Sexual Assault Awareness Month Graphic

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Each week, WSU Health Sciences Spokane will feature blog posts highlighting various issues dealing with sexual assault. This week: healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.

By Deanna Ortiz
WSU Spokane

Wouldn’t it be nice if shopping for a partner and a healthy relationship were like shopping for jeans? When you go shopping for jeans there are signs that give you information about whether or not they will be a good fit for you. You have choices of skinny cut, straight cut, boot cut, short or tall. The problem with finding a romantic relationship is people do not come with signs that give you information about whether or not they will be a good fit for you. You have to spend time with that person to get an idea of what a relationship with them would be like. Luckily there are signs of what a healthy relationship looks like and warning signs or RED FLAGS of what might be an unhealthy relationship.

Much of making a healthy choice of a partner will be based on how you feel when you are with this person. Realistically, these feelings are partially due to natural chemicals in your body including neurotransmitters and hormones. These natural chemicals cause the “in love” feeling that most of us have felt at one time or another. This “in love” feeling includes feelings of pleasure, an increase in energy and mood, and a decreased requirement for food and sleep, which has been compared to being on cocaine. This feeling is present when first attracted to someone. So the real challenge to finding a healthy relationship is differentiating the natural chemical induced in-love feeling from feelings based on the behavior of your partner toward you.

So let’s look at the behaviors that are warning signs that a person is not a healthy choice for a partner at this time. These behaviors are typically based on power and control of a person. They are not based on genuine respect, appreciation and love of that person. The power and control wheel below shows some of these behaviors which are abusive or might lead to an abusive relationship.

Sexual Assault Awareness Wheel 1

Adapted from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Duluth, MN, www.deluth-model.org

Notice the examples in each part of the wheel of behaviors that seek to gain control over someone:

  • Pushing, hitting, threatening violence
  • Name-calling, putting you down, blaming you for their actions
  • Destroying your property or harming loved ones (children or pets)
  • Isolating you from family and friends

The first sign that a relationship is unhealthy will be how you feel. We have all experienced that uncomfortable feeling when our intuition tells us something is just not right. Listen to that feeling. If you feel hurt, humiliated, saddened, resentful or just confused, this is your sign to ask yourself why you feel this way. If your feeling is based on one of the behaviors in the power and control wheel, this is a RED FLAG that the relationship is unhealthy or going in an unhealthy direction. Be careful not to minimize these behaviors. Someone didn’t “just” push you. Pushing is an aggressive act and as Judge Judy would say, “You laid hands on her.” If you have noticed some of these signs from the power and control wheel in your relationship or when you just start dating someone, it is probably time to chat with a counselor.

So what does a healthy romantic relationship look like? Aristotle believed that true love is friendship, and friendship is only really possible between equals (Aristotle. (384-382 B.C.E.). The Nichomachean Ethics.). Erich Fromm, distinguished Social Psychologist, wrote, “The active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love. These are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge….Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love….Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation.” (Fromm., E. (1956). The Art of Loving. New York, NY: Harper and Row. PRINT.) Therefore, love is not using a person for what they can do for us. Respect and equality are at the center of a healthy relationship. Look at the Equality wheel below.

Sexual Assault Awareness Week Wheel 2

Adapted from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Duluth, MN, www.deluth-model.org

A healthy relationship is marked by trust, respect, honesty, responsibility, fairness and independence. In a healthy relationship, you feel good about yourself and about being with your partner. And your partner feels the same. A relationship based on the values of the equality wheel has a real chance of becoming a long-term healthy relationship. So much like that perfect pair of jeans that fits just right, people’s behavior toward you and how you feel in response to that behavior are your signs of a healthy relationship with a partner who is a good fit.

Resources for those experiencing domestic violence:

  • YWCA Spokane, 24-hour Domestic Violence Line: 509-326-2255
  • YWCA, Yakima, 24-hour Domestic Violence Line: 509-248-7796
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
  • WSU Health Sciences Campus students may connect with a counselor on the Spokane campus at 509-358-7740 or in Yakima at 509-249-7745 (ask for Dr. Joy Staley) or at Central Washington Family Medicine at 509-452-4520, where up to three counseling sessions are covered by student fees.