By Nikol Stoykova
Justin Hancock is a leading sexuality and relationship educator and expert with many years of experience of working in the field with over 18 year olds. He has his own relationship and sexuality website, http://www.bishuk.com/, and even published a book. He came to IH in the light of Mental Health Awareness Week to talk to us about healthy relationships, and conducted a workshop with several activities in order to help people understand what a healthy romantic relationship and more importantly, a good relationship with yourself, looks like. We met with him to ask him a few questions after.
What are the pillars of a successful relationship?
I think communication is a very important thing, but even before you communicate, it´s talking about how you want to communicate, so it´s important for people to talk about the process of the relationship and to be able to have the kinds of talk we had in our workshop today: why am I in this relationship, how much time are you going to spend together, how together does out relationship need to be, how tender do we want it to be. It´s also very important to think what do you want this relationship to give you: sex, companionship, trust, have fun? It´s about understanding that if you ask one person to give you everything then that makes the relationship oftentimes much harder, but thinking about different things that different people might give us, then that takes some of the pressure off the relationship.
On the flipside, what breaks a relationship?
When there´s too much pressure on a relationship, when one person wants the other to give them everything, they become very stressed or very unhappy when the relationship doesn´t give them that or something that they want. That makes that person reach and grab that thing or worry about why they are not getting it, when actually if we had different kinds of relationships, or even different romantic relationships, then one might be more able to get everything we need. But also, the thing that is super important in relationships is consent, so people feel they know what they want from the relationship and they are agreeing to give it or receive it.
Managing the expectations-what are the shortcuts?
Having a real conversation again, from early in the relationship as possible, about how committed the relationship is going to be rather than falling into a script of what the relationship is supposed to be or what we´re supposed to do. Think about the relationship escalator, when a relationship starts in the beginning and tends to escalate to more companionship and commitment: this is the script western society gives us. Sometimes we need to question it, which could be very difficult, but very important.
Experience and lack of it.
Everybody comes from the same place. Remember that and treat yourself kindly. Give yourself a pep talk and understand that these feelings are normal and it´s okay to feel insecure. But the thing is that the other person who has more experience also needs to get involved and help out the person with less experience. If a person has got more experience, it can also mean that they have more power over the other. They should suggest, not imply what needs to be done. That again could be a very difficult thing because the person with no experience might not know what they want. Sometimes that could be quite frustrating, but they still need to be patient, gentle, and offering consent until the person can articulate what they want.
Consent their aim.
This is the most important thing. We are told that we need to seduce the other person, make a romantic gesture to persuade them. What we should actually do is take the other´s person answer and accept it rather than trying to change it if they were to say no. Getting the answer is where we should leave it, this is what consent is.
My first advice is to the rest of the society: we need to stop assuming that everyone is straight or has the gender they were born with. If we are just curious about people, we wouldn´t even be forcing people to do this thing called “coming out”. The only reason people come out is because of the societal expectation that everyone is straight when actually, according to recent polling by YouGov, more than half of young people are not exclusively heterosexual. My advice for the individual is that there are lots of other people out there going through the same thing as you, and there are ways to connect with them via social media and support groups. For example, there´s a video resource called It Gets Better, where you can see lots of videos by other LGBTQA talking about their experiences and how it actually gets better over time. Sometimes hearing about different people´s stories could be very helpful. Many universities offer support groups, and there are a lot of local groups too. The important thing is that you only need to come out if you feel safe and confident, and if it´s important for you to do so. There´s a lot of pressure that I think it´s problematic. The pressure needs to be on us to stop making heteronormative assumptions.
There´s my website which is called http://www.bishuk.com/. Also, there is another website, http://www.scarleteen.com/, which has huge number of resources and an online forum. In the UK, you can go to sexual health services. Brook, our national charity, run sexual health services and relationship support for young people too. Universities also run support groups. Other great resources are: http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/, http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/, http://www.stonewall.org.uk/.