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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

Identifying abusive relationships

Identifying abusive relationships

We’re often in a good position to spot abusive behaviors in our friends’ relationships. But some of the signs of unhealthy relationships can look a lot like normal couple interactions. How can you tell the difference?

It can be hard to know for sure whether someone else is in a healthy relationship, but having a foundational understanding of abusive behaviors will help you notice potential warning signs and take action to help your friend if they need it.

First, let’s look at some examples of what normal couples experience.

Jealousy. It’s totally normal to feel a little upset it we see someone else flirting with our partner.

Conflict. It’s true – every relationship has conflict. We all have different perspectives and life experiences, and sometimes we clash.

Spending less time with friends. This is especially common early on in a relationship when you want to spend every waking minute together.

While these are often normal behaviors in a relationship, at what point might they be signs of abuse? Take a closer look. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do those feelings of jealousy pass after both people talk about how they’re feeling? Or do they lead one person to act possessive and controlling over their partner?
  • When conflict arises, do both people have an equal say, and do they both feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel? Or does one person hold back their feelings for fear of upsetting their partner?
  • Do both partners seem happy when they see each other? Do they both light up when they get millions of texts from their partner, or do they get frustrated, or even scared, when they get these messages?
  • Are partners spending all of their time together because they both want to? Or because one person demands it of the other?

Close friends are often in the best position to spot abusive behaviors in someone else’s relationship. The key is to pay attention and if you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable – it’s time to check in. Start by just asking your friend, “How are things going in your relationship?”

Try and put yourself in your friend’s position. You would probably want someone to step in, offer support, and help you identify potential resources and options. You can be that person for your friend.

Everyone can do something to make our campus a safer place! To learn more about how you can help, sign up for a bystander training.

Sexual assault within relationships

Sex should always be a positive, healthy and consensual experience for everyone involved. Remember: sex without consent is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is common on college campuses. In most instances, the two people involved know each other. Victims may even be in a relationship with the person who is taking advantage of them.

It’s not always easy to identify sexual assault within the context of a relationship. When we think about sexual assault, we tend to think about behaviors that are obviously violent or forceful. But sexual assault in a relationship doesn’t always appear this way. Plus, it’s hard to imagine our partner would hurt us.

So what does sexual assault within a relationship look like? Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether this might be happening to you or someone you care about.

Has your partner ever…

  • Pressured you to engage in sexual acts you weren’t comfortable with?
  • Had sex with you when you were unable to voluntarily consent after drinking?
  • Made you watch or imitate pornography without your consent?
  • Asked repeatedly to have sex even when you’ve told them no?
  • Acted annoyed or whiny when you turn down sex?
  • Called you selfish or made you feel guilty for not wanting sex?
  • Threatened to cheat on you if you refuse sex?
  • Become verbally or physically abusive if you don’t want to have sex?
  • Refused to use condoms, or blocked access to contraception?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be seeing signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Keep in mind that sexual assault is prohibited at WSU, and there are many resources available to help if you or someone you know needs them.

Remember, consent must be present every time sexual activity occurs, even in relationships.

You should never feel obligated or pressured to engage in any sexual activity. It’s not your fault if someone hurts you. It’s normal to feel betrayed, hurt, angry and confused.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in a relationship. For more information on creating and maintaining healthy relationships, request a workshop for your group.

Tips for a healthy relationship

Tips for a healthy relationship

Did you know that in a one-year period, 8 percent of Cougs experienced physical or emotional abuse in their relationship (ACHA-NCHA, 2016)? Dating violence impacts individuals and communities.

As members of the WSU community, we care about the wellbeing of Cougs. It’s important to talk not only about what violence looks like, but also what a healthy relationship looks like.

October is Domestic Violence Action Month. In honor of this month, here are some healthy relationship tips you can try.

  1. Talk about personal boundaries. Having a shared understanding of your physical and emotional wants, needs and expectations is crucial for a healthy relationship.
  2. Respect boundaries. What feels comfortable and normal for you might be totally different than your partner. Make sure to listen to and respect their needs.
  3. Talk openly and often. Honest communication about how you are feeling is an essential trait of a healthy relationship. Take some time out of a weekend together to chat about how things are going and talk about areas of your relationship you want to improve.
  4. Hear what your partner has to say. You should be able to listen to one another without judgment, anger or fear of retaliation.
  5. Build each other up. Mutual support is crucial for a healthy relationship. If it seems like your partner is feeling insecure about something or doubting themselves, offer some words of encouragement or reassurance.
  6. Don’t be afraid of conflict. You will disagree with each other at various points in your relationship. That’s normal. Constant conflict, or making your partner feel guilty about how they feel, is not.
  7. Take time apart. Your partner shouldn’t pressure you to hang out 24/7. It’s both normal and healthy to need space. Being together doesn’t mean being together all the time.
  8. Recognize feelings of discomfort. You should feel safe in your relationship and trust your partner. Feelings of insecurity are normal, but they shouldn’t take over your relationship or turn into controlling behaviors (like looking at your partner’s cell phone to see who they are texting or dictating who they can or can’t hang out with).

Remember, relationships have natural highs and lows. If you ever feel unsafe in a relationship, know support is available. If you’re having trouble assessing if your relationship is healthy, try this quiz.

Want to learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics? Attend one of our workshops.

Parents: Talk to your student about relationships

Dad and son talking

We strive to educate our students about violence prevention, but this is something we cannot do alone. We need parents, caregivers and mentors to join conversations about violence prevention and healthy relationships. We need your help.   

You may be surprised to learn that teens rely on parents, rather than friends, for guidance about these issues. We encourage you to have open conversations with your student—regardless of their gender—about dating, sexual relationships, healthy boundaries and consent. The key is to let your Coug know they can always come to you if they have questions or need support.

If you’ve already had conversations about healthy relationships with your student, we encourage you to continue.  For many, having these conversations isn’t easy and we recognize that.  It can be difficult and sometimes awkward to talk with your student about violence prevention and relationships.  But we promise it’s absolutely worth it.

To get the conversation started, keep it simple:

  • Look for opportunities to weave topics of sex, gender, dating and communication into everyday conversations. You could talk about a TV show, news story or blog post that relates to these topics, and ask your student what they think about it.
  • Talk about consent, and the university’s definition of consent in sexual interactions.
  • Reinforce that Cougs take action when they see someone in a risky situation or someone who needs help.
  • Talk about values your family shares, and what these look like in dating and sexual relationships.
  • Review WSU’s policy prohibiting discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Ask about the Safety on Campus workshop your student attended during Alive!
  • Talk about boundaries, and let your student know that no one has the right to push them further than they want.

Even though your student is now an adult and has moved away to college, you still play a vital role in influencing them to make healthy decisions throughout life.

By educating yourself about this important issue, you will be better prepared should your student ever come to you asking questions about how to handle a particular situation.  Visit oeo.wsu.edu to learn more about the university’s process for handling instances of gender-based violence.