To be honest, as I sit to write about this topic, it’s hard to find reasons why this issue needs to be discussed. At first reading, it seems self-evident. Why would anyone want to be in a relationship that was NOT respectful? I suppose the issue is, possibly, that we have become so used to relationships that are subtly disrespectful, that they seem the norm.
Life is busy, tempers become frayed, our own unconscious biases leak into our conversations or our mannerisms and fester like a splinter under the skin. In my work prior to starting at De La Salle, I saw a lot of couples and families that spoke to each other in ways that would never be acceptable in the workplace or at a school committee meeting. I am guilty of it myself on occasion when it’s been a long day and you get home only to have to start working again on domestic chores. It has always been my belief that the families and couples that can fight well stay together. Every couple, every family, every sibling will argue at some point in their relationship, we’re only human.
People who can argue about what they are actually discussing, not bring in the past (“remember when you…”), not predict the future (“I know you’ll…”), make generalities (“you always…”) will do better. Try to make a win/win, not a win/lose situation.
The tools we fall back on to win an argument are corrosive and often destructive. They whittle away at our respect for each other until we somehow gain permission to speak badly to those we love the most. As adults, we model behaviour between individuals that is incorporated into our children’s world view, we show body language that is judgmental or dismissive that, when our children do the same to us, we are incensed.
This disrespect is often by omission rather than commission. It’s often about what we don’t do as well as what we actually do. The turning of our back, the roll of the eyes, the listening to rebut rather than listening to understand, the things we attend to as opposed to the concern out partner would like us to attend to, the checking the phone while the other person is talking.
In my last article, I wrote about “The Other” and how difficult it is to harm someone we have empathy for. It’s this concept that underpins the idea of Respectful Relationships. Listening to understand is THE most important, yet underutilized skill we have. This trying to understand also applies to those that have different ethnicities, sexualities, genders and beliefs to us. To listen with respect, to disagree without anger, to accept that someone else has a view different from your own are wonderful things.
In a funny quirk of human psychology, studies have shown that the more we attempt to force our truth on another, the more firmly they hold on to their belief. So, arguing doesn’t actually work! Listening to another’s point of view will actually be more effective in having them see yours! While the term “Respectful Relationships” has its origin in gender equality, it is a concept that covers all of the relationships between human beings.
A relationship is respectful when those in it are:
- respecting each other’s feelings, opinions, and friendships
- having fun together
- feeling comfortable and at ease with one another
- free to be themselves
- able to disagree without feeling intimidated
- able to spend time away from the relationship without negative consequences
- able to say no when you don’t want to do things, including intimacy.
These qualities of a relationship are included in the Respectful Relationship Curriculum and sit very comfortably in our Lasallian and Catholic values.
Last week, in a follow-up session about gender-based violence and in the days leading up to the College Formal, I showed the Year 12 students a video about consent made by Blue Seat Studios. It makes an analogy between making someone a cup of tea and obtaining consent for intimacy. It was remarkable how many times I heard, jokingly, our young men ask each other if they would like a “cup of tea” in the days following this. This indicates to me, that while consent isn’t a new concept, the discussion of it possibly was. I have included the link for you to look at here.
As a parent, I sometimes hope that someone else will have the difficult discussion with my lads, sometimes I even expect that their school will do it. Then I think to myself, wait, isn’t this my job? And yes, yes it is, but how much better would it be if my sons were getting the same message from every significant person in their life? This may include coaches, friends, teachers, friend’s parents. Then, my sons will be in a position to do the same to people who see them as significant.
I know I want my sons to be respected and to be respectful. I want them to have boundaries that are clear and to be aware of other’s boundaries. I don’t want them to see those people that are different from them as “The Other”, but rather as a different version of themselves. I want them to have robust discussions without resorting to belittling others or violence. I want to model, to the best of my ability, relationships that are respectful of others. I don’t always get it right, but, when I can, I respectfully apologise to them for getting it wrong. This too is a mark of respect.
Mr Anthony Freeman
College Psychologist, Kinnoull Campus