January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 38°F

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Relationship Responsibilities

I mentioned a few posts back that I’ve been helping with a program called SPEAK as a part of my internship with The Advocacy Center. SPEAK stands for Supporting People’s Empowerment and Knowledge and it’s a prevention program focused on healthy relationships for adults with developmental disabilities.

SPEAK is one of the first spaces that I’ve been in that acknowledges that people with disabilities, like, actually want relationships and have sexual desires too. For some reason it is so hard for people to wrap their heads around that.

I also notice that we don’t really talk about what makes a healthy relationship very much at all. Since I’ve been attending and helping out at SPEAK sessions, I feel like I am finally receiving lessons on healthy relationships that I’ve never got before. So much goes into relationships like self-esteem, defining different types of relationships, and an understanding of your right to a healthy, fulfilling partnership.

A few weeks ago at SPEAK, we gave the participants a handout called: Relationship Rights and Responsibilities. This stuck out to me because we do have rights in relationships with others and so many people don’t know or understand what they deserve—we have the right to be treated with respect and we have the responsibility to treat others right.

The first statement reads:

I have…

The right to be safe AND am responsible to not make others unsafe

I have…

The right to control what happens to my body AND am responsible to let others control what happens to their bodies

I have…

The right to be treated with respect AND am responsible to treat others with respect

I have…

The right to ask for what I want AND am responsible to respect that they might say no.


These may seem basic and straightforward, but we do not talk about this enough and make healthy relationships a part of our everyday dialogue. If we don’t talk about it, how are we supposed to know when a behavior is problematic or when a relationship is hurting us? I like these statements because it reminds us that everyone has a part to play in cultivating a fulfilling, mutually-beneficial relationship. We must expect respect from our partners and we must ensure that we are giving it as well. We must be aware of our right to our own feelings, opinions, and desires and acknowledge that our partner has and deserves those same rights.

Seems simple, right? But for some reason we don’t talk about this enough and we don’t teach people what to look for in a relationship and what behaviors are red flags. Let’s talk about this a little more. Be aware of what you want and deserve and what you have a right to when you interact with others—romantic or otherwise.

All the best,