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Understanding Unhealthy Relationships

Scope of the Problem

  • The U.S. Surgeon General ranks abuse by husbands and partners as the leading cause of injuries to women ages 15 to 44
  • Statistically, one in four American women will be assaulted by a partner or ex-partner in her lifetime, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or profession
  • 2 million women are battered every year, one every 16 seconds
  • Battering accounts for at least one half emergency room admissions for women
  • Physical and psychological abuse are major reasons why women attempt and commit suicide
  • 42 % of female homicide victims are killed by their partners or former partners at a rate of at least 1500 women annually
  • People in unhealthy relationships suffer constant stress and anxiety, which compromises their health, erodes their self-esteem, and undermines their academic and vocational functioning

Factors that Contribute to Unhealthy Relationships

  • Control and dominance are the key issues
  • One or both partners were emotionally and/or physically abused or neglected as children
  • Abusers typically witnessed abuse perpetrated by a role model
  • Both partners were not exposed to positive healthy relationships while growing up
  • Both partners do not have healthy role models for sharing affection, managing conflict, or being respectful of one's partner
  • Our media continues to portray females as sexual objects, victims, and as unworthy of respect
  • Our media continues to expose us to unhealthy, manipulative, confused, disrespectful and violent relationships
  • Our culture continues to condone disrespect, manipulation and abuse of women
  • Our culture continues to "train" males to be dominant, in control, and sexually/ physically aggressive
  • Some campus subcultures, especially Greek Life and athletic teams, are particularly susceptible to perpetuating the disrespect and victimization of females and the glorification of physical, sexual and psychological aggression
  • Our culture sometimes continues to blame women for their victimization by suggesting that women are "asking for it" by provoking their partners to violence
  • Extensive use of drugs and alcohol on campus tends to contribute to negative and aggressive interpersonal behavior
  • Adolescents and young adults are reluctant to confront peers about negative interpersonal behavior
  • Our culture pressures young people to be in and stay in romantic relationships; being "alone" is not viewed as being equally valuable
  • Couples can "get hooked" on the drama of their unhealthy, chaotic relationship, which makes it difficult to extricate themselves
  • On the campus, students sometimes stay in relationships for fear of continuously running into ex-partner after a break up, especially with new partners
  • On the campus, unhealthy relationships are sometimes not taken seriously enough to warrant professional help

What Can You Do on the College Campus?

  • Recognize signs of unhealthy relationships, such as unexplained bruises and injuries, chronic depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and jumpiness, excessive concern about displeasing a partner
  • Take seriously reports you hear about students who are in unhealthy relationships
  • Educate students about the signs, risks and consequences of being in unhealthy relationships
  • Be willing to confront students about their unhealthy relationships and to talk to them frankly about the consequences of staying in the relationship
  • Don't judge victims of unhealthy relationships; there are probably very deep and powerful dynamics that contribute to their being in this relationship
  • Be willing to refer students who are in unhealthy relationships for counseling
  • Participate in campus-wide or community-based programs that address abusive and unhealthy relationships
  • Encourage males on campus to become active in preventing psychological and physical abuse of women and in fostering respect for women
  • Help to create a campus culture in which being alone is clearly preferable to being in an abusive relationship

Prepared by: The Iona College Counseling Center, Spellman Hall, (914) 633-2038