By SATEDA volunteer
My perception of what makes for a healthy relationship came from experiencing an abusive relationship of four months a number of years ago. It involved both sexual violence and coercive control and thankfully I was able to leave the relationship. But the resulting trauma from my experiences meant I struggled with PTSD and required years of psychotherapy to try and make sense of what had happened to me and try to begin the path towards some kind of healing.
This relationship had been my first and clouded what I thought romantic relationships would always be like.
I never believed myself capable of having another relationship or wanting one.
I wasn’t actively seeking any kind of romantic connection when I met my current partner. But with therapy and support from family and friends I finally felt comfortable stepping outside my comfort zone, meeting new people and trying new things. When I met my boyfriend we began our relationship very slowly, with lots of communication and a gradual building of trust. We had lots of cups of tea and met in public places and he met my parents before we officially started going out. I was constantly on the lookout for red flags especially when we were alone together, but over time I trusted that he was a decent individual who didn’t want to hurt me in any way. He was respectful, he loved me and he wanted the best for me.
So after five years I feel much more able to know the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one. I want to briefly explore why my current relationship is, I believe, a healthy one.
Firstly, there should be no harmful imbalance of power. Though there may be differences in age or finances these differences shouldn’t be used to control the other person in the relationship. My other half earns more than me and is older; this was true of the abusive boyfriend too. However, their reaction to this is very different. The abusive partner used his age against me to make decisions on my behalf as he felt I was young and naïve and didn’t know anything so wasn’t capable of making certain decisions. He also controlled how I spent my money and criticised me if I spent any on myself as he felt he knew best. My current boyfriend doesn’t use his age against me, instead he values and embraces my slightly different life experiences. He also offers advice with how to save my money and manage spending but crucially, he doesn’t dictate how I spend it – that’s my choice and always will be I feel that a healthy relationship means both parties are in control of their own lives and there is reciprocal support and care for each personal choices.
Secondly I feel my relationship has been healthy because it is built on a solid friendship base and is full of unconditional love, not love due to following specific rules. My last boyfriend only gave affection and ‘love’ if his wishes were followed and I obeyed certain rules. This was exhausting and of course I was constantly set up to fail. Unconditional love to me doesn’t mean that you never argue or that the person you are with is deemed perfect. But you celebrate each other’s triumphs and console each other during the lows and difficulties of life. You each show gratitude and kindness to one another. Compliments are given of both physical attributes and personal achievements not belittlement and snide comments designed to put you down. If my partner and I argue together, we do so respectfully, we both apologise and we try not to hold grudges.
Sex is an important part of a romantic relationship. But as I was a survivor of sexual violence I was initially terrified of attempting that part of my life again. With my previous partner sex was also on demand and rarely consensual. Sex being consensual is vital and allowed me to move on from my previous trauma. I can say no whenever I wish and my voice is heard by my current partner. A sign of a healthy relationship I also believe is where both parties experience mutual pleasure from sex. Affection is also really important:, being kissed or having your face caressed and being told you’re safe and believing it, is essential for healthy relationships. Unlike with my last partner where affection was withheld as a punishment for my perceived wrongdoing. In fact, in my relationship affection is equally as important as a good sex life. Sex and affection I feel need open communication, trust, consideration and gentleness.
I do feel very lucky to have found my other half, and to experience this healthy, growing love. Not only do we have a strong friendship we have built a solid relationship based on unconditional love, feeling safe, trusting each other and supporting one another. I want to emphasise that there is hope after even the most unimaginable trauma. A healthy relationship can’t take away what happened to us, but it is another tool to allow for healing, acceptance and the ability to move on in our lives.
We all deserve healthy love and it’s the least we should expect in relationships.