Student News

This Valentine’s Day, Prioritize Healthy Relationships

Two people sitting on a bench.
Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 14, 2022) — With aisles of pink hearts and teddy bears in nearly every store, it’s hard to forget that Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day. However, it is easy to forget that February is also Healthy Relationships Month. 

For many, Valentine’s Day is a symbol of love and affection, but promoting romance without addressing the importance of healthy relationships would be wrong. 

To learn more about healthy relationships and what it takes to create them, UKNow spoke with Taryn Henning, director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center at the University of Kentucky.

UKNowWhy are healthy relationships in our lives so important? Both romantic and non-romantic.

Henning: Human beings are social creatures. Even those of us who are introverts need to have social connections. There are several studies that show the need for and benefits of romantic and non-romantic relationships in our lives, but making sure they’re healthy is essential. Unhealthy relationships, whether romantic or non-romantic, can lead to a host of negative outcomes, such as heightened stress, decreased ability to do well in school or work, or even physical harm.

UKNow: How do you spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Henning: This is not an exhaustive list, but some common signs can include one partner or friend being overly possessive of the other, extreme jealousy, not allowing someone to have time to themselves and isolating someone from other friends and/or family. Love is Respect is a really great online resource that can provide more signs of unhealthy relationships but also about healthy relationships. Sometimes we focus so much on learning how to spot unhealthy relationships that we aren’t always able to recognize healthy relationships when we see them!

UKNow: Once someone recognizes that they are in an unhealthy relationship, how do you suggest they move forward?

Henning: This is going to depend so much on what makes the relationship unhealthy. Sometimes a relationship is unhealthy because one person in it has some unhealthy but changeable habits. In this instance, it could suffice for the people in the relationship to have a conversation with one another. Other times, however, a relationship is unhealthy because one person is actively abusive, meaning they do and say things to exert power and control over others in the relationship. In these instances, it may be best to get some help to talk through some options about what’s the best way to move forward safely. We might feel most comfortable talking to a friend, but for anyone who is part of our UK community, the VIP Center is a free, confidential resource that can help with these things. Regardless of how someone moves forward, it’s important to always remember that no one deserves to be in an unhealthy relationship.

UKNow: Nowadays, people deem relationships they know so little about as “couple goals.” How do we get away from idealizing these relationships and work towards building realistic relationship goals?

Henning: This is such a great question because so many of us have dealt with unrealistic relationship goals in one way or another. I would even say that this spans across generations. It’s not just social media that influences our relationship goals; it can also be movies, songs and tv shows. One thing that so many of these influences have in common is that they only show the “IG worthy” parts of relationships. I’m talking about big, showy gestures like "bae-cations;" buying expensive jewelry, clothes, bags, whole houses even! First of all, most of us don’t have that kind of money, but more importantly, there’s so much more to relationships than that. Some people don’t even like gifts. Some people may feel more loved when their partner gives them a hug or says something nice to them. I would say one of the best ways to have realistic relationship goals is to communicate with your partner or partners about what you’re looking for and to listen to what they’re looking for. Make sure everyone involved is on the same page about what they expect in the relationship and whether or not that’s realistic for everyone involved.

UKNow: We also see a lot of relationship advice on social media from unqualified people. Is there a way to decipher the good advice from the bad advice?

Henning: Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions on things, but let’s be honest, when it comes to relationships, there may be some people whose advice you don’t want! A good way to filter the good from the bad is to check out the person’s qualifications. This could be formal qualifications, such as being a licensed marriage and family therapist, or it could be more informal, such as checking to see whether their values align with your own. For example, someone seeking advice for their polyamorous relationship may not want advice from someone who believes relationships should only be monogamous. Think about what’s important to you, then try to find voices that align with that. If you’re open to hearing about new perspectives, great! You could follow some people whose values don’t perfectly align with yours, and you might find that some of your own values and perspectives begin to shift. Sometimes that approach can still be hard, especially if we’re in the process of figuring out what our values are, so another good question to ask yourself is, “Could anyone be harmed by following this advice?” If the answer is yes, then it may not be the advice you’re looking for.

UKNow: What resources or programs does the VIP Center offer that promote healthy relationships?

Henning: The VIP Center offers a variety of trainings on how we can communicate what we’re looking for in relationships and on how to recognize red flags and green flags in relationships. Anyone interested in those or other topics can fill out our Request A Program form on our website. If anyone is interested in talking to someone about a potentially unhealthy relationship they or someone they know is in, people can come talk to one of our advocates. Folks can schedule an appointment ahead of time by emailing or calling 859-257-3574, or they can walk in during business hours. We’re located in the new Gatton Student Center addition on the third floor.

The VIP Center will be hosting two events this month related to love and healthy relationships. Additional information about the events can be found here. To learn more about the VIP Center and to see frequently asked questions, visit their website

The VIP Center is housed in the Office for Student Success. Several units within the Office for Student Success have recently relocated to the expanded Gatton Student Center. For a full tour of the offices, click here.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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