December is Human Rights Month, and Saturday, December 10th was Human Rights Day. You might be scratching your head (as I did when I first looked into human rights) wondering, “What exactly are human rights?” In 1948 the United Nations drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which you can read and download here) as a standard of “fundamental human rights to be universally protected”. Much like we have rights under the U.S. Constitution, we have universal rights that transcend our nationality, such as “The right to life, liberty, and security of person” and “The right to rest and leisure”.
We all have rights as individuals, just like we all have rights when we’re part of a couple and in a relationship. It might seem somewhat difficult to identify our rights within a relationship and while the UN hasn’t written a declaration for Relationship Rights, it’s worth taking a look at what exactly individuals deserve in a relationship.
Ask yourself, “What would I say my rights are within my current relationship? Scratching your head? It’s alright. It might seem like an easy task yet sometimes we forget about our own needs when we’re in a relationship, as we strive to help our partner achieve their dreams and goals. Below are just a few rights I’ve come across in my practice as a couples counselor:
Right to feel loved
It’s what we all want, no matter how young or old; to feel loved. When one partner isn’t feeling loved by the other, it can lead to big problems. It’s important that you’re feeling loved in a way that you recognize, like your love language (if you’re unfamiliar about the 5 Love Languages, you can check out my video on “How the 5 Love Languages Can Help Your Relationship”).
Right to be heard
One of Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is stonewalling and it can be detrimental to a relationship. Stonewalling shuts down the conversation before the other person can be heard. While it may feel like you, or your partner, need that time to cool down during an argument before you say something you regret, if you never come back to the topic, you lose all hope of finding an agreed upon resolution. If you feel like you and your partner need some ground rules for conflict, set them up beforehand, when you’re both calm and open. The ground rules should outline how you want to be treated during a fight, and how your partner wants to be treated during an argument and can include things like: “No name calling”, “No bringing up events that happened over 6 months ago”, “No comparison of how you/I chose to do something”.
Right to respect
Easy, right? Wrong. Respect is so much more than just saying you have it for your partner; it needs to be shown. It’s tempting when we get together with a group of friends or other couples, to begin the mutual complain-fest. “He sleeps in too late on the weekends” or “She never does the dishes after dinner”. We think it’s bonding with our peers when can share a mutual dislike for something and while propinquity (or similarity between things, like shared political beliefs) might help you develop a friendship, it will do nothing for your relationship. When you open the door of complaining about your spouse/partner to others, and in front of others, you allow other individuals in your life (friends, family, co-workers) to walk through that door as well. You might think, “Only I can complain about my spouse and I get upset if someone else does!” although that’s not always your saving grace and you set the precedent for how others treat your spouse.
Right to safety and security
Domestic violence, whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional, or financial, is illegal and no matter the circumstances everyone has the right to safety within a relationship. If you feel unsafe in your current relationship, it’s time to get help. It can be a long process, as the average individual tries over seven times to leave an abusive relationship, and it may involve much planning and therapeutic work on your part, but consider the price you pay for staying in a relationship where there is an abuse of power, control, and violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a great resource for anyone looking for more information or help and has a quick button if the page needs to be closed without detection.
In honor of Human Rights Month, I want you to take a moment and right down your relationship rights. You don’t need to include many, just as many as you feel you deserve in a relationship. This can be something you do on your own or with your partner. A review of your marriage vows, or rewriting, can be an excellent starting place to begin and remember what you agreed to when you chose to join this person. Put a positive spin on this exercise and focus on the rights you already have in your relationship, the rights that are strong, and then begin to build from those rights. As always, if you and your partner find yourselves struggling, I’m just a phone call or click away at 954.401.9011 or Katie@FamilyAndCouplesCounseling.com. I would love to hear what rights you came up with for your relationship. Drop me a line!