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Consent is a Process

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“Back in high school, I started a relationship that became fairly serious. There were a lot of positives but as the months went by it became toxic. Everywhere I went he began to come with me. When I wanted to hang out with friends without him I would purposely lie about where I was but he would track me down and show up. There were other red flags that I overlooked because he said he loved me and did sappy ‘romantic’ things like buying me flowers after a fight. Now I understand that kind gestures towards your partner should not only be used as a way to make up for bad behavior. To maintain this manipulation he would say yes to anything I asked for, so I continued to turn a blind eye and began to take advantage of this. Finally, things ended when he physically assaulted me as I tried to look at his messages to another girl on his phone. What hurt more than the realization of how problematic the relationship had been was the fact that my friends who had witnessed it all did not support me after but remained friends with him.” (Person quoted will remain anonymous.)

Stories like these are much too common among teens and young adults. Their inexperience in such matters puts them in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. Learning to set clear boundaries and respecting those set by others are vital steps in creating healthy relationships. Setting boundaries can be a difficult task, as everyone has different values, interests, and ideas about what they are comfortable with. Whether you are working on this in your own relationships or want to teach these skills to others in your life, the following tips can be useful in determining what makes you and others feel comfortable.

Some things to look out for when determining what is unhealthy in a relationship include an imbalance of power, controlling behavior, and belittling or abusive language.

Start by asking yourself how it feels when your boundaries are respected. These can be physical, emotional, or digital boundaries.  Then, consider how you would feel and act if your boundaries were not respected.  You might be angry, feel the need to escape, or you could freeze up or become defensive. If you start to notice these behaviors in others, you may have crossed a boundary. 

Another key aspect is remembering that consent and boundaries are not constant. It is more fluid, what might feel appropriate at a specific time or situation may not be ok in the future. Changing your mind is normal and there should be no pressure from either party to continue. Another way to think about this is using the phrase “Consent is a Process”. Do not make assumptions, continually check in with others and look for body language that might signal if they are uncomfortable. 

While boundary issues can affect relationships at all ages, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (February) it is important for adults who are a part of teens lives to provide information and examples of positive behavior. For teens, it is important to be aware and actively work to better understanding of how to set and learn boundaries.