There’s a new term for an age-old situation. The one in which two romantically involved people are not an official couple.
Dubbed “situationship,” the word isn’t found in most dictionaries, but Google it and you’ll see it’s increasingly used to describe an intimate relationship defined as being undefined.
While situationships aren’t inherently bad, said Emily Rosenquist, assistant director of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Center for Women and Gender Equity (WGE), they present a means of exploring relationship expectations and how to communicate those expectations with a love interest.
“Maybe you’re in a talking state or want to avoid labels. Maybe it’s an on-again-off-again relationship. Maybe you don’t know where you stand,” said Rosenquist.
Whatever the case, talking about the precarious nature of romantic relationships helps people clarify what they want and need from a partner.
“It’s important to know what your boundaries are and how to communicate the things that are important to you,” said Rosenquist.
“It’s good to talk about how healthy relationships look in practice and to give people tangible skills and tools to get there,” she said.
When a romantic relationship deteriorates in abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional, another spoke in the wheel is learning not only how to identify the problem but also where to turn for help.
“Just leave” is no longer sound or feasible advice for someone experiencing abuse, according to Rosenquist and domestic violence experts around the country.
Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t realize, or that seem counterintuitive, when it comes to supporting someone experiencing abuse or when it comes to dealing with it themselves,” said Rosenquist, who manages WGE Survivor Advocacy Services.
Those services include a series of one-off presentations requested by professors in which Rosenquist and other speakers discuss topics ranging from bystander intervention and supporting survivors to dating violence in the LGBTQ+ community and media impacts on gender-based violence.
The subsequent conversations aren’t always pleasant.
“We get really good reactions and we also get push back. Not everyone is excited to talk about gender-based violence,” Rosenquist said.
“We’ve had people realize that they did some sort of unintentional harm to someone and sometimes they want to talk about it and try to rectify that, and that’s never an easy conversation,” she said.
Whether it’s an hour-long presentation in a classroom or a roundtable discussion, relatively short interactions can have lasting impact when it comes to promoting healthy relationships and identifying, intervening and preventing harmful ones.
“This topic is not easy to talk about, but it’s getting easier. Even just sparking a conversation is important,” Rosenquist said.
Unfortunately, abuse is common and affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men who experience severe violence at the hands of their intimate partner, according to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence statistics.
“Unfortunately it’s so common that I know, statistically, I can walk into any classroom and there’s going to be survivors,” she said.