By Jess Hume-Pantuso
Four letter words come in all shapes and sizes. Now, before your mind starts to wander, I want to draw your attention to one of the most powerful yet confusing four letter words: love.
Not what you were expecting? Society has done a great job of placing a positive connotation on the word love– but that isn’t always the case. Throughout television shows, movies and even social media, love is shown as a euphoric feeling of happiness combined with a whole lot of passion. Kids are taught growing up that love is supposed to be the most magical feeling to ever exist, and that having a healthy marriage is the key to happiness. But what happens when those assertions start to become more of a fantasy and less of a reality?
Relationships are hard, and not always perfect, but how far off from perfection can a relationship be before it turns toxic? Let’s take a look at what makes a relationship healthy, unhealthy and everything in between.
For starters, I want you to take a deep breath, clear the mind and take these next five minutes as a chance to forget about anyone or anything that may be bothering you right now. Love can be an intense topic to speak about. Over the last couple months I’ve done some research on relationships, here’s what I’ve learned. This is a judgement free zone, and I welcome you with open arms.
Now that you and I have built some trust between us, from reader to writer, we’ve formed a steady foundation. Much like what you’ll need in every other relationship in your life.
I had the honor of speaking with Sahana Prasad, the Coordinator of Interpersonal Violence Services at the Counseling and Psychological Services located at Oregon State University, and she spoke about what characteristics and signs of a healthy relationship are.
“One of the most important things is open and honest communication, and that means people feel comfortable talking about their emotions and their needs,” Prasad said.
She goes on to explain that your significant other should fulfill those needs, however they should recognize that it is not reasonable for just one person to meet every single one of your needs. What she means by this, is that one of the major signs that your relationship might be turning unhealthy is isolation. If your partner feels they are the one and only person you will ever need in your life, it might be smart to take a step back. Realize that there are other people in your life too who are just as important that you don’t want to lose. It’s very easy to get entangled with your significant other’s life feeling as if it’s only you and them against the world.
There is a degree at which this is normal. You should feel a sense of security with your partner. But, when your partner starts to get angry and upset that you hangout with people other than them, they may be showing signs of manipulation. Someone should never feel stuck. With any relationship in one’s life, they should feel good most of the time and have a sense of self-worth and individuality.
Although there are no step-by-step instructions on how to prevent toxic, intimate relationships from occurring, there are ways to make them less likely to transpire. One way to make that happen is through learning about relationships. By learning about them, you can start to make decisions based on how they make you feel, and what you want out of them as a partner. In an interview with Michelle Huillet, an Interpersonal Communication Instructor at OSU, she spoke on this topic and talked about how to notice when a relationship is toxic, and why it is that people may stay in those relationships.
When it comes to noticing an unhealthy relationship, the first thing Huillet pointed out was patterns. Those patterns included: passive-aggression, a negative impact on self-esteem, not being honest, withholding information, using silence as a punishment, frequent criticism and as talked about earlier, manipulation. She made it clear that everyone has their bad days, and maybe someone is just not feeling well so they act out. However, when that “acting out” becomes a regular thing followed with an apology, that is when those patterns of toxicity start.
For those of you reading this, and thinking to yourself “well why would anyone stay in a relationship that makes them feel poorly?” Thankfully, Huillet had some more great advice on a few theories as to why people might stay in certain relationships. The first one she described was sunk cost bias, which she explains as the reason people stay in relationships because they’ve already put in so much time and effort. Even if someone may know it’s time to break up, after you’ve been with someone for awhile it may appear easier just to stay with them.
“It’s really poor logic,” she says.
Another theory is the comparison level of alternatives. Going back to what society has taught us, being single means that you are alone and, as humans, no one wants to be alone. So this theory explains that people stay together because they would rather be unhappy than single, as Huillet describes.
From the outside looking in on someone’s relationship, maybe your roommate or your close friend, it is hard to realize these things and why someone you care so much about would be with someone who treats them poorly.
In an email with Becca Williams, Director of Survivor Advocacy & Resource Center, “If someone you know is contemplating leaving their toxic or abusive relationship, it’s important to be supportive, loving, caring and respectful of their decisions, as well as their right to change their mind.”
The best thing you could do for your loved one is show you care about them and you support them through everything. If you push them to make a hard decision, you may just be pushing them away. Be a good listener, and an even better support system because even if they don’t admit it, they need you.
Love and relationship are one of the topics that even our world’s greatest philosophers haven’t figured out, so don’t feel bad about being confused. Above all, it’s your decision what style of relationship you enjoy the most.
Nobody chooses to be in unhealthy relationships. You may wish the best, but sometimes two people just simply aren’t meant to be. Whether they start out healthy and then transform into something different, make sure to always be open and honest with both your partner and yourself. Love and relationships are one of the topics that even our world’s greatest philosophers haven’t figured out yet. Find what makes you happy, notice the toxic signs early, and trust your instinct.
So, let me ask you, what does this four letter word resemble in your eyes?