The quality of our relationships has a significant impact on our lives. When we find and sustain a healthy relationship, all other aspects of our lives are enriched. When relationships aren’t healthy, people are likely to become anxious, depressed, preoccupied, or at-risk for becoming the victim of abuse, assault, or violence.

What characterizes a healthy relationship?

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you list five or more good characteristics of your partner?
  • Does your partner accept your right to decide who your friends are and with whom you spend your time?
  • Is your partner glad you have other friends?
  • Is your partner excited about your accomplishments and ambitions?
  • Does your partner ask for your opinion?
  • Does your partner think it’s OK for men/women to show they’re vulnerable and cry sometimes?
  • Does your partner both talk to you and listen to you when you talk?
  • Is your partner able to express affection and emotions?
  • Does your partner have good friends?
  • Does your partner have interests besides you?
  • Does your partner listen to you when you say no to something?

If you have answered yes to most of these questions, your relationship is probably a healthy one.

Unhealthy Relationships

There are several reasons why individuals stay in relationships that aren’t healthy. Some of those reasons include: fear of rejection/disapproval due to a need to be liked, loved, or approved of by their partner in order to have a positive sense of self; belief that one doesn’t deserve more or fears asking for it; need for control, stability, and predictability due to an inherent lack of security, despite the relationship’s destructiveness.

When a relationship is unhealthy or destructive, you need to be able to let it go without experiencing disabling depression. You need to be comfortable enough with yourself to tolerate being alone instead of remaining in an unhealthy relationship.

Are you in an unhealthy relationship?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your partner sometimes lose their temper suddenly over small things?
  • Does your partner throw or break things when angry?
  • Does your partner ask about your past dating partners?
  • Does your partner want to know where you’ve been when you’re out?
  • If you stay out late, does your partner insist on an explanation?
  • Is your partner jealous of your friends and/or relatives?
  • Does your partner accuse you of flirting when you are not?
  • Does your partner support your getting an education and having aspirations?
  • Does your partner sulk when angry instead of talking it out?
  • Does your partner ridicule, criticize, or put your down in front of people?
  • Does your partner make you feel like your decisions are being made for you, like you have no choice?
  • Does your partner sometimes put you on a pedestal or say things like “I don’t deserve you”?

If you have answered “yes” to even a few of these questions, you relationship is probably not a healthy one. Furthermore, it could be very dangerous. This kind of unhealthy relationship can increase your risk of sexual assault or rape, emotional and physical abuse, harassment, being stalked, and of being the victim of relationship violence.

Myths That Fuel Denial About Relationship Violence

Myth: If you love someone enough, you can change his or her abusive behavior

Fact: You are not responsible for the behavior of an abusive partner. Behavior is a choice and you are not to blame for someone else's violent or abusive behavior.

Myth: If one stays with an abuser, it must not really be that bad.

Fact: People stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons: Peer pressure, love, fear, not recognizing the abuse for what it is, belief that the abuser will change. Staying in a relationship does not necessarily imply safety.

Myth: It is okay as long as there is no hitting.

Fact: Verbal and emotional abuse can be as devastating as physical violence. No form of abuse or control should be tolerated.

Myth: Jealousy and possessiveness are signs of true love.

Fact: Jealousy and possessiveness are signs that your partner sees you as a possession. It is the most common early warning sign of abuse.

Myth: Relationship abuse does not occur in same sex couples.

Fact: There are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual abusive partners.


Warning Signs and How to Help

An abusive relationship can happen to anyone. They are hard to spot from the outside and difficult to get out of from the inside. Here are some warning signs that a friend might be in an unhealthy relationship.

  • They might become increasingly isolated from friends, always making excuses about why they need to get home, leave, etc.
  • They might be reluctant to talk about physical injuries, bruises, anxiety, or depression.
  • They may be fearful and concerned about getting their partner angry, or often feel guilty.
  • Their partner may be monitoring where they go and what they do, including: checking their cell phone use; monitoring their email and/or IMs; insisting on having passwords for email, IM, etc; and calling to ensure your friend is “where they said they’d be.”
  • Their partner may ridicule them in front of friends or embarrass them in front of other people.

If you see this happening to someone you care about:

  • Talk to your friend in a calm and supportive way in a private setting.
  • Encourage your friend to talk to a professional and provide information about available resources (see resources below).
  • Challenge yourself not to be desensitized to sexist, homophobic, or racist jokes that tend to dehumanize others, including your friend. There is a connection between objectification and exploitation, assault, and violence.
  • Provide respect to your friend and remind them that they, too, deserve to be respected.


Note: There are situations when a person may be considered incapable of giving consent such as, if he/she is: asleep, unconscious and/or losing and regaining consciousness, or mentally or physically incapacitated (for example, by alcohol and/or other drugs). A verbal “no,” even if it may sound indecisive or insincere, constitutes lack of consent. Further, it is not necessary that an individual resist an attack or otherwise affirmatively express lack of consent.

Use of alcohol and/or other drugs shall not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent. Being in an on-going relationship does not preclude the possibility of sexual misconduct occurring within that relationship.

For more detailed definitions and/or policy information, please see:
St. Joseph’s University Sexual Offense Policy

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Sexual assaults have long been linked to the abuse of substances, primarily alcohol, that may decrease inhibition and render the user incapacitated. Alcohol can interfere with clear thinking and effective communication. It may reduce one’s ability to fight back should your safety be endangered. In addition, it may increase one’s physical aggression.

  • 90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol.
  • Sexual offender’s alcohol consumption was significantly associated with severity of victim’s injury.
  • Alcohol does not cause sexual assault.
  • The desire to commit sexual assault may sometimes cause alcohol consumption.

Some people may hide behind the “I was drunk” excuse.
Perpetrators may “groom” their victims by using alcohol.

Drugs and Sexual Assault

Drug-facilitated sexual assault is defined as a sexual assault facilitated by the use of an “anesthesia-type” drug, which when administered to the victim renders the victim physically incapacitated or helpless and thus incapable of giving or not giving consent. These drugs may be mixed in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and given to an individual without his or her knowledge. Most are tasteless, colorless, and odorless. These substances generate extreme drowsiness, sudden fatigue, confusion, and in some cases, memory loss. A person drugged in this manner is at increased risk for sexual assault because of his or her inability to fight back. Most of the drugs typically used in the commission of sexual assaults are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body, thereby rendering them undetectable in routine urine and blood screenings.

The drugs most often implicated in the commission of drug-facilitated sexual assaults are:

  • GHB
  • Rohypnol
  • Ketamine
  • Soma
  • Benzodiazepines
  •  Sedative Hypnotics

What to do if you are Raped