Every day thousands put themselves in dangerous situations simply by being with people they care about. The danger might be invisible to most observers, but these relationships have a negative impact that can, in extreme cases, ultimately lead to death.
Dysfunctional relationships can form between anyone. Friends, family and co-workers can all be in dysfunctional relationships. Most often, dangerous relationships with significant others are overlooked. Signals can often point to dysfunctional interaction between couples.
David Greg Brooks is the MU intimate relationships and marriage professor as well as a marriage and family therapist. He finds the most common underlying factor in dysfunctional relationships to be confusion over expectations and rules of the relationship. Some couples discuss these rules, while other rules are unspoken that couples are “supposed” to follow.
Take marriage unfaithfulness as an example. To some, this may be an unspoken rule that, once married, couples should not have intimate acts with others outside the marriage. However, the rule may be unknown by some because it was never discussed between the couple.
As a college undergrad Brooks met and married his wife. Throughout his college career he and his wife knew they had to work on their relationship and grow as a couple. As he was developing a healthy relationship with his wife, he saw multiple friends go through dysfunctional relationships. This usually occurred when one person was committed to the relationship and the other wanted to live in the freedom of youth. Predictably, there were brutal breakups to follow such unclear communication.
Knowing that similar relationship problems happen on campuses, Brooks encourages open communication between couples. This includes the “rules of the relationship” as well as getting to know each other.
“To see what your partner is like you want to get a PhD on this person,” Brooks said.
There will be problems in all relationships; they are inevitable. Brooks’ advice is to focus on the positives, which contributes a strong relationship foundation. Consider the negatives as well. Ask yourself, “If the negatives never change would I still be content?” This is a generally healthy way to recognize if you should stay with a current partner.
A common dysfunctional college relationship scenario is dating someone who does not go to the same school or lives in a hometown. The physical distance between the couple can cause relationship tension. Unclear relationship rules may surface through the new experiences the couple is undergoing.
Zach Washington, MU accounting major, has watched a friend struggle with this situation. Washington’s friend has been interested in a girl who was in a non-exclusive relationship with a boy from her hometown. Recently they became exclusive again, meaning they only see each other. He finds it difficult to watch his friend be led on by the unclear relationship rules the couple had.
“It shouldn’t be an issue,” Washington said. “Don’t be secretive about it. Confront the situation instead of avoiding it.”
Severe forms of a dysfunctional relationship are abuse and rape. One out of four college women are raped and the need for campus safety awareness is high. At MU, there are 214 emergency phones on campus for students to use if they ever feel in danger.
Some relationships with destructive behavior may be between people who have been together for a while or between people who have just met. On a college campus, new relationships can form every day, which can lead to finding yourself in a vulnerable situation with a person you do not know well.
“You always think ‘Oh, that won’t happen to me’ and then it does,” Jane said. “How could I have been so stupid?”
Jane (name is changed to protect the individual’s privacy) went out with someone she barely knew and is constantly reminded of the harsh realities of the world. At the beginning of the semester, Jane went out on a late night date to the columns with a boy she had recently met. The boy supplied her with lemonade spiked with vodka. He kept asking her whether the drink was good or not. After taking a few sips, Jane bent over to grab her shoe, and when she came back up she was immediately dizzy. That is when she started to question what was in the drink.
There are only certain parts of the night that Jane clearly remembers. She recounts a few moments after feeling dizzy, but the next strong memory she has is waking up in her neighbors’ room on the dorm floor. The next morning she listened to a voice recording her friend saved from the night before. The recording ended with Jane saying, “and he tried to have sex with me.”
“I just became one of those statistics,” Jane said. “I think that statistic is absolutely disgusting, and I hate that I am a part of it.”
Many similar events happen on campuses and most people are not aware. Help is available for students involved with situations such as Jane’s. The campus abuse and rape hotline is 573-875-1370. The victim, or friends of the victim, who needs advice on handling the situation can call the number. The campus student health center has a clinical service for post sexual assault care. Appointment can be made at 573-882-7481 and other services are at the Sexual Health page.
Even if you are in the middle of a dysfunctional relationship, you may not realize it. Keeping an open line of communication is a key factor in creating healthy relationships.. It is often difficult for the individuals in the dysfunctional relationship to solve their problems. Do not be afraid to reach out to campus resources. The goal is to have a positive college experience, not an experience wasted in a dysfunctional relationship.