A relationship can be defined in many different ways depending on who you’re asking. But it’s definitely agreed that healthy relationships are essential parts of our overall health and wellbeing. In our wellbeing survey, 51% of people actually agreed that meaningful relationships are integral to how well we feel. As humans, we’ve got an innate need to find connections with other people that can provide security, a sense of belonging and mutual support.
A study reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Review has found that positive relationships fuel our ability to ‘thrive.’ That’s because relationships with others open up more opportunities that can enhance our wellbeing, as well as offering support during difficult times.
Now that Love Island is back on our screens, viewers have raised concerns about certain signs of controlling behaviours in relationships. But is it all what it seems? Regardless of whether you couldn’t give two hoots about Love Island, it's fair to say that it’s helped to open a dialogue around healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships. Let’s take a look at what really makes a healthy and unhealthy relationship.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse can often conjure up certain stereotypes and opinions including that the victim is to blame for provoking their abuser, that it only involves men attacking women and that it’s only domestic abuse if it involves a physical attack. However, the NHS states that domestic violence can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse in couple relationships or between family members and that both men and women can be abused and be abusers.
Women’s Aid goes on to say that domestic abuse can include but is not limited to coercive control, psychological or emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, financial or economic abuse, harassment and stalking as well as online or digital abuse.
How common is domestic abuse?
According to LWA (Living Without Abuse), domestic abuse is much more common than you might have previously thought. In fact, it will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. Tragically, domestic abuse leads to on average, two women being murdered each week and 30 men per year.
Furthermore, domestic abuse accounts for 16% of all violent crime. However, it is still the least likely violent crime to be reported to the police. It also has more repeat victims than any other crime (on average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police).
So, what’s it got to do with Love Island?
This year’s ITV Love Island series has caused much public debate as to whether contestant Joe Garrett was behaving in a controlling way towards Lucie Donlan, who he was coupled up with on the island since the start of season 5 up until his departure. When Joe told Lucie she spends too much time with male islander Tommy Fury and should instead hang around the girls more, Ofcom received over 300 complaints about the episode.
Women’s Aid, the charity aiming to end domestic violence against women even released a statement about the Love Island couple and that particular scene, saying:
“Controlling behaviour is never acceptable, and with Love Island viewers complaining to Ofcom in record numbers about Joe’s possessive behaviour towards Lucie, more people are becoming aware of this and want to challenge it.
Abusive relationships often start off with subtle signs of control, so it’s important that it is recognised at an early stage. Love Island viewers are now very vocal in calling out unhealthy behaviour between couples on the show, and this is a positive development.”
Although Joe’s behaviour could be considered controlling, it’s open to debate as to whether it’s an example of abuse or an unhealthy relationship. A lot of viewers have also expressed concern that 45 minutes of footage from 24 hours can hardly tell the true narrative, especially since Lucie has now said that she may want more than friendship with Tommy. It's so difficult to compare a few short snippets from a heavily edited reality TV show to that of real life.
Despite the debate of whether or not these behaviours are acceptable, it highlights an important and often overlooked topic about our emotional wellbeing - signs of a healthy or unhealthy relationships.
What’s the difference between an unhealthy and abusive relationship?
As we previously discussed, abuse in relationships doesn’t just include acts of physical violence, it can also include emotional and psychological abuse. If you’re unsure what the differences are between an unhealthy and abusive relationship, then the points below should help you differentiate the two.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you could be in an unhealthy relationship if:
- When problems arise, you fight or you don’t discuss them at all
- One or more partners are not considerate of the other(s)
- One partner doesn’t believe the other, or feels entitled to invade their privacy
- One or more partners tell lies
- One partner feels their desires and choices are more important
- Your partner’s community is the only one you socialise in
- One partner uses pressure or guilt on the other to do anything sexual
- It’s assumed only one partner is responsible for making informed decisions
- Finances are not discussed, and/or it is assumed that only one partner is in charge of finances
Whereas, you could be in an abusive relationship if one partner:
- Communicates in a way that is hurtful, threatening, insulting or demeaning
- One partner doesn’t respect the feelings, thoughts, opinions or safety of the other
- Accuses the other of cheating or having an affair when it’s not true
- An abusive partner may try to blame the other or make excuses for abusive actions
- There is no equality in the relationship and one partner makes all the decisions
- One partner controls where the other one goes and who they talk to
- One partner forces the other to have sex or take part in sexual acts
- One partner controls their money. This may include preventing a partner from earning an income or not allowing a partner access to their own income
- One partner uses their child(ren) to gain power and control over the other partner
If you’re still unsure if you’re in an abusive relationship then try answering this Women’s Aid questionnaire.
❗️If you feel uncomfortable with how your partner is making you feel or if you’re not happy with what they’re making you do, it may be best to consider ending the relationship. Always remember, it’s your life and happiness, so it's your decision.
What should you expect from a healthy relationship?
You may think the signs of a healthy relationship are pretty obvious but it's good to have a clear view of what to expect. According to IDAS, which is the largest specialist charity in Yorkshire supporting people affected by domestic abuse, these are the things that make a healthy relationship:
- Understanding that people should feel free to be themselves, having their views listened to, feeling valued and to also give respect back.
- Being part of decision making and being treated fairly.
- Being cared for and treated with kindness.
- Being believed and able to do the things you want to do, trusting each other and feeling good about yourself.
- Not being pressured into doing things you don't want to do, feeling comfortable in saying 'no.' If you do not feel that you are listened to, valued or treated with kindness, the relationship might not be right for you.
How to help someone in an abusive relationship
If you’re concerned that someone you know may be in an abusive relationship then you should find a time to talk to them in private and explain that you’ve noticed that something isn't right. They may or may not be ready to talk to you, but let them know that you’re there for them if there’s something they want to discuss.
If someone confides in you that they’re suffering from domestic abuse then be sure to listen and take care not to blame them. It can be hard to know what’s best to say but the NHS recommends the following actions:
- Acknowledge that it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
- Give them time to talk, but don't push them to talk if they don't want to
- Acknowledge they're in a frightening and difficult situation
- Tell them that nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
- Support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
- Don't tell them to leave the relationship if they're not ready – that's their decision
- Ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
- Help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
How to get help if you’re in an abusive relationship
You don’t have to wait for there to be an emergency situation to seek help. If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, it's important to remember that you’re not alone and to tell someone.
You can always confide in a friend or family member but if you’re seeking more professional and immediate action then you may wish to tell your doctor, health visitor or midwife. Or, if its an emergency you should always call 999.
Alternatively there are specialist helplines that are available for both men and women:
- Women can call 0808 2000 247, the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge.
- Men can call the Men's Advice Line free on 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm) or ManKind on 01823 334 244.
In addition, there are several other resources that are available, including Women's Aid Survivors Handbook, which provides information for women on a wide range of issues, such as housing, money, helping your children, and your legal rights. Men can also email firstname.lastname@example.org, which can refer men to local places that can help, such as health services and voluntary organisations.
For forced marriage and "honour" crimes, contact Karma Nirvana (0800 5999 247) or The Forced Marriage Unit (020 7008 0151).
Galop provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence.
Furthermore, anyone who needs confidential help with their own abusive behaviour can contact Respect on their free helpline on 0808 802 4040.
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