Date: February 12th, 2014
By: Deborah Chilcoat
Well, it’s just about that time of year again: Valentine’s Day. Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded by sappy love songs, ruby hearts, and images of smitten couples. Even one of the nation’s most respected news networks entices me to click a link so I can ponder if the movie “The Notebook” causes breakups. And let’s not forget the 18 bazillion relationship self-tests, my favorite being Heinous or Harmless?. And what is with those provocative headlines included in this month’s magazines? “Ways to Make Your Relationship Stronger, More Passionate, and Everlasting!” Arrrggghhh, there’s no escape
Another thing I can’t escape is the sinking feeling I get when I think about the young men and women struggling in unhealthy, destructive, and dead end relationships. Maybe they don’t want to strengthen their relationship, or make it more passionate, or last forever! Maybe they want to get out of the relationship, but just don’t know how. What’s worse, just when they need the courage, self-efficacy, and opportunity to end the relationship, they are subjected to constant reminders about the romance (and absurdity) of Valentine’s Day.
As a professional working with teens, I encourage them to be civil, express how they feel, and use “I statements.” But more often than not, I find that these young people need to learn the skills to break up with a partner when there is no way to improve or sustain the relationship. A few years ago, I added to my standard repertoire of lessons about the qualities and characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships (since most teens already know what those are), how to construct and deliver an effective break-up statement. This decision was inspired by an activity in the Circle of Friends program by Planned Parenthood of Western New York. I found that young people needed to connect with—and honor—their feelings and experiences so that they could learn the skills and practice how to manage conflict, regulate their own behavior, and cope with the loss of the relationship—no matter how unhealthy it is.
Although it is excruciating to watch a young person endure an unhealthy relationship, it is doubly painful thinking about the consequences of ignoring or shying-away from what happens to most us at some point in our lives—needing to end a relationship.
So, as I muddle through yet another hopelessly romantic Valentine’s Day, I encourage all professionals working with teens to include lessons and skill-building activities (e.g. role-plays) that give them the confidence, language, and courage to call it quits on a relationship that is unhealthy. Sometimes, breaking up is the hardest AND healthiest option!
About the Author
Deborah Chilcoat, M.Ed., brings over 16 years of experience in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and an unyielding commitment to improving the health and well-being of young people to her current position as Senior Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Healthy Teen Network. Deb’s extensive experience in project management, capacity-building assistance, collaborative partnerships, as well as evidence-based and innovative approaches has served to meet the needs of diverse youth and communities across the United States.