Relationships - Healthy or Abusive?

Making and maintaining healthy relationships (friends, roommates, partners) takes much time and effort, and can sometimes be very challenging especially combined with stresses of school and work.

Ingredients for a Healthy Relationship

  • Commitment. Each person makes a commitment to value and care for the other person, the relationship, and themselves. This includes setting aside quality time to "check in" with self AND each other periodically on life changes and evolving expectations.
  • Communication. There is an agreement in the relationship that you will each talk about whatever that is troublesome, uncomfortable, or any feelings as they surface. This may be especially difficult if you come from different cultural and familial backgrounds with different communication styles. However, you commit to learning each other's background and styles, and work on finding the communication rhythm that fits both of your needs. You also recognize that there may be times when one or both of you are too angry; it is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time to "cool off" to avoid saying or doing hurtful things. Make sure that you both have developed skills to positively negotiate these disagreements and do come back together to work through your feelings. Furthermore, don't just talk about the problems in the relationship. Spend even more time talking about the things that you love about each other and the relationship.
  • Enjoy each other. The individuals view themselves as part of a relationship, and enjoy shared values and interests. You also have a desire to explore, value, and respect each other's different perspectives, feelings, values, cultures, etc. You encourage growth and change in each other, and you make sure to play, laugh, and have fun together.
  • Trust. Have confidence and trust in the other person and in yourself. Each person is responsible and honest. Each can trust that the other is committed to the relationship, and you will be there to forgive and work through each other's mistakes.
  • Shared power. There is a balance of giving and receiving. Although at times, one person may have greater say because of expertise, or stronger preferences/values in one particular area. Neither has to be "right" all the time, and neither tries to "fix" or control the other. Each is able to work, tend to children (if you have them), and care for each other's aspects of their life without threatening the relationship. Each can enjoy being apart from each other at times and respects the other's privacy.
  • Maturity & growth. Each person genuinely accepts themselves and takes responsibility for their own behaviors and happiness. Both are also willing to take risks and be vulnerable to the other. And, each accepts that all relationships go through periods of distance or trouble, and view these times as opportunities for growth in the relationship.

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship & Possible Abuse

When one of you:

  • Expects the other to fulfill all of your emotional and personal needs.
  • Allows the other person to direct your life or to take what they can from you.
  • Puts the other person down, calls them names.
  • Uses profanity or intimidation to make a point.
  • Controls what the other wears and eats, where they go, who they socialize with, etc.
  • Expresses jealousy which keeps the other person away from those they love or their interests.
  • Has thrown things, pushed, or slapped the other.
  • Touches without asking or has coerced or forced the other to perform uncomfortable sexual acts or to have sex.
  • Demands sexual exclusivity for the other, not for yourself.
  • Abuses alcohol or uses other drugs.

When does a Relationship Become Abusive?

Abusive behavior includes emotional (including verbal abuse), physical, and/or sexual attacks that deny a person of their basic human rights. In intimate relationships, abuse happens between heterosexuals, lesbian, bisexual, and gay couples, and all cultural, religious, economic, age and racial groups.

Examples include, but are not limited to: ignoring, ridiculing, intimidating, controlling money and other family resources, refusing to let partner work, abusing pets or children, denying and blaming abuse on the victim, pushing, scratching, punching, strangling, holding, biting, sexual name calling, criticizing sexually, threatening to have affairs or constantly accusing the non-abusive partner of having affairs, following the partner to various places, always checking up on the partner, etc.

If There is Violence

If you find yourself in a violent, or potentially violent, relationship:

  • Safety First. If you ever feel threatened, are afraid for your own safety, or in immediate danger of being hurt, call 911!
  • Safe Place. Identify a "safe" place, whether with a family, friend, or emergency shelter. Pack a "get-away" bag & keep it in a safe, secured place so that you can grab it and run when your partner becomes violent. Include in this bag: Copies of identification cards, cash, extra change of clothes, sturdy shoes, medication, copies of prescriptions, any children's toys (if you have kids), and list of emergency contact numbers. Get away from the violent person as quickly and safely as you can. Get in touch with police, counselors, or a domestic violence abuse center (you don't have to be married to get help there).
  • Consider filing for a restraining order. A restraining order is a court order. It can require the person you want restrained to stop threatening you or hurting you and your children or the people who live with you. Restraining orders can also tell someone to stop calling, move out, stay away from where you live or work, give up a gun, limit the time he or she spends with your children, pay certain bills, pay child support, release or return certain property, or pay some or all of your attorney fees. If you get a restraining order, you can ask a police officer, sheriff's deputy, or other law enforcement officer to make the other person do what the order says.
  • Maintain outside relationships. Avoid isolating yourself and build a support system. Build and maintain contact with supportive family members, friends, spiritual guides, counselors.
  • Not your fault. Remember that nothing you do justifies relationship abuse. You also cannot change another person's violent behavior. Giving in to demands, trying to please, pacifying and giving one more chance does not necessarily have a lasting effect.
  • Know the facts. Once violence starts, it usually keeps happening and gets worse. Read up and inform yourself about domestic violence and healthy, unhealthy relationships.

Helping a Friend in an Abusive Relationship

  • Assure your friend that it is not their fault, that whatever they did, they did not deserve it.
  • Believe them and listen to them. Don't question them too much about their specific actions; they may interpret your many questions about their behavior as you believing that they did something wrong.
  • Try not to tell them what to do. Be supportive of whatever they decide, even if it is to go back to the abusive relationship. Sometimes, this may be the "safest" for the abused, because the abuser may be capable of significant harm if the abused were to try to leave.
  • Don't blame your friend for the abuse or their decisions. It is difficult to leave a relationship; they may not be ready yet. Continue to be there for your friend even if they stay in the abusive relationship.
  • Offer to go with them to see a counselor, or to a shelter.
  • Don't gossip. It could be dangerous for your friend if the abuser hears of it.
  • Help your friend to make a safety plan.
  • Remember, you can't fix your friend or their relationship, but you can help by being there.

We encourage you to come to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), to consult, vent, and learn healthy relationship skills. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling.  Please call 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.

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Other Silicon Valley Resources

References and Further Reading