By Christine Murray, HRI Director

The mission of Healthy Relationships Initiative is to promote happy, healthy, and safe relationships of all kinds. When we think of the ingredients of healthy relationships–like trust, respect, safety, and acceptance–doesn’t it seem like everyone would want to have the healthiest relationships they can imagine? Who wouldn’t want to enjoy positive, caring, and supportive relationships in all areas of their lives?

I believe that healthy relationships are a universal goal, and that each of us has a deep yearning for closeness and connection with others. And yet, there’s a big difference between wanting to have healthy relationships and actually having them in the real world!

So, what gets in the way of people’s deeply-held desires for having healthy relationships and their actual ability to build and sustain healthy relationships over the long-term? This is one of the major questions we’ve looked at through our planning process to prepare for launching the Healthy Relationships Initiative.

Our goal was to identify the main barriers faced by members of our community that can stand in the way of building healthy relationships. Identifying these barriers is extremely important for our overall efforts to foster a community-wide initiative that promotes healthy relationships. In part, building healthy relationships is about helping people build up their knowledge and skills to support their relationships. But, all the knowledge and skills in the world will only go so far when people face different types of barriers that would keep them from achieving their relationship goals.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses a Social-Ecological Model as a framework for understanding community-based prevention initiatives, and this model tells us that we need to understand how societal, community, relationship, and individual factors work together to impact people’s lives and relationships. We’ve used this framework for understanding the significant barriers to healthy relationships in Guilford County. To inform our understanding of community barriers, we’ve used a variety of sources of information, including our community needs assessment survey, focus groups, existing data reports, and input from our HRI Steering Committee.

In a meeting with our Steering Committee, we asked the community leaders who serve on the committee to label “bricks in the wall” that represent the barriers they’ve seen as presenting challenges for people in Guilford County. You can see some examples of the brick walls they came up with below:

Across all the different ways that we’ve identified barriers to healthy relationships in our community, some common themes have come up, including the following barriers at different levels of the Social-Ecological Model:

  • Individual: Trauma, substance abuse, untreated mental health issues, low self-esteem, stubbornness, selfishness
  • Relational: Lack of family models, parenting stress, lack of supportive relationships, communication problems, being overwhelmed with responsibilities, lack of time for one another
  • Community: Isolation, housing, transportation, language barriers, difficulty navigating community systems, economic challenges
  • Societal: Stigma around seeking help, political influences, biases, racial disparities, lack of jobs, proliferation of technology, societal norms that encourage negative relationship behaviors

What other barriers would you add to the list? As we move forward with launching and growing the Healthy Relationships Initiative, we hope you’ll partner with us by working to remove the barriers in our community that make it more difficult for people to build and maintain healthy relationships. Working together, we can build resources that offer support for strengthening relationships in Guilford County!