This past Thursday I started facilitating a program called SPEAK, a prevention program for adults with developmental disabilities that focuses on education around consent and healthy relationships. Although I really want to share my thoughts on this program and the ways that it acknowledges that people with disabilities have sexual desires and want fulfilling relationships just as much as the rest of us (something our culture often forgets,) today I want to focus on one component of the program: healthy relationships.
Our culture tends to put romantic relationships on a pedestal and tell us that we’re not complete on our own. For example, we see the same narrative played out over and over again in movies and sitcoms—the successful woman with a great career whose love life is a disaster. We see her lack of a romantic relationship as a complete failure. Its cultural attitudes like this that lead people (male, female, and otherwise) to settle for unhealthy relationships because that seems to be easier and more accepted than being single.
I think that stinks.
Early on in the SPEAK program, we had the participants tell us different people that they have relationships with. We got answers like mom, dad, cousins, co-workers, sisters, friends, teachers, boyfriends, girlfriends, healthcare professionals, bus drivers, and acquaintances.
One of the facilitators then went on to ask the participants if it matters if they are treated badly by a boyfriend or girlfriend vs. an acquaintance. Is one more acceptable than the other? She asked them.
The answer is no. We deserve to feel genuinely respected and appreciated by and safe with everyone we come into contact with.
That means that you should ditch that significant other that’s always flirting with other people as much as you should rethink your relationship with your aunt who always points out when you gain weight or the friend who always blows off plans.
Although there tends to me more emphasis on romantic relationships, you deserve multiple fulfilling, beneficial, healthy relationships that allow you to grow as a person.
I know many people, including myself, who have stayed in unhealthy partnerships for longer than they should have because they didn’t feel like they deserved any better or could do any better. I’m telling you, you do deserve better and you can do so much better.
Say it with me: I deserve respect. Now say it again.
Valentine’s Day can feel very lonely and isolating for some people. Take some time today to reflect back on the positive relationships in your life, not just romantic ones. Not to get to cheesy, but remind yourself of the wonderful people in your life who make you laugh and listen to your problems and make you feel better when you’re sad. Remember that you deserve all these things and more.