Keys to preventing an unhealthy relationship
The Daily Progress recently reported on a study conducted by University of Virginia professor Joseph Allen discussing unhealthy relationships and their correlation with negative long-term health effects (“Intense teen romance can hurt health later,” June 20 in print). So how can we prevent unhealthy relationships in the first place?
A healthy relationship requires everyone in the relationship to feel safe, be able to set his or her own boundaries, and communicate openly and honestly. Unhealthy relationship behaviors such as isolation — preventing a partner from engaging with friends and family, so that the relationship becomes the partner’s whole world — are prevalent and often co-occur with other types of abuse.
A relationship can easily move from being unhealthy to being abusive when a partner attempts to control the other, take away the partner’s power to make choices, and cause any kind of harm — physical, emotional, financial, or sexual.
Many people think the difference between an “intense relationship” and an abusive one requires physical violence — but as the Allen study and many others show, the long-term effects of emotional harm are still serious.
Prevention is possible! Allen’s study reported that teens who “kept contact with their friends and peers” led healthier lives compared to their peers without a support system. This highlights how important a connected, supportive community is in addressing and preventing intimate partner violence among youth.
Youth are more likely to have healthy relationships when they experience high self-esteem, feel invested in community, understand the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and know how to respect and help others.
Local research is a great start to the conversation; we can keep it going by pushing for healthy relationships for all youth, in our community and others.
Alex Weathersby is prevention services coordinator for Shelter for Help in Emergency, which offers free programs discussing relationships and other topics to schools and youth organizations in Charlottesville and surrounding counties.