From the moment we are born, we are in relationships. Our first and most important relationships are with our parents or other caretakers. We learn from these relationships about how to treat others and what to expect from them. We may like some of what the important people in our lives have taught us, and we may want to do some things differently. It is up to us to decide if we want to continue with what we’ve learned or if we want some things to be different. Even if someone grows up in a household with lousy relationships, they can still learn how to relate to people lovingly and with respect.
What makes a relationship good or bad?
Each of us figures out our own ways to develop, and evaluate, relationships. We might ask ourselves, how do I prefer to get to know someone? What parts of myself do I want to share first? Do I like this part of the relationship? Do I enjoy the way I interact with this person? We may evaluate each type of relationship differently. Overtime, we often change the way we develop and evaluate the different types of relationships in our lives. Although there are some differences, relationships between children, teens and young adults are as complex as relationships between adults of all ages.
People have so many ideas about what makes a relationship “good” or “bad,” that it can be hard to figure out what’s good for YOU in a relationship. Talking with your family, friends and others you trust is a good way to start to understand what makes relationships work. Becoming more sure of what you want in life will also help you understand what you want in a relationship. If a relationship doesn’t work out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that either of the people in it failed or weren’t good enough. A relationship that goes nowhere just may not have been a good match.
Here are some suggestions for deciding about the worth of a relationship for you.
Good enriching, moral and ethical relationships are
Consensual: Both people want the relationship – whether “it” is hanging out, dating, kissing, hugging or having sex.
- Non-Exploitative: One person isn’t “using” or taking advantage of the other in any way.
- Honest: Both people in the relationship are truthful about who they are and what they want in the relationship.
- Mutually Pleasurable: both people enjoy what they do together socially and sexually.
- Equal: Both people have an equal part in the decisions you make. Both of your opinions have meaning and are valued.
- Protected: Protecting themselves and each other from problems which might result from the relationship. For those in sexual relationships that might mean protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy or exposure to sexually transmitted infections. That might mean abstaining from sex; talking about your past and present risks for sexually transmitted diseases, using condoms and a birth control method. Protection in a relationship can also mean helping your partner stay safe and healthy by driving safely, observing laws and rules and avoiding, dangerous situations and harmful chemicals such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco.Constructive and destructive elements that shape every relationship. A healthy relationship has most of the constructive elements and none of the destructive ones.
- Self-esteem: Both parties have a feeling of personal worth.
- Responsibility for Self: Each individual, within the relationship strives to reach her or his own potential.
- Flexibility – both parties in the relationship allow for and expect change in each other and in their relationship. This includes change in roles and feelings.
- Trust:faith that both partners are acting in each other’s best interest.
- Honesty: revealing who and what we are, as well as our feelings about our partner.
- Communication: the ability to exchange information, thoughts and feelings, likes, dislikes, decisions and preferences, freely.Destructive Elements in a Relationship:
- Jealousy: Fear of losing someone’s affection and suspicion of possible rivals.
- Over-dependency: One of the partners relies on the other to fulfill all of his or her emotional or physical needs.
- Selfishness: Having little or no concern for the other person in the relationship.
- Control: When a person insists their choices are the only option.
- Abuse: Abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment.
All relationships have tough times and easy times. No matter how good your relationship, there will be conflicts now and then. By looking at special strengths and weaknesses of your relationship you can decide if it is the type of relationship you want.
Gender Roles and Stereotypes
What does it mean to be a woman or man? Separating the real from the stereotype.
Cultures teach us what it means to be a woman or a man. The lessons start the instant we are born. Some of what we learn about the nature of a man or woman is wrong. It is not true, for example, that women and men think, feel and act differently because of their gender. The belief is called “gender role stereotyping”. Stereotypes can be based on gender, skin color, age, language, culture, how much money you have, and sexual orientation. If you make an assumption about the whole person or group of people because of one of these characteristics, you are guilty of stereotyping. None of these characteristics determine how good, bad, valuable, important, funny creative, determined, smart or lazy a person will be. Believing other-wise, is cruel to others and prevents you from benefiting from their special qualities.
Stereotyping is especially hard for those being stereotyped. Unfortunately, what others think of you has a lot to do with how you think of yourself. For example boys and girls in North America and elsewhere in the world, learn “rules” about how to “act like a lady” or “act like a man.” Boys and men are taught to act tough and strong, to hide their emotions, not to cry, to always win, and to easily be sexually aroused. Girls and women might be taught to act polite and passive, look sexy (but not want sex), cross their legs, take care of others first and be emotional.
Gender stereotypes like these are common. While these characteristics might be true in some cases and not true in other cases, gender stereotypes are learned. They are not reflections of who we are. Instead, gender stereotypes show us what people may believe about gender.
Gender role stereotypes can be dangerous. When people step outside the boxes of what is expected for their gender, they may face physical or verbal harassment from their parents, teachers or friends. Names like “wimp,” “fag,” “sissy” or “baby” for men; and “bitch,” “dyke,” “slut” or “dog” for women, push people back to acting according to the stereotype rules. Sometimes people get beat up or have worse things happen to them when they don’t fit the stereotypes for their gender. These are powerful messages telling us to conform and to hide our special unique and independent qualities – to be someone different from who we really are.
Trying to live without stepping outside the box can cause problems, too. Men may end up dominating and even abusing women when they try to follow the “rules” they have been taught. Women may end up doing only what others want and even putting themselves in danger when they try to follow all their “rules.” Stereotypes based on gender can contribute to confusing mixed messages and assumptions between women and men. They can also keep people from getting “too close” with someone of the same gender for fear that people will think they’re gay or lesbian. People may deny or repress feelings that don’t fit into the stereotypes. For example, some women may think it is wrong to get angry. Some men might think they shouldn’t cry when they’re hurt.
So what can we do about stereotypes? Look for friends and role models that value us for who we really are. We can also be a friend and role model for others. If we see or hear someone being harassed or stereotyped, we can help stop it by voicing our view or by finding someone else to step in. Being able to recognize stereotypes gives us an edge at living outside any box and being healthy and unique people.
- Dating and ViolenceMany people begin to date and figure out romantic intimacy when they are teenagers. Much of what we learn during this critical stage helps us develop healthy relationships in the years to come. There is no doubt dating is fun. Like all other relationships, the relationship between you and your date should be something you both agree on (consensual), that doesn’t take advantage of one or the other (non-exploitative),honest, fun for both(mutually pleasurable) and safe (protected).Dating, in many ways, is no different from all other relationships – disagreements and other conflicts are natural. There are constructive and destructive ways of dealing with conflict. Violence, emotional or sexual abuse are destructive and not acceptable. Tragically, many teens may be in a relationship where some form of abuse (physical, emotional or sexual) occurs. Many teens may experience some form of abuse during their dating life. Some may experience any or all forms of abuse later in their married life. Abuse of any kind is NEVER okay.Most young people are good at recognizing and rejecting an abusive relationship. Some people, in some situations, have a harder time recognizing when they are being abused. Understanding dating abuse can help teens recognize abuse when it happens to them or to a friend. Understanding will also help those who are already trapped by an abusive relationship.
Emotional Abuse Might Include:
- Threats (to hurt a partner, their family or friends or even themselves.Physical Abuse Might Include:
- Throwing things at a partner,
- Threatening to hurt their partner or her family member or even himself,
- Destroying treasured items or hurting pets. Sexual Abuse happens any time one person forces or intimidates another person to do something sexual that they don’t want to do. This might include:
- Sex or
- Forced viewing pornography.
Dating violence or abuse can take many forms. Many people find it confusing when trying to figure out what’s going on in their relationship. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth Minnesota developed the Power and Control Wheel to help understand abuse. Consider carefully if you are trying to figure out if you are in an abusive relationship. Compare the Power and Control wheel to the Equality Wheel that follows. See which one seems to describe your relationship.
REMEMBER we ALWAYS deserve to be treated as equals and with respect.
If you or someone you know is worried about a relationship they’re in – whether they think they’re being abused or being abusive – they can find someone they trust to talk to about their concerns.
Find help by contacting Teen Age Medical Services, The Annex, West Suburban Teen Clinic or any of the teen clinics in the twin cities. Or, you can contact concerned people by calling one of the numbers listed below. For those outside the Minnesota Twin Cities area, contact a local battered women’s center, a school guidance counselor or your doctor. Talking with someone outside the relationship can give a different perspective on the relationship and help you decide to change your involvement in the relationship.
If you or someone you know has been raped, forced or pushed into sex, there are two things to do immediately – First, go to an emergency room to be tested for STIs and to get emergency contraception. Second, involve a trusted friend or adult – support during and after the ordeal is very important.
Some people are reluctant to go to the police to “press charges”. Although it can be hard, often the police and court action is the only way to stop the abuser from hurting you again or taking advantage of others.
Relationships From The Adult Perspective
Adults can help young people to develop healthy, positive relationships with other kids and with adults. As you know, developing health relationships is hard and made more difficult by the media, comercial television and the record industry because it represents real life as superficial and shallow. There are some things that can improve chances of communicating healthy values.
- Learn the skills that will enhance personal relationships.
- Teach these skills to your children by modeling them yourself in your own relationships with your children and with others.
- Open a dialogue with young people and keep the communication open no matter what. Get help if you need it.
- The family is the best source of understanding and support.
- In the family and in other relationships express love and intimacy in appropriate ways.
- Develop and maintain meaningful relationships.
- Exploitative or manipulative relationships are always destructive.
- Get the information needed to make informed choices about family options and relationships.
- Understand that cultural heritage affects ideas about family, interpersonal relationships and ethics.
- It is not unusual for parents to get help from counselors or health care providers. If you need help, get it.
Check out the information and tips on how to talk with your family about sexuality and relationships, on the Family Communication page on this site.
Harriet Tubman Center Minneapolis – a center providing help for abused women 612-612-825-0000 www.harriettubman.org
Home Free Plymouth – an organization helping people understand abuse and to end the abuse
Rape and Sexual Abuse Center Minneapolis
Sexual Assault Resource Service Twin Cities metro area.
A place to call for help getting an exam right after a rape 612-347-5832
West Suburban Teen Clinic 952-474-3251
Teen Age Medical Services 612-813-6125
The Annex (North Suburban Teen Health Clinic) 763-533-1315
Ask a Question? Visit the section on this web site called Ask a Question? Ask your question or see if someone has already asked and been answered.
Sexual Violence Center Minneapolis