October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, a month that challenges us to look at intimate partner and relationship violence in our community. For some, college is the place where we meet our life partner or have our first significant dating relationship. However, it is important to acknowledge that leaving the hormone-filled and sometimes dramatic dating scene in high school does not change the fact that unhealthy and controlling relationships still exist, and are a common experience for many college students.

Research studies have found that women attending college experience the highest rate of relationship violence compared to any other group, including men, women of other ages and women of the same age who are not attending college. It's important we understand that individuals of any gender, or sexual orientation, can experience relationship or dating violence.

  • When asked 21% of college students reported experiencing dating violence with their current partner
  • 32% said they had experienced dating violence with a past partner
  • 13% reported being forced into sexual activity by a dating partner

For most people, it is hard to identify an unhealthy relationship when you are in one, especially when you are in love. Something important to realize about unhealthy and abusive relationships is they are not always harmful or hurtful. Many follow a predictable pattern that includes a couple of key elements. There is always a time where things are great, often referred to as the "honeymoon phase", where everyone in the relationship is feeling connected and loved. We have all seen the montages from movies where couples are laughing, eating romantic picnics, doing adventurous and vulnerable things and overall just having great time together. This is the part that gets people hooked to the relationship and something they always know is possible for them and their partner.

At some point in an unhealthy relationship tension will start to build, maybe a small argument occurs that identifies a key difference in the relationship. These arguments often center around other important relationships a partner may have like family, friends, teammates, or classmates and the time they spend or want to spend with these other important individuals. Tension will continue to build until there is a breaking point where one partner feels the need to take control and assert their power in the relationship by hurting the other person. This can look many different ways, and can include things like, physical aggression, name calling, threats, manipulation, trying to create discord or isolation from important relationships and sexual assault. Then the person that hurt their partner will realize they did so and will try to make things right by apologizing, minimizing what happened, or making excuses for what they did. The cycle begins all over again with a romantic make up that propels the couple into the same cycle again and again.

So what does a healthy relationship look like?

  • When you are starting a dating relationship, the foundation should be respect and trust.
  • You should talk about what you are looking for in a relationship and if your partner crosses your boundaries, does something that hurts you, or violates your trust, talk to them about it.
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then you should address it, and if it doesn’t improve maybe the relationship isn’t right for you.
  • In all relationships we have disagreements or times when we feel jealousy. It is how we handle these challenges that is the key.
  • Both people in the relationship should feel they are getting what they want out of the relationship, and should be listened to and heard when issues arise.

We are often taught, that by asking for what we want, we are being selfish or mean, but in relationships this is vitally important. A relationship should never always be about the wants and needs of one person, compromise might be necessary, and setting and respecting boundaries is a way we can show we respect and care about our partner. You should never need to sacrifice important relationships you have with others for your partner, and creating isolation is often the first step to people feeling trapped in an unhealthy relationship. It is always ok to want to break up and you don’t need a reason other than you don’t want to be in a relationship anymore.

If you ever feel unsafe talking to your partner, have experienced violence within your relationship, or have a friend who might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, please reach out and speak with an ASAP advocate to get support and resources. Advocates with the ASAP office are confidential, meaning talking with someone in our office will not initiate a report with the university. Advocates are available 24/7 through our crisis hotline at 970-351-4040 and we are here to support anyone in the UNC community regardless of where you are, on-campus, in Greeley, or engaging virtually in your home community.

We are also available to meet in person and have a temporary office set up in Wiebking Hall 095. We welcome drop in appointments, meaning you can just come whenever you need support, or you can email us at advocacy@unco.edu or call our office line at 970-351-1490 if you would prefer to set up an in-person or virtual appointment. The ASAP office is a great place to start to talk about your experiences, receive support and information, and learn about resources you have available to you on campus and in the Greeley Community.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to ask a specific question, please join us for a virtual panel of experts on Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health on Tuesday, November 27 from 6 to 7 p.m.

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Healthy Relationships and Sexual health