Written by Mahalia Lotz, Victim-Survivor Advocate
March is Healthy Relationships Month, which can feel like a welcome opportunity to explore as it is a topic that’s not quite as heavy as February’s Stalking Awareness Month. It is a topic we could all spend a few extra minutes on this month. Whether we’re single or in a relationship, or whether we prefer labels or ambiguity, we all deserve safe, respectful, functional relationships with the people who choose to include in our lives.
The high school and college years are widely recognized as being a time when we are sharpening our interpersonal skills and forming a variety of impactful relationships with friends, mentors, and intimate partners. College in particular brings the opportunity to start making more deliberate choices about who we want to spend our time with as we figure out who we really are and where we fit in among a diverse campus community.
Navigating new relationships can bring up a range of emotions including excitement, anxiety, belonging, and loneliness. And while relationships aren’t always easy and sometimes involve conflict, they should always be healthy. Defining a healthy relationship can be tricky, because relationships exist on a spectrum. But it’s worth the effort, because it’s important to identify when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy, or even abusive.
Creating and maintaining healthy relationships takes work, but it’s worth it. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to explore whether your relationship is healthy and respectful.
- Trust: are you sure you can count on your partner? Can you take them at their word?
- Communication: can conversations happen honestly and respectfully? Do they most of the time? Do you or your partner lash out or react defensively? When communication goes bad, do you or your partner make efforts to repair any damage?
- Healthy Conflict Resolution: do you and your partner use assertive communication? Do you embrace conflict as a necessary part of any relationship? Do you use passive-aggressive language, or personal attacks, or do you stonewall each other? Do you ‘fight fair’?
- Empathy and Appreciation: can you and your partner put in the effort to understand each other’s perspectives even when you disagree? Do you celebrate each other’s successes? Do you express gratitude to each other?
- Room for Growth: do you and your partner expect each other to stay the same? Do you have flexible and realistic expectations for each other’s growth?
- Individuality and Boundaries: are differences respected and valued? Do you and your partner have the freedom to live your own lives with your own hobbies, goals, and friends?
If you have concerns for yourself or for a friend who may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, please seek out additional support from campus resources like the University Counseling Center (students) and the Women’s Resource Center (students, faculty, staff) who offer individual, group and couples counseling; and The Center for Student Wellness which provides free, confidential support for students, faculty and staff who have experienced relationship violence. And if you’re interested in reading more, check out online resources like Love Is Respect, One Love, Stop the Hurt, and Healthy Relationships Utah.
Mahalia Lotz is one of CSW's Victim-Survivor Advocates.