By Nicole Perry
Our second topic of the fall 2017 workshop series on relationships was foundations of healthy relationships. These are the notes from that workshop.
As we try to navigate complex, adult relationships in this wild world, it’s easy to feel lost. Unless we got really lucky in our home lives and formal education, we had to learn about relationships by cobbling together ideas from movies, books, and the people around us. If those representations of relationships weren’t exactly healthy, or didn’t include diverse relationship orientations and styles, then it can end up feeling like we’re carving out new terrain. And let’s face it – there haven’t traditionally been good models to turn to, especially in the LGBTQ* and polyamorous community.
To get ready for this workshop, we put together six pillars of relationships. These are certainly not the be all end all, but we hoped they’d provide a solid foundation to begin with.
Consent – Consent starts with the basics: choosing whether or not to engage in a relationship and the terms of it (monogamous or non-monogamous? Casual or committed? Are you both or all willingly agreeing on these terms?). Then within the relationship, there needs to be consent around sexual touch, physical touch, giving advice, and so much more!
Safety – This involves feeling secure, and an ability to safely assert our wants and needs. It also involves being safe from harm, whether that be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or otherwise. In the LGBTQ* community, this would include feeling safe to express gender identity without fear of shame or punishment.
Equality – Equality means your sense of personal power is on an equal level with your partner. Neither of you dominates the other or has veto power. Keep in mind that contrary to common understanding, even in sub-dom sexual relationships both people are seen to have equal power – the roles are simply roles that are taken on.
Accountability – This involves taking responsibility for the “stuff” you bring into the relationship, and making sure that you are processing and working through any issues that come up. It also means following through on the commitments you make to your partner(s).
Trust – Trust begins with a mutual acceptance of vulnerability and an ability to respond to it with sensitivity. Trust is something that’s built over time as we get to know someone. As we share more of ourselves and our lives, and the other person shows up for us in that, trust grows.
Respect: Respect involves believing that the people you’re in relationship are just as worthy of love and belonging as you are. It’s appreciating their strengths and their struggles, including their experiences with trauma and oppression.
Since respect is such a big one, I’ve included this handy respect wheel, below!
Again, these pillars are just a beginning – food for thought. Now, if you’re ready to go deeper, we invite you to take the time to reflect:
- Can you name specifically what each of these elements would look like in your relationship? What, for instance, helps you feel safe? How can your partner(s) best respect consent?
- What are the other elements of a healthy relationship?
- How do you know when you’re in one? (In other words, what are the internal cues? What does it feel like?)
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist with a collaborative, feminist approach. She identifies as an ally and has a ton of experiences working with the LGBTQ* community, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly and leading the Queer Space workshops. She’s still learning about relationships, but fascinated by them, and is influenced most by: Sue Johnson’s books, everything she has learned from the amazing clients who’ve let her into their lives, and hundreds of hours of her own relationship therapy. Probably hundreds.