Mel: Healthy v unhealthy relationships: what’s the difference?

Melinda's blog bio Mel has postgraduate qualifications in Public Health and Health Promotion and has worked in the community health field for close to a decade. She is passionate about wanting to help others enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. 

What springs to mind when you think of your partner or the last time you spent time together?

A healthy relationship can enhance your life and makes you feel good about yourself. It can make you feel healthier, happier and more satisfied with life.

A healthy relationship is one where you love one another, feel intimately connected and enjoy spending time together. But you have your own privacy and space, and still spend time with friends and family without your partner. You treat each other with respect and kindness, and you trust and are honest with each other. You feel able to speak your mind without fear and can have respectful disagreements. You share the good times and help each other through the tough ones.

At the end of the day, a healthy relationship feels like a safe, stable place to come home to. Healthy relationships are good for you, but a relationship can be one of the biggest drains if it is not working or has become unhealthy. A relationship is unhealthy when it involves disrespectful, controlling or abusive behaviour. It causes stress that builds up over time and can spill into other areas of your life, such as family, work or university.

Domestic violence is a red flag for a severely unhealthy relationship. It occurs in a relationship when one person engages in behaviour that causes fear or harm to the other person in order to gain and maintain power and control over them. These behaviours can include:

  • Physical abuse (e.g., pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting, punching, biting)
  • Verbal / emotional abuse (e.g., shouting, name-calling, humiliating, insulting)
  • Damaging property (e.g., such as furniture, the house or pets)
  • Forcing sex or sexual contact / acts not consented to
  • Controlling or withholding access to family resources (like money) and other necessities of life (e.g., food, shelter, medical aid, company of friends and family)
  • Stalking (e.g., following you in public, staying outside your workplace or repeatedly phoning your home or workplace without your consent)
  • Threatening to do any of the above to yourself or to those you care about

Domestic violence is a big, serious, common problem in Australia. It happens to people from all walks of life – all religions and cultures, and all income and education levels. It’s everywhere. In Australia, around one in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse, and one in 5 women have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Each week across the country one woman is killed by their abusive partners, boyfriends or husbands.

Despite being such a serious, common problem, around one-quarter of Australian women who have experienced current partner violence have never told anyone about it. Asking for help can be an incredibly fearful, vulnerable, shameful and even embarrassing experience for women being abused by their partner. She may be afraid of what the abuser will do if she leaves, or she might not have the means to survive if the relationship ends (like somewhere to live or access to money). She might also be afraid of what her friends and family could think or say—if they ask why she puts up with it or why she doesn’t just leave, she may feel like her friends and family think that it’s her fault she is being abused.

Women don’t intentionally choose to fall in love with men intent on destroying them. If one of your friends or family have asked for help, listen to what they have to say, believe it and take it seriously. Tell them they have been brave, that it’s not their fault, and offer practical support like minding children, cooking meals, offering a place to stay and putting them in contact with available support services.

You might know someone who you suspect is a victim of domestic violence, but they haven’t asked for help. How do you help them? There are ways to recognise the early warning signs, which include: They seem intimidated or frightened by their partner and very anxious to please them

  • They have stopped seeing friends or family or cut phone calls short when their partner is in the room
  • They are often criticised or humiliated by their partner in front of other people
  • They talk about their partner’s ‘jealousy’, ‘bad temper’ or ‘possessiveness’
  • They have become anxious or depressed, have lost confidence or are unusually quiet
  • They have physical injuries with unlikely explanations
  • They have children who seem afraid of their partner, or they are reluctant to leave their children with the partner

Or nothing obvious might be apparent… you might just have some sense that something is ‘wrong’ in the relationship. Breaking the silence is key; abuse thrives in silence and you can help by approaching your friend or relative and letting them know that you’re worried because you’ve noticed they seem really unhappy lately, or simply by asking if something is wrong, or if they’re ok.

Abuse could be affecting your daughter, your sister or your best friend right now, and chances are you don’t know about it. Stand up and speak out against domestic violence against women by participating in the White Ribbon Day campaign, an annual campaign to end violence against women.

Don’t face domestic violence alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and needs help or support, please contact one of the free, professional and confidential support services available for USQ staff, students and community members.

In support of White Ribbon 


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