Student Life

Student Health Center - Health Information

Healthy Relationships

Healthy Relationships

The quality of our relationships has a significant impact on our lives. When we find and sustain a healthy relationship, all other aspects of our lives are enriched. When relationships aren’t healthy, people are likely to become anxious, depressed, preoccupied, or at-risk for becoming the victim of abuse, assault, or violence.

What characterizes a healthy relationship?

  • Acceptance: You accept your partner as they really are and don’t try to change them or their behaviors. You disagree with your partner at times, but respect that they have a right to their own thoughts. When you disagree, you don’t put your partner down, and you don’t get defensive.
  • Cooperation: You respect your partner’s competence and intelligence, in order to work together on what’s important to both of you. You share in the decision-making and in the responsibility for those decisions and subsequent results.
  • Assertiveness: You care about your partner, while maintaining a high priority on taking care of yourself as well. You express your real thoughts and ideas without censoring them or suffering in silence. You don’t say “yes” when you want to say “no,” and you don’t bully your partner into forced agreement either. You respect and encourage assertiveness in your partner as well.
  • Openness: You can express your feelings, wants, fantasies, dreams, etc. You are willing to talk about your weaknesses as well as your strengths. In a healthy relationship, you’re even willing to share with your partner the things that embarrass you. Many people want this type of intimacy, but are also afraid of it. Being truly open means making yourself vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable requires trust in your partner. A healthy relationship is one in which you can count on your partner to be strong and mature enough to work through conflict with you.
  • Listening: You stay with your partner when you’re in conversation with them, giving them your full attention, both to their words and their feelings. Your partner does the same for you.
  • Empathy: You try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand how they’re feeling. They can count on you to understand them and you can count on them to do the same. If you don’t quite “get it,” you continue to ask until you do.
  • Respect: You let your partner know that you value them as a person, seeing them as a unique and special human being with the wisdom and maturity to be in charge of their own life. You want them to become all that they can be and whatever they choose to be. In a healthy relationship, you can count on your partner to respect you as well. 
    • Basic Rights: Part of respect is recognizing that we all have certain basic rights. It’s important to remember what your rights are and take an inventory to be sure that both you and your partner respect these rights. 
      • Right to grow.
      • Right to be yourself.
      • Right to be loved.
      • Right to privacy.
      • Right to be respected.
      • Right to be happy.
      • Right to be free.
      • Right to defend yourself.

Are you in a healthy relationship? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you list five or more good characteristics of your partner?
  • Does your partner accept your right to decide who your friends are and with whom you spend your time?
  • Is your partner glad you have other friends?
  • Is your partner excited about your accomplishments and ambitions?
  • Does your partner ask for your opinion?
  • Does your partner think it’s OK for men/women to show they’re vulnerable and cry sometimes?
  • Does your partner both talk to you and listen to you when you talk?
  • Is your partner able to express affection and emotions?
  • Does your partner have good friends?
  • Does your partner have interests besides you?
  • Does your partner listen to you when you say no to something?

If you have answered yes to most of these questions, your relationship is probably a healthy one.

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Unhealthy Relationships

There are several reasons why individuals stay in relationships that aren’t healthy. Some of those reasons include: fear of rejection/disapproval due to a need to be liked, loved, or approved of by their partner in order to have a positive sense of self; belief that one doesn’t deserve more or fears asking for it; need for control, stability, and predictability due to an inherent lack of security, despite the relationship’s destructiveness.

When a relationship is unhealthy or destructive, you need to be able to let it go without experiencing disabling depression. You need to be comfortable enough with yourself to tolerate being alone instead of remaining in an unhealthy relationship.

Are you in an unhealthy relationship? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your partner sometimes lose their temper suddenly over small things?
  • Does your partner throw or break things when angry?
  • Does your partner ask about your past dating partners?
  • Does your partner want to know where you’ve been when you’re out?
  • If you stay out late, does your partner insist on an explanation?
  • Is your partner jealous of your friends and/or relatives?
  • Does your partner accuse you of flirting when you are not?
  • Does your partner support your getting an education and having aspirations?
  • Does your partner sulk when angry instead of talking it out?
  • Does your partner ridicule, criticize, or put your down in front of people?
  • Does your partner make you feel like your decisions are being made for you, like you have no choice?
  • Does your partner sometimes put you on a pedestal or say things like “I don’t deserve you”?

If you have answered “yes” to even a few of these questions, you relationship is probably not a healthy one. Furthermore, it could be very dangerous. This kind of unhealthy relationship can increase your risk of sexual assault or rape, emotional and physical abuse, harassment, being stalked, and of being the victim of relationship violence.

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Myths That Fuel Denial About Relationship Violence

Myth: If you love someone enough, you can change his or her abusive behavior.
Fact: You are not responsible for the behavior of an abusive partner. Behavior is a choice and you are not to blame for someone else's violent or abusive behavior.

Myth: If one stays with an abuser, it must not really be that bad.
Fact: People stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons: Peer pressure, love, fear, not recognizing the abuse for what it is, belief that the abuser will change. Staying in a relationship does not necessarily imply safety.

Myth: It is okay as long as there is no hitting.
Fact: Verbal and emotional abuse can be as devastating as physical violence. No form of abuse or control should be tolerated.

Myth: Jealousy and possessiveness are signs of true love.
Fact: Jealousy and possessiveness are signs that your partner sees you as a possession. It is the most common early warning sign of abuse.

Myth: Relationship abuse does not occur in same sex couples.
Fact: There are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual abusive partners.

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  • Rape and Sexual Assault 
    • Between one in four and one in five college students will be the victim of attempted or complete rape. This suggests that risk for sexual assault and rape is highest during the college years.
    • One out of every four women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape during their lifetime
    • One out of every ten men will experience sexual assault, abuse, or rape during their lifetime
  • Acquaintance Rape: 
    • 25% of adult women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner or a date (Center for Disease Control & Prevention)
    • 90% of college students knew the person who attacked them (National Crime Victims Survey, 2000)
    • Acquaintance rape is more common that left-handedness
  • Abusive or Violent Relationships 
    • One in five college students will be involved in an abusive or violent relationship
  • Stalking: 
    • A study of Cyberstalking among college students found that males are more likely to be stalked than females and the perpetrator was most likely a former partner
  •  Sexual Harassment:  
    • 50% of female students said they had experienced unwanted looks or gestures, sexual teasing, or deliberate touching in residence halls
    • 50% of males students also reported having experienced sexual teasing
    • 20% of male students reported unwanted deliberate touching

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Warning Signs and How to Help

An abusive relationship can happen to anyone. They are hard to spot from the outside and difficult to get out of from the inside. Here are some warning signs that a friend might be in an unhealthy relationship.

  • They might become increasingly isolated from friends, always making excuses about why they need to get home, leave, etc.
  • They might be reluctant to talk about physical injuries, bruises, anxiety, or depression.
  • They may be fearful and concerned about getting their partner angry, or often feel guilty.
  • Their partner may be monitoring where they go and what they do, including: checking their cell phone use; monitoring their email and/or IMs; insisting on having passwords for email, IM, etc; and calling to ensure your friend is “where they said they’d be.”
  • Their partner may ridicule them in front of friends or embarrass them in front of other people.

If you see this happening to someone you care about:

  • Talk to your friend in a calm and supportive way in a private setting.
  • Encourage your friend to talk to a professional and provide information about available resources (see resources below).
  • Challenge yourself not to be desensitized to sexist, homophobic, or racist jokes that tend to dehumanize others, including your friend. There is a connection between objectification and exploitation, assault, and violence.
  • Provide respect to your friend and remind them that they, too, deserve to be respected.

Rape: Sexual intercourse obtained through force or threat of force or without the victim’s consent. Sexual intercourse includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Ejaculation is not necessary, but there must be some penetration, however slight.

Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse: Oral or anal sexual intercourse obtained through force or threat of force or without the victim’s consent.

Sexual Assault: Sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent.

Aggravated Indecent Assault: The penetration, however slight, of the genitals or anus by a part of the offender’s body for any purpose other than good faith medical, hygienic, or law enforcement procedures, by force or threat of force or without the victim’s consent.

Indecent Assault: Any touching of the intimate parts of a person, by force or threat of force or without the victim’s consent.

Indecent Exposure: Exposure of genitals in any public place or any place where the conduct is likely to offend, affront, or alarm.

Note: There are situations when a person may be considered incapable of giving consent such as, if he/she is: asleep, unconscious and/or losing and regaining consciousness, or mentally or physically incapacitated (for example, by alcohol and/or other drugs). A verbal “no,” even if it may sound indecisive or insincere, constitutes lack of consent. Further, it is not necessary that an individual resist an attack or otherwise affirmatively express lack of consent.

Use of alcohol and/or other drugs shall not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent. Being in an on-going relationship does not preclude the possibility of sexual misconduct occurring within that relationship.

For more detailed definitions and/or policy information, please see:
St. Joseph’s University Sexual Offense Policy
(starting on page 140)

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Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Sexual assaults have long been linked to the abuse of substances, primarily alcohol, that may decrease inhibition and render the user incapacitated. Alcohol can interfere with clear thinking and effective communication. It may reduce one’s ability to fight back should your safety be endangered. In addition, it may increase one’s physical aggression.

  • 90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol.
  • Sexual offender’s alcohol consumption was significantly associated with severity of victim’s injury.
  • Alcohol does not cause sexual assault.
  • The desire to commit sexual assault may sometimes cause alcohol consumption.

Some people may hide behind the “I was drunk” excuse.
Perpetrators may “groom” their victims by using alcohol.

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Drugs and Sexual Assault

Drug-facilitated sexual assault is defined as a sexual assault facilitated by the use of an “anesthesia-type” drug, which when administered to the victim renders the victim physically incapacitated or helpless and thus incapable of giving or not giving consent. These drugs may be mixed in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and given to an individual without his or her knowledge. Most are tasteless, colorless, and odorless. These substances generate extreme drowsiness, sudden fatigue, confusion, and in some cases, memory loss. A person drugged in this manner is at increased risk for sexual assault because of his or her inability to fight back. Most of the drugs typically used in the commission of sexual assaults are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body, thereby rendering them undetectable in routine urine and blood screenings.

The drugs most often implicated in the commission of drug-facilitated sexual assaults are:

  • GHB
  • Rohypnol
  • Ketamine
  • Soma
  • Benzodiazepines
  •  Sedative Hypnotics

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What to do if you are Raped

  • Go to a safe place. The first concern for someone who has been sexually assaulted should be his/her immediate safety. Contact campus security (610-660-1111) or local police (911). Other safe places include the room of a friend or RA.
  • Emotional Support. Call someone you trust to be with you, like a rape crisis counselor or a friend.
  • Seek Medical Care. You should have a thorough medical examination immediately after a sexual assault, even if you have not apparent injuries. Although most sexual assault victims do not sustain serious or life-threatening physical injuries, it is important to be examined as soon as possible by a doctor or nurse with special training in sexual assault victim care.
    Why should I have a specialized medical examination following a sexual assault?
    • You may have injuries of which you are not aware.
    • A medical examination enables you to document and preserve physical evidence of the assault.
    • You can receive treatment to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
    • You can receive information about the possibility of pregnancy resulting from a sexual assault.
    • Consider Reporting the Assault.

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On Campus

REPP Hotline(Rape Education Prevention Program) 610-733-9650
SJU 1:4 (Men’s Rape Education Group) 610-660-1090
Counseling Center 610-660-1090
Student Health Center 610-660-1175
Campus Ministry 610-660-1030
Security 610-660-1111

Off Campus
WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape) 215-985-3333 WOAR has a 24-hour hotline. You can call it at any time to get assistance, support, and advice. All people who work at WOAR have had extensive training in how to deal with sexual assault cases, and how to support survivors of sexual assault.
PCAR (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape) 1-888-772-PCAR
PCAR is a statewide nonprofit organization widely respected for its leadership and initiative in working to prevent sexual violence. PCAR has a statewide network of rape crisis centers working in concert to administer comprehensive services in meeting the needs of victims, and to further provide prevention education to reduce the prevalence of sexual violence within communities.
Local Therapist Contact the Counseling Center at 610-660-1090.

WEB Links
Sexual Violence
Intimate Partner Violence
Pa. Coalition Against Rape
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Men Against Sexual Violence
The National Institutes of Health “Club Drug” Site

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