Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part IV – "Tell me, is my Relationship Healthy?"

Last month (in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month) I decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Four and the final installment of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, please follow the above links for previous articles.

If we didn't receive good (or any!) modeling from our parents about how to be in a healthy, loving intimate relationship, it can be hard to know if we're "doing it right." When I got into my first serious relationship in college, I honestly didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like, and unfortunately wound up in an abusive relationship for almost 5 years with someone who at the time I thought was a "perfect boyfriend" and who I assumed I'd spend my life with. It wasn't until having friends and family intervene that I became awake to the fact that I was in a very unhealthy relationship and needed to leave.

Not once did I receive education in signs of intimate partner abuse or the cycle of violence as an undergraduate in psychology nor as a graduate student in counseling. Had I been aware, I might've been able to notice the warning signs and leave sooner. I hope you, the reader, keep yourself informed of traits of healthy and unhealthy relationships so you can avoid the pain of abuse and have a satisfying, lifelong relationship with someone you love. Please read on for my round-up of characteristics of healthy relationships:

 
 

1 | Communication

One thing that I often tell psychotherapy clients is that your partner is not a mind-reader! Just because you wish your partner new what you needed and could meet your needs all the time doesn’t mean that they can. In a relationship, we need to take responsibility for our obligation to keep our partner informed of what we’re thinking, feeling, needing and expecting so that we don’t find ourselves constantly resentful and disappointed. If you and your partner are in sync with your communication, this is a strong indicator that your relationship is headed in the right direction.

2 | Vulnerability

This is a tough one for people because making ourselves vulnerable can be an intensely uncomfortable and difficult task, and can be even harder for those who’ve experienced much betrayal, deception or trauma in past relationships. However, as risky as it can feel, making ourselves vulnerable to our partner allows us to be fully seen and loved by our partner and help us resolve conflicts with love instead of anger. If you and your partner allow yourselves to be vulnerable with one another, then you will likely find it easier to connect on a deeper level and move through challenges with ease.

3 | Honesty

Transparency in a relationship allows it to grow and thrive. Knowing that your partner is in the loop about your actions will allow you to be more present in your interactions with them and prevent guilt and shame from creeping in. If you and your partner find it easy to admit transgressions to one another and share information – even if it might hurt the other – then you’re likely in a relationship with a high level of honesty and integrity.

4 | Trust

What I often tell my psychotherapy clients is that trust is the foundation of a relationship – without it, there’s not much of a relationship at all – it’s more like two people living parallel lives, loosely connected to one another. In a relationship where the trust is well-established and strong, the couple’s bond can withstand ambiguity and fear, because their trust in one another serves as the bedrock of the relationship – unshakeable, despite challenging external factors.

5 | Boundaries

As much as we want to experience closeness with our partner, in order to have a thriving relationship, we need to balance that out with maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Relationship boundaries are limits that we set within the relationship – for example, people can have boundaries around their time, their personal space, their finances, how they expect to be treated by their partner among many other areas. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and uphold them, in order to prevent feeling taken advantage of by our partner.

6 | Fun

One of the many benefits of being in a relationship is the ability to share the enjoyment of life with your partner. We’re wired for connection, so it makes sense that we would be naturally inclined to seek a life partner with whom to share fun times with. If you and your mate are cracking each other up, having a blast on dates, and fully engaging in the moment, chances are your relationship is healthy and thriving.

7 | Intimacy

A hallmark of healthy relationships is the intimacy shared between the partners. Physical intimacy is a pivotal aspect of a healthy relationship for many couples, but is not always necessary. For partners in long-distance relationships, or partners who choose to abstain sexually, emotional intimacy can be enough to satisfy both partners. Intimacy, in this sense, indicates sharing deeply with that person and letting them in on parts of you that you don’t share with just anyone.

8 | Loyalty

Of course many couples choose to have polyamorous relationships, but in a monogamous relationship there is an expectation of physical and emotional loyalty to one another. In a healthy relationship (whether monogamous or polyamorous,) both partners honor the agreements and expectations set forth at the beginning of the relationship about what is acceptable (and unacceptable) behavior. Also, remember that emotional affairs can cause as much (if not more) damage than physical affairs.

9 | Equity

Equity and equality are two different, yet similar, ideas. Saying that a relationship should have equality would be unrealistic, because each partner has different strengths, abilities and resources to contribute to the relationship that will never be equal – that would simply be impossible to achieve! But to say that a relationship is equitable means that both partners are contributing what they can and treating one another with dignity and respect.

10 | Reliability

In order to feel secure in your relationship, you need to know that you can count on your partner – whether it be expecting them to show up for a date when they say they will, or being able to drop everything and come help you in a crisis situation. Without dependability, we’ll feel like we’re on our own within the relationship. Knowing that our partner is available to us makes us feel closer to them and safer in general because we know we have support when we need it.

I hope you found today’s post informative. Although there are many other qualities of healthy relationships that I could identify, theses are the ten that really stood out to me when I sat down to write this post. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask.

If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. This is the final article in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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​Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part II – 7 Elements of Abuse Safety Planning

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and in honor of this, I’ve decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Two of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, stay tuned for future posts.

Once you’ve identified abuse within your relationship, you might think “okay, now what?” Leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly difficult because you may be financially dependent on your abusive partner, you may be fearful of leaving due to retribution, you may love your abusive partner immensely and not want to leave, or many other factors making it challenging to pick up and take off. Whether you have decided to leave or whether you are looking to increase your safety while staying in an abusive relationship, you'll want to develop a safety plan for yourself. Here are 7 elements of abuse safety planning:

 
 

1 | Find a safe location

The first step of a safety plan is to find a safe location away from the abuser when you feel in danger of physical abuse. Although this may seem obvious, when experiencing abuse, one's levels of confusion and fear are so high, it's hard to know exactly what to do first. A safe place might be the cafe down the street or another room in the house (choose a room with no weapons and with a way to escape.)

2 | Keep a phone available

Keep a phone with you at all times. If you don't have access to one, or if your partner takes it away from you, know where the closest public phone is to your home.

3 | Call 911

If you feel you are in imminent danger, call the police immediately. If you are not in immediate danger, move down the steps of the safety plan.

4 | Utilize the Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is an important resource to include in a safety plan. The phone hotline (1-800-799-7233) is a 24-hour a day free service and the live chat option on the website is available from 5 a.m. to midnight PST (also free.) Domestic violence advocates can help connect you to community resources (if that is something you’d like to take advantage of), can help you sort through your thoughts to make a decision about what to do next and can help you develop and execute a safety plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website also provides an abundance of useful information and resources for abuse survivors.

5 | Seek social support

A vital aspect of a safety plan is the phone numbers of a few friends, family members or neighbors who you trust to be able to help deliver you to safety in a dangerous situation with your partner. People on this list should be able to help drive you, house you or feed you temporarily if you feel you are at risk. If you need a place to stay or just someone to talk to, give the people on your list a call for support. The people who choose for your safety plan should be local and willing to help you when you need it.

6 | Put together an overnight bag

It's important to be prepared for the next potential act of violence. If you are currently living with your partner and not ready to leave the relationship, it's essential that you have a "get away" bag with cash, some clothes, and an extra car key. You can also make a habit of backing your car into the driveway for a quicker escape.

7 | Inform professionals

Any care professionals who you work with (i.e. a therapist, your doctor, etc.) that you trust should be included toward the end of your safety plan as individuals to keep in the loop of recent developments. Although most professionals maintain boundaries around their out-of-office hours and are typically not available for crisis management, you still want them to be informed of updates. Your therapist or other care professional may be able to accommodate an earlier appointment to help you decide on your next step.

Keep in mind, everyone’s situation is unique and each safety plan is tailored to the individual’s circumstances and needs. This post outlines elements that are generally included in safety plan, but is not an exhaustive list. If you'd like to learn more about safety planning, I suggest you visit this linkIf you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. I hope you found today’s post informative. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask. Stay posted for future articles in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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