Trigger warning: This article discusses dating violence and abusive relationships. If you, or someone you know, needs help, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline and LoveIsrespect for information, resources, and 24/7 live support.
While Valentine's Day is traditionally touted as a time to celebrate love and happiness with a partner, a nonprofit organization called One Love Foundation is using this day to raise awareness about how common unhealthy relationships are, and what we can do to exit toxic situations, and/or mend our relationships with ourselves and each other.
According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), there are approximately 20 people per minute being physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. This means that in one year, there are more than 10 million women and men experiencing some form of domestic abuse. Of course, the line is not always that clear as there are plenty of people who never experience explicit abuse but still find themselves in unhappy relationships, too afraid to leave. According to a 2010 survey that looked at 2,031 British adults, six out of 10 people stayed with a partner even if things weren't working.
To highlight this issue, One Love Foundation — founded in honor of Yeardley Love, a student at the University of Virginia who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2010 — has set up a New York City SoHo. pop-up Valentine's Day store as part of its #LoveBetter campaign. The store is filled with all the usual V-Day goodies: teddy bears, balloons, candy hearts, wine, and the like. But when shoppers gleefully browse for potential gifts for their Valentine, they are shocked to discover an alarming twist — every item represents messages from a toxic relationship.
There's the "Moody Teddy Bear," a seemingly adorable and harmless teddy who says "I hate you," followed by "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that." There's also the "Follow-Your-Heart Pendant" which is a heart locket with a tracking chip inside. Another item is the "Be-Little Candy Hearts," which look exactly like the bright and cute Be-Mine Candy Hearts except these sweeties have not-so-sweet messages like "loser" and "idiot." The shock is not in the irony, but in how common these hurtful messages appear in so many romantic relationships.
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"[Valentine's Day] is a day that's supposed to celebrate love, but it manifests more as a dash to buy cards, gifts and flowers than anything else," One Love's CEO Katie Hood tells A Plus. "We wanted to suggest there could be a new vision for Valentine's day – one that focuses first on pledging to #LoveBetter and to practice healthier behaviors in your relationship as a way of celebrating your partner and your dedication to them."
One Love's #LoveBetter campaign encourages people to evaluate the actual condition of their relationship. "In a world dominated by stories of how poorly people are treating one another, #LoveBetter is designed to help us focus on how we can build and be part of a healthier world by focusing on the quality and health of our own relationships,"explains Hood. "Our core belief at One Love is that love is a skill that we can all improve. By educating people about healthy relationships we can change social norms, and ultimately the stats around abuse of every kind."
We also need to be educated about what an unhealthy relationship looks like. While there are multiple reasons why it might be difficult for someone to leave a bad relationship, it's important to know the warning signs.
"First, it's important to remember that not every minute of every unhealthy relationship feels that way," says Hood. "It's easy to make excuses about the unhealthy things that happen because we want it to work, or even that we care about the person. Unhealthy behaviors have also been so normalized in our society in the media ... [that we] frequently ignore initial gut feelings that tell us something might be off because it's not different from what we see every day. The truth is, we're all sort of flying blind when it comes to love. While we've all felt love, we've never actually been taught how to love. After all, we're shown how to tie our shoes, style our hair, drive a car, yet we're never actively taught the most fundamental human skill of all."
One Love offers resources that promote healthy, loving, and safe relationship and dating practices. In an informative post on its website, One Love names "comfortable pace," "trust," and "independence" as signs of a healthy relationship.
"If you commit to practicing trust with your partner, that means having an honest conversation with them about your insecurities over checking their phone and asking them where they've been just because you are feeling vulnerable," says Hood. "If you mess up, take responsibility for your actions instead of blaming your partner for how you handled the situation. We all make mistakes, and jealousy and insecurity are natural human emotions, but the key in having a healthy relationship is how you handle them."
If you'd like to support the #LoveBetter movement, you can take action by pledging to #LoveBetter on the One Love website. "Our hope is that #LoveBetter encourages everyone to be more mindful and intentional when it comes to their relationships and that if each of us does this daily, we might just be able to achieve real societal change," says Hood. "Imagine how much better the world could be if we all made the decision to work to #LoveBetter every day!"
All photos courtesy of One Love Foundation