Just imagine you are sitting in your doctor’s office waiting for the doctor and chatting with the medical assistant. Maybe it’s your yearly physical or maybe this is your first visit and you just want antibiotics for a relentless chest cold. All of a sudden she starts running through this list of questions:
- Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you?
- Within the last year, have you been hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
- Since you’ve been pregnant, have you been slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
I would probably answer “no” to all of these questions even if I was experiencing abuse. It is so alienating to boil down the complexities of any relationship to these questions. And besides after I answer these questions, what happens? Where does this information go? Will you look at me differently? Judge me and my partner? Do you have any help to offer if I take a risk and tell you anything?
Current healthcare research shows that both finding the right way to ask and connecting a patient to resources is the two-step golden ticket for effective support.
Ask yourself: Are you in a healthy relationship?
- Is my partner willing to communicate openly when there are problems?
- Does my partner give me space to spend time with other people?
- Is my partner kind and supportive?
If you answered YES to these questions, it is likely that you are in a healthy relationship. Studies show that this kind of relationship leads to better physical and mental health, longer life, and better outcomes for your children.
Ask yourself: Are you in an unhealthy relationship?
- Does my partner shame me or humiliate me in front of others or in private?
- Does my partner control where I go, who I talk to, and how I spend money?
- Has my partner hurt or threatened me, or forced me to have sex?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, your health and safety may be in danger.
Their information also includes national hotline resources and where to get advocacy services.
I may still hesitate to answer these questions, but I know that the person in front of me is ready to have a deeper conversation and has some resources. Screening for, asking about, or listening for abuse in a relationship is not an end in itself. Providing support and connection is what survivors tell us they want.
If healthcare professionals really want to help, they have to take the time to learn the right questions and get comfortable connecting their patients to advocacy services. Consider helping by taking a stack of Safety Cards (they’re free) to your next doctor’s appointment.
I just watched the trailer for Daddy I Do—a documentary about purity balls. What’s a purity ball, you ask? It’s basically a wedding-like ceremony where teen daughters pledge to their fathers that they will remain a virgin until they are married. There are so many things about this that get me riled up, like haven’t we moved past the idea that girls belong to their fathers until they can be married off?
In the trailer, some of the men talk about how they of course wouldn’t tell their daughters how to have safe sex, because they shouldn’t be having sex at all! It’s this way of thinking that is driving support for abstinence-only sex education. But we know abstinence-only sex education is not very effective at lowering teen pregnancy and STI rates.
When I was growing up in the South, this kind of thing was happening. I remember one day in homeroom, we all had a little slip of paper on our desks with the purity pledge on it. The teacher didn’t make us sign it, but she did ask that we take it home, talk with our parents about it, and seriously consider signing it. I was creeped out by it, but at least it wasn’t a substitute for the small amount of medically accurate sex education that we got in school.
These purity balls and pledges send messages that girls shouldn’t have sex (boys will be boys), girls bear the burden of this responsibility (because, boys will be boys), and girls’ virginity is more important than boys’.
But an even bigger problem is that it leaves a gaping hole in the conversations we should be having with our kids about healthy relationships. As much as we might want to stick our fingers in our ears and sing lalalala, the teens in our lives are (probably) making their way around the bases with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Let’s give them accurate and complete info about sex. And I’m not just talking contraceptives and STIs here. Let’s tell them that sex is about pleasure. Let’s tell them that there’s no shame in feeling what they are feeling (whether they’re wanting to have sex or not). Let’s talk about the things you should look for in a healthy relationship like love, respect, and trust and how that should apply to the sex part too. Let’s talk about how powerful they are that they get to make smart, informed choices about their bodies. Let’s talk about that.
I have been doing domestic violence work for a long time. Over the years, I have come across lists of the “red flags” or “warning signs” of abuse many times. These lists are helpful for sure. But you know what I’ve rarely come across? A list of what to do in relationships. I’ve seen definitions of healthy relationships, and even some concrete tips for how to get there, but not a whole lot. It got me thinking that we have spent so much time figuring out what an abusive relationship looks like and explaining that to folks, that we rarely take the time to talk about how to have a good relationship.
Healthy and fun relationships don’t just fall out of the sky (wouldn’t it be great if they did!), you have to work at it. So we’ve created something that we hope will help us share how to Love Like This (not like this). We’ll do that by illustrating some typical situations that occur in relationships and giving examples of how to deal with them in a healthy, loving, and respectful way, as opposed to an abusive, controlling, or coercive way. And bonus: it’s filled with cute illustrations of cats—true story.
Check out our Love Like This series and share with us how you are doing with your healthy relationship skills.
We bring you this guest post from Emily McAllister, a senior at Auburn Mountainview High School. The following is an excerpt of the speech she gave at a benefit show she organized to support our work and promote healthy relationships.
Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming! This promises to be an amazing night!
For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Emily McAllister. I have taken on the challenge of raising $10,000 for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. … We are here to raise awareness about an issue that is hard to talk about. I have realized that not a whole lot of people really know HOW to talk about it. My goal tonight is to give some ideas that will help you recognize if it’s happening to you, also, to help you be aware if you are treating someone this way, and lastly to help you know what to say if it’s impacting someone you know. This issue is called domestic violence.
My Aunt Kate died almost 19 months ago. She was only 29 years old. Kate died because someone beat her. That someone was her boyfriend. That someone was with her for 5 years. That someone took her away from us. That someone will get his day in court and have to answer to the charge of Murder. The bottom line is, it’s not ok to hit anyone—ever. Kate was in a relationship with someone who did not treat her with kindness or respect. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
Kate leaves behind a large family, her mom and dad, brother and sisters, nieces, nephew, and many many cousins. She also leaves behind friends and a very special daughter. We are here to celebrate Kate. We are here to listen to some great music. We are here to raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are here to share a message about encouraging healthy relationships. Kate would want us to enjoy tonight and be happy! Kate loved music! She will be with us tonight, looking over us. Let’s have a great night!
As we transition between singers, I would like to share some facts to help define healthy relationships.
Fact#1: Relationships are supposed to be enjoyable and fun. This means that both people are having a good time. Dating should be fun! If it’s not, that is a sign that it may not be a healthy relationship.
Fact #2: Family and friends are affected by our relationships. At this time, can I have all the Southwards, Sullivans, Stephens, or any other family member stand up. Now any friends. And now anyone who had met Kate. Please look around and see how many people were impacted by this one act. This goes to show you how many people are impacted by our relationships.
Fact #3: Relationships are built on respect, where both people share in decision making and are free to choose what is right for them. If someone is not feeling respected, it may not be a healthy relationship.
Fact #4: Domestic violence can happen to anyone: male or female, popular or unpopular, rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, beautiful or not. Your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or you. It’s important to know the signs. If there is a lot of drama, possessiveness, grabbing, slapping, or shoving, those are all warning signs that you may be an unhealthy relationship. Reach out and talk to someone about it.
Fact #5: Domestic violence if often a silent battle for many. It’s like the invisible elephant in the room. That’s why we have come up with the slogan “Stop the silence & end the violence.” It starts with each of us. You can be a part of promoting healthy relationships by getting the conversation started. Opening the lines of communication is the first step. Even if you don’t have the answer, you can simply say, “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence there is help available.
Recently, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of a cherished daughter of dear friends. While reminiscing with my twin daughters about their Bat Mitzvah, it dawned on me that this process actually prepares young people for entering into loving and respectful relationships. To prepare for a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, young women and men have to learn to speak publicly, think critically about ideas, and express their beliefs with each other and trusted adults.
The Bat Mitzvah process centers you in an environment that is bigger than your individual needs and wants. At age 13, you are seen as ethically responsible for your decisions and actions, and you are joining the Jewish community as an adult. Years of Hebrew school culminate in leading a Shabbat service, singing an ancient trope from the Torah (Hebrew Bible), and reflecting on your Torah portion (Dvar) and connecting it to contemporary life. The parents have a role in publicly acknowledging their child’s commitment. It is a moment to share a bit about who you think your child is and what you hope for them. I love this part of the service, and never get tired of hearing all the ways adults love their children.
My daughters had to interpret ancient teachings through their own experiences while adults asked their opinions and offered respect for their thinking. Pretty heady stuff at 13. The process immersed them in a community that amplified their voice and lifted their authority and confidence. And it gave me new ways of talking about respect, supportive love, and what a healthy relationship feels like.
1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.
You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.
If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.
I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.
2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.
I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.
I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.
That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.
3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.
Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.
4. Promote love.
Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.
Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).
5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.
Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.
1. Give up charity—seek connection
2. Give up pity—seek connection
3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection
4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection
5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection
“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.
Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:
- Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
- Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
- Deciding when is the right time to have sex
- Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
- What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
- Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
- Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
- Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
- Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship
I think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.
Jason Collins made history when he became the first male player of a U.S. major league team to come out as gay. Cue media blitz. Some reactions were, of course, angry and hateful. Some said, what’s the big deal? Women athletes have been coming out for years. And a great many others, including a lot of straight men, showed lots of love and support for Jason.
And THAT, my friends, is why this is such a big deal.
Yes, it’s true that women athletes have been coming out for years. Martina Navratilova came out in the middle of her career in 1981(!). This year’s top WNBA draft pick, Brittney Griner, came out with barely a media mention (which is enough for a whole other post on sexism). The Atlantic writer Garance Franke-Ruta nailed it when she said “Female professional athletes are already gender non-conforming. Male ones are still worshiped as exemplars of traditional masculinity.” Ah, yes. That ‘traditional masculinity’ which dictates that men are tough, rugged, strong, (which of course implies that women are not) and like their intimate relationships to be with women. I think much of how we’ve defined traditional masculinity is harmful to our relationships, gay or straight.
There have been remarks about how inspirational Jason Collins must be to kids out there struggling with their own sexual orientation, but I think his action does so much more. He has given us the opportunity to shift our perceptions of what it means to be manly. Posts like 17 Moments When Jason Collins was Super Gay do just that. He has helped us acknowledge that we can love who we want to love and be who we want to be without the pressure to fit into a box that is not at all the right shape. And when our communities support us to be comfortable in our own skins, we are better equipped to forge happy, healthy relationships.