With the release of the film Fifty Shades of Grey, Hollywood seems to be romanticizing abusive and unhealthy relationships. But at the end of the day, what we see are two people struggling with their own insecurities and a woman who is trying to "save" the man she loves.
Many women—and men, in some cases—who enter into a relationship with an addict find themselves depressed, isolated, and full of self-doubt.
For bothfans of the film and avid protesters, there are actually a lot of lessons that Fifty Shades of Grey can teach us about building healthy relationships. In looking at where Ana and Christian's relationship failed, we can find ideas for improvement in our own relationships.
Here are five relationship tips to take away from the series:
1. Set boundaries
This is an invaluable skill that many of us either haven't learned or don't use. Boundaries are critical for building a healthy relationship and understanding our limits. To set your own boundaries, take some time to write down what makes you uncomfortable or stressed in a relationship, along with compromises you are willing to tolerate. As you write your list, consider your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. Encourage your spouse to create a similar list and share with one another.
2. Prioritize open communication
Too many relationships hit roadblocks because couples forget to keep the communication lines open. Between working, taking care of the kids, housework, and everything else, finding time to really talk with your spouse is often put on the back burner.
Set aside time each week, if not each day, to have meaningful conversations with your spouse. Discuss your daily lives, make decisions, and reconnect. It's important to remember that good communication is a two-way street—it requires both speaking openly and listening actively. As you improve your communication skills, you will find it easier to open up and be vulnerable with one another.
3. Recognize red flags
This goes back to setting personal boundaries. When you know yourself and understand your limits, you become more aware of relationship red flags. Not all red flags are a sign to end the relationship, but they are important to be aware of as they often cause a relationship to become unhealthy.
Some key red flags to keep in mind: lack of communication, lack of support from friends and family, control issues, jealousy, a dark or secretive past, and most importantly abusive behavior—physical, sexual, or emotional. This last one is a huge sign that's it's time to reevaluate your relationship and find support.
A support system can be a great resource for anyone in a relationship, regardless of if the relationship is healthy or unhealthy. Whether it's a family member, a good friend, or a more established group, the right support system will allow you to connect with others and validate your feelings. These groups are a great way to get practical advice, improve your coping skills, and reclaim your self-confidence. There are several ways to find a support group—many religious groups and community centers offer free groups that are open to anyone.
5. Know yourself
This point is especially important—and often overlooked—for women. In a culture where women are used to putting everyone else first, finding time to know who you are is not always on the to-do list. However, self-knowledge can help you understand who you are, what you stand for, areas for self-improvement, and when to let go. Get to know yourself through journaling, meditation, and taking time for yourself.
Relationships can be complicated. Having a solid understanding of who you are and what you stand for can help you build a stronger relationship and become a stronger person.
Dan Gray (LCSW, CSAT) is the Clinical Director and Cofounder at Life Star Therapy. He has a master’s degree in social work and is a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist). He is also certified as an addictions counselor with the National Association of Forensic Counselors.
He has co-authored and edited two books: Confronting Pornography: A Guide to Prevention and Recovery for Individuals, Loved Ones, and Leaders and Discussing Pornography Problems with a Spouse: Confronting and Disclosing Secret Behaviors. Dan is married and the father of four.