work includes advancing research, educating future health leaders, and improving communities through developing better policies, systems, and programs, so we can all enjoy better health.

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are a cornerstone in overall wellness for partners involved in a relationship. Knowing what the characteristics are of a healthy relationship can help you better evaluate your personal relationships. The State of New York’s article entitled, “What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?” notes that respect, encouragement, being comfortable, being safe, and being able to negotiate with your partner all attribute to having a healthy relationship.

1. Respect

Those involved in relationships should respect each other. This is vital to maintaining healthy relationships. Partners should respect your views, your body, your finances, your animals, your mental health, your privacy, and your space.

While you may become close and involved with a person, it is important to remain respectful of each other. Respect indicates that you are equally valuable to each other.

2. Encouragmenet

Whether you are married or just starting to date, the people you form relationships with should encourage you. They should encourage you to be independent, find your passions, and encourage other healthy relationships in your life.

A good support system is the backbone of a good relationship. Being encouraged and supported by the one closest to you can help you to feel satisfied and secure in your relationship.

Maybe they encourage you to participate in activities that you like or encourage you to take that new job offer. Whatever the scenario may be, it is important that this individual has your back. Autonomy in a relationship can only be achieved when both parties are actively encouraging the other to maintain their individuality.

3. Comfortable

When you are in a relationship, you should feel comfortable with your partner. This means you should have the ability to express yourself. In a healthy relationship, partners can express their opinion and feelings without fear.

If you have concerns in your relationship, you should be able to bring those concerns up to your partner. If you have fears, safety concerns, or worry about yourself because of what your partner may do if you express yourself, then you may need to reevaluate your situation.

4. Safety

Your well-being is a top priority, especially when you are in a relationship. When you are with someone, you should physically be safe. Your safety is important for your health. If someone is forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, making choices that you don’t want to make, or jeopardizing you, then your safety could be at risk.

Your relationship’s health and safety are taken into account when your partner respects your choices regarding sexual activity. In a healthy relationship, your partner will never make you do things that you do not want to do.

5. Negotiating

In a healthy relationship, you should always feel heard. In a healthy relationship, you are equal to your partner. Both of your voices matter. That goes with saying, you and your partner should be able to have mature conversations with one another. When making choices, you will have to negotiate. Sometimes you won’t always want to do what the other person wants, but you make sacrifices for one another.

Compromises and negotiating are vital to having a flexible relationship. If you are having disagreements or conflicts, hearing your partner out is healthy.

Building Blocks

Some of the building blocks to a solid relationship: Boundaries, good communication, trust, respect, consent.

A lot goes into a relationship. It takes continual work and effort from all people involved. Likewise, the article “What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?” explains additional information about the foundation of relationships. It looks like setting boundaries, having good communication, having trust, respect, and always having consent.

Communication is a major key to success in any relationship. This will build a stronger connection and allow you to trust one another. Trust is vital to a long and healthy relationship. Your partner should become someone you can rely on, go to, and fall back on. Building trust with your significant other can take time, but in the end, it is worth it.

Lastly, understanding consent is an aspect that will contribute to the healthiness of your relationship. Consent is most commonly talked about regarding sexual activity, but it also applies to every other area in your relationship. For example, consent may need to be given when posting photos online of your significant other. Consent is something partners need to respect and understand that it can change at any time. When someone consents to an activity, it does not mean that consent is always given for that particular activity. Consent can be given or withdrawn at any time.

Achieve a Healthy Relationship

A relationship is a constant work in progress. To achieve a healthy relationship, you must continually work with your partner. White shares a resource from Racine County Family Resources to pinpoint the importance of personal relationships. The article, “Importance of Personal Relationships for Lowering Stress” notes various strategies and ideas that can help you to achieve a healthy relationship.

Tips like visiting family and friends can help you foster better personal relationships. When we talk about creating a healthy relationship with your partner, having strong relationships with others can help create an environment where your relationship will be able to thrive.

Achieve a healthy relationship by putting effort into each other. Make time for one another, especially if you have children. It can be a challenge, but it’s important to keep the connection that made you fall for them in the first place. Special times with that special someone can make a world of a difference. It can be as simple as watching a movie or eating breakfast together.

Unhealthy Relationship

Knowing the signs of an unhealthy relationship may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always that simple. Remember, abuse can happen to anyone of any gender, sexual orientation, religion, race/ethnicity, and personality.

White says, “a relationship does not have to be abusive to be unhealthy for you. Relationships should be mutually beneficial and loving. You should get more from a relationship than it robs of you.”

With that being said, it is important to look out for signs of abusive behavior. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is a good resource for learning valuable information. The article, “Recognize the signs of relationship abuse” shares the following bullet points as signs of abusive behavior in a partner.

  • If they show extreme jealousy or discourage you
  • If your partner shames or insults you
  • If they are jealous of your time spent with others
  • If someone is discouraging you from seeing the people you love
  • If they are keeping you from participating in the things you love to do

In a relationship, you shouldn’t feel shame from your partner. They should never degrade or insult you. Your partner should use positive vocabulary when talking to you or about you. Your partner should be the one to support you and demonstrate healthy qualities.

If your partner is isolating you from others, shaming or insulting you, it’s time to find help. – Credit: Rodnae Productions / Pexels

It is important to know that partners who prevent you from doing things are unhealthy for you. If they prevent you from making your own choices, pressure you to use drugs, alcohol, or pressure you to have sex or perform sexual activities that you are unsure of, or don’t want to do, that is cause for concern.

There are countless ways that a person can behave that may deem your relationship unhealthy. Other signs of danger include harming you, your family, or even your animals. This includes both physical and emotional abuse.

Remember, abuse can happen to anyone of any gender, sexual orientation, religion, race/ethnicity, and personality. – Credit: Rodnae Productions

Gaslighting

White adds, “more ‘missed signs’ are things like slowly making you question your own reality in terms of your memory, slowly your relationships with others start to drift (isolation), overall the slower and less immediately harmful the signs are, the less likely they are to be noticed. Relationships almost never start out violent, it is a build.”

Gaslighting, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

If your partner is gaslighting you, not only will you question your own validity, but you will also tend to rely on them for stability. Typically, they start with smaller things; telling you that certain behaviors of yours are the opposite of what they truly are, or planting false seeds of doubt about a relationship with a family member or friend. A “successful” gaslighting will render the victim completely reliant on the abuser.

Resources

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, please keep the following information in mind as we celebrate love. If you are someone who is in need of resources, there are resources available to help you.

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Have a story idea? Reach out to Emma Widmar by emailing ewidmar@racinecountyeye.com.