‘Wrapped with support’: How to identify, handle unhealthy relationships

Illustration by Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Rory Dulock | Staff Writer

While relationships are often a central part of college life, they are not always healthy. With the input of a psychology professor and the guidance of the Title IX Office, students can better identify and deal with potentially unhealthy relationships.

Dr. Alisha Wray, clinical associate professor in the psychology and neuroscience department, said she finds it helpful to reference the work of Dr. John Gottman from the University of Washington to understand the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

“There’s a very clear set of both helpful relationship behaviors and unhelpful relationship behaviors or damaging relationship behaviors,” Wray said. “Surprisingly, things even like anger or sadness, more difficult emotions, can actually be helpful in relationships as long as they’re expressed and communicated in their purest form. One of the tenets behind [his] work is that conflict in relationships is unavoidable. People are going to have differences of opinions, but it’s more how you express that conflict.”

Wray said there are a variety of possibilities for how an unhealthy relationship can take form, including verbal, emotional and physical aggression. She said getting professional help in these cases can be critical.

“Unfortunately, when the relationship has turned to the use of verbal or physical aggression, that can continue without intervention or support,” Wray said.And there are a variety of different resources — individual therapy, couple’s therapy, depending on the circumstance — that could be useful. Sometimes, unfortunately, the safest way to resolve kind of an unsafe situation might be to find a way that ends that relationship.”

Dr. Valerie Willis, education and prevention specialist for the Equity, Civil Rights, & Title IX Office, said recognizing signs of an unhealthy relationship is important for one’s safety and well-being.

“I think the first step in addressing or handling an unhealthy relationship is acknowledging and recognizing that there is an issue, a situation, a problem,” Willis said. “Once the individual has acknowledged or recognized that there is a situation, they can seek support and education and help.”

Baylor has numerous resources to help individuals who are navigating an unhealthy relationship. Willis said the Title IX Office provides boundary-setting training, consent training, bystander intervention training and empowerment and self-defense training.

“In addition to these trainings, we do the customized training,” Willis said.They have free counseling through the Counseling Center, free health services for students who may be in need of more direct and one-on-one support. But if an unhealthy relationship involves conduct prohibited by our SIM policy — or sexual and interpersonal misconduct policy — we encourage people to connect with our office so that we can provide resources and support and resolution options.”

Willis said different programs across campus are customizes to the student and their situation.

“Students really have a lot of support and hopefully don’t feel like they’re alone when they’re here at Baylor,” Willis said. “They’re wrapped around with support. … I think between our office, the Counseling Center and the CARE Team, and even the Student Success Center, there are several resources students can tap into if they need help.”