You’ve got to love Aretha Franklin. At least in the song, the girl knows what makes for a healthy relationship: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” To my way of thinking, respect should be the theme song for Valentine’s Day, not some sloppy, sentimental, “I’ll die if I can’t have you” sort of song. Flowers and candy are nice, but what everybody needs on Valentine’s Day is a little respect.
Romance is lovely, and we all need to hear “I love you” from those we care about, but it is easy to let hearts and flowers divert us from the real foundation of a strong and healthy relationship. Respect and the communication necessary to “find out what it means to me” are the bedrock of healthy and loving relationships. Hearts and flowers and romance are simply the icing on the cake.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and this year’s theme focuses on — wait for it — respect. In fact, Feb. 8-12 has been designated as Respect Week. While the week has already passed, respect ought to be a critical part of our dating and romantic relationships all the time. And shouldn’t we be teaching and modeling respect in dating relationships to our teens? Too often the messages our teens get from the media, or from their friends, is that romantic relationships are about possession and ownership. Our teens need to hear from us that love is about respect, not 50 shades of whatever. It can be as easy as sharing the National Respect Announcement developed by the teen-focused group loveisrespect.org, which says:
“With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we’d like to remind you that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship. Remember, love has many definitions, but abuse isn’t one of them. If you or someone you know has a question about a relationship, healthy or unhealthy, visit loveisrespect.org or text ‘loveis’ to 22522.”
Aretha had it right all along. It all boils down to respect and communication. In order to treat people with respect, we have to understand what respect means to them. We need to pay attention to how others react to our comments and behaviors and respect them when they indicate that our actions make them uncomfortable. And we need to communicate clearly when another person’s behavior or language is unwanted or makes us feel uncomfortable. It is hard for teens to find ways to say, “I don’t like it when you treat me that way,” but talking to friends or a trusted adult can make it easier to find solutions and take a stand.
So this Valentine’s Day, romance to your heart’s content, enjoy the candy and flowers, but practice the respect and communication that makes both new and long-term relationships truly healthy.
Anne K. Ard is the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College. Contact her at 238-7066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.