As we approach Valentine’s Day, I’m prompted to ask: Are all romantic relationships love? Where did we discover our conceptualizations of romantic love? I grew up on tales of Prince Charming and Cinderella, which shaped my view of romantic love.
Later, I learned that my ideas were built on a foundation of make believe.
In reality, there are many misconceptions about relationships, and we start learning them at a young age. The people and institutions around us and the messages in pop culture often support them. They may become deeply rooted in our mindset.
Some misconceptions that have become entrenched in our collective consciousness include:
• Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
• Jealousy means you care.
• A little possessiveness is OK. It means you really love me.
• Everyone makes mistakes and if we really love each other, we need to forgive violent behavior.
• All relationships have conflict and if I really love you, I need to accept it.
• If the sex is good, especially the “make-up sex,” our relationship will be OK.
Unfortunately, many individuals lack realistic models of healthy love. If fairy tales are all we see, the underlying lesson is that good relationships just happen when the right two people find each other. When we are caught up in the fairy tale, and it doesn’t feel like happily ever after, then we start to believe that love does hurt.
In reality, healthy relationships don’t just happen. They take work, compassion, communication and introspection. There may be periods of distress, but one should always feel safe.
So, what are the ingredients of a healthy, loving relationship?
• Respect (in words and actions)
• Healthy ways of managing conflicts
• Give and take, then take and give: an acknowledgment that we take different roles within the relationship at different times
• And most critically, the absence of: fear, isolation, control and pervasive pain
As the director of Shelter Without Walls, I’m proud of the work we do to support victims of domestic violence. The first non-residential domestic violence program in Maricopa County to offer comprehensive services to victims who were not in a shelter setting, Shelter Without Walls offers lay legal advocacy, case management, safety planning and support groups to assist survivors in attaining and maintaining safe self-sufficiency.
On average, we assist between 1,500 to 2,000 women, men and their children annually through our comprehensive case management program, our community support groups or on the phone.
They reach out to us not being able to imagine a day without fear, self-doubt and hopelessness. We help them change that, and we are proud to partner with them on their healing journeys, however long it takes.
So this Valentine’s Day let’s assess our romantic relationships. If we find that we feel safe and respected, that there is a foundation of trust and honesty, and that conflict is managed without inflicting emotional or physical pain, then celebrate! But I also urge everyone to recognize the signs of intimate partner violence.
If you are a victim, reach out for help. If you know someone who needs help, listen to, believe and encourage them to connect with domestic violence resources like Shelter Without Walls. Be patient, victims need to leave on their own terms. Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous, so it’s imperative to have a good exit plan.
If you want to help in additional ways, you can support legislation and elected officials that address and promote efforts to end domestic violence, donate household items to help individuals and families get back on their feet and consider making a monetary donation or designating organizations like Jewish Family & Children’s Service for the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit which means we can continue to offer valuable services to our community.
Mimi Kaplan is director of Shelter Without Walls, Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Learn more at jfcsaz.org.