It’s never too early to help young people shape their future relationships, and help them become alert to patterns of abuse.
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The way we relate to our partners does not begin on our wedding day. Our attitudes towards relationships begin to form when we are children, as we observe how our parents and others around us relate to each other.
Healthy attitudes and habits foster positive, growing relationships characterised by mutual respect. Unhealthy attitudes and habits fester into poor, and at worst, abusive relationships.
Signs of a healthy relationship
The following are just some of the many signs you are in a healthy and safe relationship:
- Having more good times in the relationship than bad
- Having a life outside the relationship, with your own friends and activities
- Making decisions together, with each partner compromising at times
- Dealing with conflicts by talking honestly
- Feeling comfortable and able to be yourself
- Feeling like you don’t need to be perfect
- Feeling able to express your feelings and opinions with your partner
- Feeling able to participate in decision making, to change your mind, and to say no or disagree
- Feeling able to fulfill your own needs
- Feeling able to have privacy and time alone
- Feeling able to maintain old friendships and make new ones
- Feeling like your partner supports you
- Looking forward to being together
- Not having to prepare yourself or your home to be safe with the person.
Signs of an unhealthy relationship
Beware if you see one or more of these signs. It could mean there is an unhealthy and unsafe situation:
- Focusing all your energy on your partner
- Dropping friends and family or activities you enjoy
- Feeling pressured or controlled a lot
- Having more bad times in the relationship than good
- Feeling sad or scared when with your partner
- Receiving constant or near-constant criticism from your partner
- Feeling like your partner acts as a social gatekeeper for you.
Auditing your relationship
Addressing relationship issues is vital to the health of a partnership. It is never too early to start shaping the kind of relationship you want to have and avoid entering into patterns of violence. 1 Why not use the lists above to evaluate your relationship? Remember, if you find yourself identifying more unhealthy elements in your relationship, it may not be your fault.
If you find yourself and your partner aligning more with the healthy relationship list – keep it up and keep loving your partner well. If you find that you are resonating more with the unhealthy relationships list, maybe it’s time for a tune up (like a session with a relationships counsellor), or more serious action (seeking help from a domestic abuse specialist).
Sometimes it’s difficult to recognise issues from within a relationship, so you could ask a trusted friend, Bible study leader or mentor if they have any concerns about your relationship. Have they noticed you flourishing or diminishing in the relationship? Have they noticed any patterns that have raised questions for them?
If you aren’t married but you are in a serious relationship, you can ask your minister or pastor about some good programs that will help you prepare to get married, or make a choice that might be hard now, but better for your future.
If you are married and you want to get your marriage on a healthier track, your church is likely to have information about courses in your area that can help with this.
However, if you think you might be in an abusive relationship, couples' counselling or a marriage program is generally not the answer. It is time to seek professional help from a domestic and family violence specialist service immediately to ensure your safety.
Red flags in relationships
A 'red flag' is an indication that you may not be in a healthy and secure relationship. A red flag can alerts you to areas in the relationship that need serious and urgent attention. Some examples of red flags in a relationship are:
Addiction: alcohol, drugs, spending, sex.
Abuse: See our list of the different types of relationship abuse (physical, verbal, sexual, emotional/psychological, financial)
Personality Disorder: shows signs of narcissistic personality disorder (unwilling to sacrifice themselves for another person, inflated self-image, disregards others' feelings, manipulative, demanding)
Irreconcilable differences in core values: having children, child raising practices, core faith differences (where you haven’t been able to come to agreements about how you’ll raise your children and other parts of family life).
Some good programs
There are some great tools out there that promote respectful relationships. These programs focus on Australian young people, as starting young can have a lasting impact on adult attitudes and relationships.
A few that we know of are:
- Building Respectful Relationships
- Love Bites
- Expect Respect
- Love the Good the Bad and the Ugly
- Sex Love and Other Stuff
- Growing Respect
- It's All One
- The Line
Note: none of these programs are explicitly Christian, however, we believe that they can be easily adapted for church use.