Relationships exist on a spectrum. This graphic created by loveisrepsect.org outlines the behaviours that occur in healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.
Open, honest and safe communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. The first step to building a healthy relationship is making sure you both understand each other’s needs and expectations. Part of effective communication in a relationship is the ability to navigate conflict in a healthy way.
Here are some tips from therapistaid.com to help communicate effectively and respectfully during disagreements with your partner:
- Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
- Are you actually angry because your partner left their wet towel on the floor? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework?
- Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument so that you can get to the heart of the actual issue that is bothering you.
- Discuss one issue at a time.
- “You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you have two problems to resolve instead of one.
- When an argument starts to get off topic, the conversation can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong rather than the original issue. It is difficult to resolve anything when there is no focus to the conversation.
- No degrading language.
- Discuss the issue, not the person. Do not use put-downs, swearing, or name-calling.
- Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more attacks while the original issue is forgotten.
- Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
- Some examples of helpful ways to express how you feel include:
“I feel angry.”
“I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.”
“I feel scared when you yell.”
- Starting your sentence with “I” is a technique that can help you to take responsibility for your feelings.
- Take turns talking.
- Even though it can be tough, be careful not to interrupt.
- If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer to allow 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption.
- Don’t spend your partner’s minute thinking about what you want to say- Listen!
- No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to withdraw and refuse to speak. This is called stonewalling.
You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset.
- If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out from the conversation and agree on a time to come back to the discussion later.
- No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse as the resolution was not achieved respectfully.
- Take a time-out if things get too heated.
If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone involved has had a chance to take a break from the conversation and cool down.
- Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument.
Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides).
If you can’t come to a compromise, understanding each other even if you can’t agree can help to diffuse some of the negative feelings.
Creating boundaries is a helpful way to keep your relationship healthy and secure. By setting boundaries together, you can both have a deeper understanding of the type of relationship that you and your partner both want.
Boundaries are not meant to make you feel trapped or like you’re “walking on eggshells.” Creating boundaries also is not a sign of secrecy or distrust — it’s an expression of what makes you feel comfortable and what you would like or not like to happen within your relationship.
Remember, healthy boundaries shouldn’t restrict your ability to:
- Go out with your friends or family without your partner.
- Participate in activities and hobbies you like.
- Have private passwords to your email, social media accounts or phone.
- Respect each other’s individual likes and needs.
Setting Boundaries in a Relationship
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship, whether your relationship is casual or more serious. Both partners should feel comfortable honestly communicating their needs without being afraid of what their partner might do or say in response. Talking about your boundaries with your partner is a great way to make sure that each person’s needs are being met and you feel safe in your relationship.
If your partner tells you that your needs are stupid, gets angry with you or goes against what you’re comfortable with, then your partner is not showing you the respect you deserve.
Some helpful tips about setting healthy emotional, physical, and digital boundaries in your relationship can be found here.
What Isn’t a Healthy Relationship?
Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, not equality and respect. In the early stages of an abusive relationship, you may not think the unhealthy behaviours are a big deal. However, possessiveness, insults, jealous accusations, yelling, humiliation, pulling hair, pushing or other abusive behaviours are attempts to gain power and control over another person.
Power and Control Wheel
Remember that you deserve to be respected. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind.
Dating abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or background. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s judgment and behavior, but they do not excuse abuse or violence. Alternatively, if a person uses drugs/alcohol it does not mean they deserve abuse or assault.
Dating violence can be:
- Physical: hitting, slapping, choking, kicking, grabbing, pulling hair, pushing, shoving
- Emotional/Verbal: putting you down; embarrassing you in public (online or off); threatening you in any way; telling you what to do or what to wear; threatening suicide; accusing you of cheating
- Sexual: pressuring or forcing you to do anything sexual that you’re not comfortable with and/or do not consent to, including sexting; restricting access to birth control; unwanted kissing or touching
- Financial: demanding access to your money; preventing you from working; insisting that if they pay for you, you owe them something in return
- Digital: sending threats via text, social media or email; stalking or embarrassing you on social media; hacking your social media or email accounts without permission; forcing you to share passwords; constantly texting or calling to check up on you; frequently looking through your phone or monitoring your texts/call log.
If you think your relationship is unhealthy, it’s important to think about your safety now. Consider these points as you move forward:
- Understand that a person can only change if they want to. You can’t force your partner to alter their behavior if they don’t believe they’re wrong.
- Focus on your own needs. Are you taking care of yourself? Your wellness is always important. Watch your stress levels, take time to be with friends, get enough sleep. If you find that your relationship is draining you, consider ending it.
- Connect with your support systems. Often, people who are engaging in abusive behaviours will try to isolate their partners. Talk to your friends, family members, teachers and others to make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need.
- Think about breaking up. Remember that you deserve to feel safe and accepted in your relationship.
- Think about creating a safety plan, including what you will do and where you can go if you feel unsafe, as well as supports you can access.
Even though you cannot change your partner, you can make changes in your own life to stay safe.
Please visit our Supports page for information on supports you can access on-campus and off-campus through other community agencies.