Two little kids have a row and their mother confronts them. Chances are good that they will each try to wiggle their way out of the blame. “He started it!” is a timeless favorite.
“It takes two to fight,” their mother reprimands them.
It takes two to argue. It takes two to make a relationship work. Generally speaking, these are true statements. Whether it’s a relationship between siblings or spouses, each person has a certain level of responsibility to work toward harmony in that relationship. However, sometimes it doesn’t take two.
It only takes one to rape, to hit, to yell, to humiliate. Many of the most damaging actions are the sole fault of one member of that relationship. On the surface, of course it takes two to argue; by nature, an argument is a verbal disagreement between two or more people. But what if that argument takes the form of a man screaming at his wife? Or a wife throwing things at her husband? What we’ve classified as an argument is actually abuse.
What does a healthy relationship require, then, from each person? What should you expect of that other person? Of yourself?
It’s easy enough to find a copy of someone’s “Relationship Bill of Rights” on the internet. Not a perfect analogy: bills may be vetoed. However, when two people (and here I’m thinking of an intimate relationship) have committed to be together they have each agreed to some specific guidelines. Each person, whether they know it or not, has a responsibility to build and work toward a healthy relationship.
Sadly, too many people enter relationships for the wrong reasons or with the wrong motives. They fail to see that the other person -their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, whomever it may be- has a right to be treated well. Everyone has equal worth and everyone deserves to be treated as an important individual. However, most relationships do not reflect those truths. People fail to see their own responsibility toward their partner.
A relationship where one person gives and the other takes will never be healthy. Each person needs to work toward, not just their own good, but also (and equally) the good of their partner.
In my case, I did not recognize the obvious signs of abuse because I did not recognize my own value in the relationship or as an individual. I failed to see that I deserved to be treated with kindness and respect.
What should you expect from the other person in a healthy relationship? What sort of treatment do you deserve?
1. You deserve to be safe.
2. You should take care of yourself.
3. You are allowed control over your own body, finances, and possessions.
4. You should not be expected to do things which make you uncomfortable or put you in harm’s way.
5. You have a right to express your feelings in a healthy way.
6. You deserve respect.
7. You have a right to your own opinion.
8. You should be allowed to be yourself. Pardon the cliche but you should expect that your partner will cherish you for just that…you! If you feel that you cannot fully express yourself to your partner, chances are you’ve been subject to some kind of abuse.
9. You should feel secure, not anxious, with your partner.
10. You should be able to trust your partner completely.
11. You should be able to speak honestly and openly about anything.
12. You deserve to have time away from your partner, whether it’s quality time with friends and family or time spent alone.
13. You have the right to say “no”.
14. You have the right to end the relationship.
15. You deserve to be treated kindly: you should expect your partner to desire the very best for you. That means they seek to protect you from harm, rather than cause it.
16. You should expect to be loved. If you feel unloved by your partner, the relationship is headed for trouble.
17. You never deserve to be abused in any way.
What should your partner expect from you in a healthy relationship?
1. They deserve to be treated as you desire and deserve to be treated: with kindness, patience, and respect.
2. They should expect you to encourage them, not humiliate or degrade them.
3. They deserve to have their own opinion.
4. They, too, deserve to maintain full access to their own finances and possessions if that is their wish.
5. They have the right to say “no”.
6. They should expect you to defend them against abuse, not inflict it.
7. They share the responsibility of maintaining your well-being, encouraging activities that enable you to stay healthy – physically and psychologically. Likewise, you have a responsibility to help them maintain a healthy body and mind.
8. They deserve time away from you.
9. They have a right to end the relationship.
10. They should be able to trust you completely.
11. They deserve to be loved for who they are, not what they have or can give.
12. They should expect the same level of honesty you deserve.
13. They should not expect you to stay in an abusive relationship.
The two lists are remarkably similar because, whether you are giving or receiving something in a relationship, you both have the same rights and responsibilities toward one another. If you feel that your own relationship is unhealthy or headed toward abuse, carefully consider what is lacking. If it’s something from your list of responsibilities, remedy that!
However, if something is lacking from your list of “rights”, talk to someone you trust or contact a local crisis center/helpline. If it’s a matter of abuse, you deserve to be able to seek help and safety because, believe it or not, you are incredibly valuable.