Valentine’s Day: some people swoon, some sigh, and some can’t even. Whatever your feelings about the holiday, the fervor of February 14 means we talk about relationships, a lot. If we take our cues from the cards, candies, and flowers, being in love is an overwhelming experience. Remember the conversation hearts?
· “Be Mine”
· “Crazy 4U”
· “Adore Me”
This conversation about love becomes one-sided rather quickly. Traditionally, the rhetoric of Valentine’s Day emphasizes love that is unequal: possessive, obsessive, all-consuming. But this imbalance can be an indication of a relationship that is unhealthy, or that a partner may be abusive.
Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate our relationships, and we’d like to take this opportunity to share what respect and equality look like in love. It is important to recognize and create healthy relationships, but it can be a challenge in our culture. Those conversation hearts tell us a lot about societal expectations for romantic love, but those expectations overlap with the characteristics of unhealthy relationships and abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, unhealthy relationships include:
· Lack of open communication, or fighting instead of communication,
· One partner shoes disrespect and a lack of consideration,
· Attempts to minimize or control a partner’s choices,
· Pressure to engage in sex (also called coercion),
· Refusal to recognize or be accountable for hurtful or inconsiderate behavior,
· Spending time only with the partner, instead of friends and family.
The behaviors and attitudes in unhealthy relationships can easily turn into abuse, including physical and sexual violence. Unhealthy relationships and abuse are based on a partner’s attempts to control the other partner, and to create and maintain an imbalance of power. Healthy relationships are based in equality and respect. Healthy relationships look like:
· Open communication about sex and reproductive choices,
· Enjoying time together, as well as time apart,
· Making decisions together and giving equal consideration to each partner,
· Honesty in communication, with respect for a partner’s right to privacy,
· Appreciation of each partner as they are.
In healthy relationships, partners freely give consent: for sex, for economic and housing choices, and for the day-to-day commitment of being in a romantic relationship. Our participation in social norms about love and romance start early on, and if these norms include power and control, so will our relationships. This Valentine’s Day, take some time to reflect on the relationship spectrum. Love can look a lot of different ways, but it doesn’t look like abuse. If you have questions about healthy relationships, check out these resources:
If you believe you or someone you know is in a relationship that’s unhealthy, or experiencing abuse, please reach out for help.