image by YC Art Dept.
Q&A: Healthy Relationships
Don’t let the past sabotage new relationships.
We enter relationships—any relationship—with baggage from our past. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, our pasts can often come up in our day-to-day dealings with loved ones. Especially for those in foster care, certain touches or tones may make us unreasonably defensive or angry because we're reminded of times when similar gestures were meant to harm us. For instance, one time when someone told me I was lying, I completely flipped because it reminded me of my foster mother who would often accuse me of lying.
To find out how we can break the patterns we've grown up with, I talked with Rebecca Weston, clinical director of the Brooklyn Children's Psychotherapy Project.
Q: How can past experiences affect teens' romantic relationships?
A: We learn how we deserve to be treated through seeing our parents' relationships. We also learn how to be intimate with other people through family, for better or for worse. If we're very close to a parent that has difficulty parenting, is gone a lot, or is abusive, we learn that love might involve violence, pain, or rejection.
Q: How do you know when a relationship is positive or unhealthy?
A: Good relationships make you feel confident to pursue goals important to you. Does the relationship empower you? Does it make you feel healthy and happy in school, work, job, home? If yes, it's a good, healthy relationship, and you should hang on to it.
Unhealthy relationships are almost the opposite. The most obvious unhealthy relationships involve physical violence or forced sexual or physical intimacy. Violence can be physical (you get hurt), emotional (you begin to feel you don't deserve respect), or threats to your safety (you're afraid that the person may hurt you or a loved one).
If the relationship corrodes or undermines the way you feel in other parts of your life—if you begin to feel isolated, afraid to talk about the relationship, disconnected from friends, or pressured to be a certain way that just doesn't feel right—then you don't want to continue it.
Q: Is it a given that our relationships will turn out like the relationships we had growing up? How can we change them?
A: No, I don't think it's inevitable. Unfortunately, we are told, "If you were abused as a kid, you'll be abusive." That can set you up to feel that there's nothing you can do to help yourself. You can make changes in the relationships you choose. It's not easy. We have models in our heads from early childhood, but we can make decisions and we can consciously decide to change.
The best way to change your pattern is to look back and face your past. . .