#DrewsViews: Valentine’s Day
by Drew Adams
It’s Valentine’s season! That means nearly everyone is talking about relationships, trying to find their Valentine, or just waiting for chocolate to go on sale. Relationships can be great, but only when they are healthy. Unfortunately, LGBT people are more prone to unhealthy romantic relationships than our cisgender/straight counterparts. The rate of intimate partner violence that queer people suffer is higher than what straight people experience, and on top of that, it’s harder for LGBT people to get help when they’re in an unhealthy relationship. This is because of factors like not wanting to “out” themselves by reporting violence, dealing with local laws that don’t consider same-sex relationship violence the same as domestic abuse, facing potentially homophobic and transphobic service providers, not having LGBT resources in the area, or not trusting law enforcement to be helpful. All of this can keep queer people, especially queer young people who aren’t “out” to family, from getting the help they need to get out of unhealthy relationships. But everyone deserves a healthy relationship, so it’s important to first know what makes a relationship healthy.
In the spirit of a healthy Valentine season, here are five things to look for in a healthy relationship, as well as five things you should consider a red flag (for the purposes of this article, I’m using a couple for the relationship, but the same things apply in a poly situation). If you have any of these red flags in your relationship right now and/or you feel that you would not be safe if you tried to leave your significant other, please talk to trusted authority figure, especially if you’re under 18. I put some online resources at the end of this article, as well. Please also talk to a counselor if you’re struggling in a relationship since that is one of the things that LGBT people report as being helpful in dealing with unhealthy relationship situations. If you feel that your life is truly in danger, please get someplace safe and call the police. No one should have to live in fear in a romantic relationship.
Good things in a healthy relationship:
- Ease of communication: Regularly having interesting and engaging conversations is a good thing. But more than that, it should feel comfortable to approach your partner with whatever is on your mind. You should be able to talk about even somewhat stressful things, like issues in the relationship, without raising voices, using insults or getting violent.
- Honesty: Obviously everyone has their secrets, but in general, you shouldn’t feel like you have to lie to your significant other, especially if you feel like being honest will lead them to lash out or hurt you. If you’re both straightforward with each other and you don’t stress about it, that’s a good thing.
- Respecting and uplifting each other: In a healthy relationship, you treat each other as equals, and one person’s success is a success for the team. Healthy couples lift each other up and celebrate each other without jealousy or the need to tear each other down. They also respect each other’s pronouns, identity, boundaries and “out” status (as in, they never threaten to “out” you to anyone) ALL the time, not just when they’re in a good mood.
- Being comfortable with being apart: A healthy relationship means not having to be right next to each other (or constantly texting) all the time. You should have time for yourself where you pursue your own interests. This way you can make sure to keep your own identity while you’re in the relationship and not base everything in your life on the other person. Plus being apart for a bit can make you appreciate the time together even more.
- Having things in common (and being willing to try out each other’s favorite things): This seems obvious but it’s amazing how many people get together who really don’t share any interests. Most of the time, it’s good to have some things in common or at least be willing to give the other person’s interests a try. But don’t forget, respect still matters here, so it’s not okay to try to beg, bully or otherwise force someone to do something they’re not comfortable doing.
Things that make an unhealthy relationship:
- Dismissiveness: Disregarding each other’s emotions is a big red flag. Everyone in the relationship should be respected as an equal, and that includes respecting emotions. If your significant other brushes off your feelings as being unimportant or silly, or tells you that you don’t “deserve” to be happy about something, that isn’t healthy.
- Gaslighting: Gaslighting is when someone denies saying or doing something that you clearly remember them saying or doing, and then they act like you’re crazy for remembering it the way you do. This is a huge problem for obvious reasons. If someone calls you a slur during an argument, for example, and later they say they never said that, they’re gaslighting you. They would rather make you feel that you are wrong than take responsibility for what they said.
- Control issues: Does your significant other tell you who you can talk to, where you can go, how to dress, or how to spend your money? That’s a huge problem. You should have some independence in your relationship. No one has the right to tell you how to live your life or spend your time and money. Sometimes this situation can be combined with the controlling person isolating the other person from friends and family, which makes it feel harder to get away from the relationship because the controlling person is “all you have.” It’s healthier to be alone than to be with someone who tells you what to do all the time.
- Needing to communicate 24/7: Codependence means excessive emotional or mental reliance on a partner, and it’s really common and really unhealthy. If your significant other demands that you be available to talk or text all the time, that’s a bad thing. If they seem to lean on you constantly and need validation all the time, that’s not good. If they don’t seem to know how to function without you supporting them, red flag.
- Any sort of physical, mental or emotional abuse: This sounds obvious but people in abusive relationships often either don’t see the signs or make excuses for the abusive person. Physical violence isn’t the only kind of abuse there is, and LGBT relationships are prone to special kinds of emotional and mental abuse. For example, a partner may say that you’re not REALLY gay/lesbian/trans/etc because you don’t act the way they want you to. Or they may deliberately use the wrong pronouns or a queer slur as an insult during a fight knowing that it will hurt you. Or they might threaten to “out” you to family or friends if they don’t get their way. All of these count as mental or emotional abuse and they’re NOT OKAY. Anyone who would turn your identity into a weapon doesn’t respect or love you.
If you aren’t sure whether your relationship is healthy or you just want to talk to someone about it, you can contact your local LGBT center for resources, or reach out to loveisrespect.org, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org), or rainn.org.
Have a safe Valentine season!
About the Author:
Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.
Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.