Cultivating Happiness and Health In Relationships at CK

Members of the CKHS community discuss what unhealthy relationships look like, how to navigate healthy relationships, and the importance of self-advocacy.
Red flags in relationships can present themselves in many ways, including patterns of disrespect, jealous and controlling behaviors, and lack of communication.
Red flags in relationships can present themselves in many ways, including patterns of disrespect, jealous and controlling behaviors, and lack of communication.
Rosalie Johnson
Engaging in Relationships

From “Romeo and Juliet” to “10 Things I Hate About You,” romantic relationships among teens have been topics of discussion and aspiration for time immemorial. Excitement at the prospect of going on a date and being in a relationship with someone you care for is a common experience for adolescents, as well as a natural outcome of growing older and spending time around peers.

For many teens, romantic relationships provide an opportunity to share in emotional vulnerability and well-being. Communication and engagement in relationships allow for the exploration of one’s identity, desires, and needs. Further, they set the tone and expectation for future adult relationships, so ensuring the safety of teenage relationships is key for protecting mental health and security.

“There is this pressure within the student community to have a person and to have a partner,” said CKHS Dean of Students Katherine Devnich. “I think as humans that desire to belong and to fit in, having a person seems really important.”

In addition to feeling a sense of belonging, “teens are dating because they’re exploring and trying to figure out who they are,” said CKHS counselor Scott McMinds.

This opportunity for self-discovery also grants the knowledge and reassurance of flexibility in identity.

“In relationships, there are lessons to be learned along the way about who you are and what you want, and that changes with time,” said Devnich. “Who you are today may not be who you are next week and that’s totally okay. But that is why communication and trust is so important: so you can discover and find out who you are.”

However, this is easier said than done: relationships, and deciding what is healthy or unhealthy, can be tricky to navigate at a young age. Especially as many first relationships occur during teenage years when adolescents are already exploring and discovering what is right for them, defining the parameters of a healthy relationship is beneficial and necessary.

When you surround yourself with amazing people, you see yourself differently, just like if you surround yourself with people making poor decisions, you see yourself differently.”

— Katherine Devnich

Toxic Relationships with Lucy Mitchell* and Devnich

Unhealthy relationships can take many forms. Though they do not always look, sound, or feel the same, those who engage in toxic or abusive behaviors are often encouraged by the possibility of obtaining and maintaining control over their partner’s decisions and livelihood. 

Devnich often aids students in times of struggle, including uncertainty and strife in relationships. When it comes to signs of toxic relationships, she looks for obsessive and restrictive habits.

“If you find that the people you are hanging out with are making your world smaller and are isolating you from other friends and family, that is a huge red flag,” said Devnich. “The control and jealousy that start that is an unhealthy behavior.”

Additionally, controlling and jealous behaviors can also manifest in threatening someone’s reputation or livelihood.

“People who use social media or your reputation as a way to control you, so they’ll start rumors about the other person,” said Devnich. “That continues the isolation – but also, if you’re not paying attention, you can fall really quickly into believing what other people are saying about you and your own identity.”

CKHS student Lucy Mitchell* shared her experience in which controlling and manipulative behaviors were a major aspect of one of her relationships.

“It turned into a lot of arguments,” Mitchell said. “He would cheat on me and then I would be blamed or called crazy…He would make up really big stories to make everything my fault, and if we ever took a break, he wouldn’t allow me to talk to anyone else.”

Ways of manipulation ranged from lying that one of his family members had died to using mental health crises as reasons why Mitchell could not leave him.

He wanted me to stay, and he had been suicidal before and I didn’t want to cause him any more pain because since the get-go I had been taking care of him and making sure he was okay and I wanted him to be okay. He would use it against me and I didn’t want to ever hurt him.”

— Lucy Mitchell

“Then it turned into a big thing,” Mitchell said. “He would get horribly mad at me and say horrible things and call me horrible names, and it was just constant. I would sometimes ask him to stop, but he would just continue to do it. It was a lot of gaslighting, manipulation, and a lot of degradation.”

For Mitchell, these patterns of abuse that became natural to the relationship became a toxic cycle that kept her with her abusive partner.

“It felt like we had been together so long and like we had made plans for the future that I didn’t want to leave the comfort of the situation,” she said. “Even though it was abusive, I felt I needed to stay because it felt weird without him.”

The dangers of continuing a toxic relationship for the sake of comfort are demonstrated in the mental and physical impacts they inflict on victims. According to the National Library of Medicine, adolescent dating violence resulted in higher rates of anxiety and depression, lower self-esteem, reduced academic performance, development of negative body image, lessening in independence, and an increased chance of repeating the cycle by entering future abusive relationships.

For Mitchell, self-objectification came hand in hand with diminishing self-esteem: “I lost my confidence, and I had started to dehumanize myself and do things like wearing small clothing to make him want me again,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do because I wanted him to want me so badly, and he used that against me as much as he could.”

In addition, the damage to one’s trust that the perpetuation of dating violence and abuse imposes affects all other relationships in their life – from distancing oneself from loved ones to losing the ability to trust them.


If you or someone you know is experiencing teen dating violence, reach out to 

– The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

– The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 

– The National Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474;

– or counselors at school.

* Lucy Mitchell is an alias for a confidential source.

Moving Forward with Mitchell, McMinds, and Devnich

Feelings of isolation in unhealthy relationships can make leaving feel difficult or impossible. However, connecting with trusted adults is key for mental security, and they can guide struggling students to necessary resources. Teachers, administrators, and counselors are all excellent people to take the first steps of healing and recovery with. 

“Anytime a student has been violated, it is handled with care in a serious manner and it is not ignored,” said McMinds. “We don’t delay or wait. Once that information comes to us, we report it.”

This serious way in which these concerns are dealt with is often scary. For many people, it can be the first time their situation was confirmed and validated; other times, students fear societal implications or parents being involved in the recovery process.

“We want students to come down regardless of who their assigned counselor is, and we have people here to receive them,” said McMinds. “We want people to feel comfortable sharing what’s going on to help and support…When students come in and talk about these situations, I’ll tell them that it sounds like they’ve experienced some trauma and ask if they want someone else to be looped in. My job is to come alongside the student to support them and get them the resources they need.”

Mitchell found that confiding in trusted adults, which she found in her parents, made the process smoother.

“It was a lot easier after I told my parents and I started going to therapy,” said Mitchell. “When I told the school, they set me up with going to the counselor and gave me the hall pass so I could leave class if I ever got overwhelmed.”

Taking it day by day and deleting things slowly, trying to move forward knowing that things were going to be better eventually.”

— Lucy Mitchell

The resources that CK faculty can guide students struggling with relationship issues range from a sexual assault center to connecting with the Student Resource Officer (SRO) in legal situations or instances of rape. 

“The big thing is after, how do students move on?” said McMinds. “We have some resources like Peninsula Community Health, which now has a clinic in the satellite gym and an onsite medicine and therapy resource. Kitsap Mental Health as a counselor that comes in on Thursdays. Every situation is different and every case calls for a different response.”

When it comes to advocating for one’s needs, it is important to remember that trusted adults are involved in the community’s well-being.

“The adults are here to listen and to help, and sometimes it’s just as simple as having a trusted adult who’s not giving you any advice at all, but just letting you get out of what you’re feeling in that moment,” said Devnich. “That gets you on the right path for what you need to do next. So I just want to remind students that the adults at CK care deeply about students.”

Healthy Relationships and Life After Relationships with Devnich
According to the Better Health Channel, effective communication, setting clear boundaries, and engaging in self-care works to protect both your personal well-being and the relationship. (Rosalie Johnson)

Navigating a healthy relationship goes beyond avoiding red flags (such as controlling, jealous, or domineering behaviors), and requires active communication, mutual respect of boundaries, and balancing life outside of the relationship.

“The first and most important part of a relationship is communication,” said Devnich. “If a student is talking about their partner with me, I often ask if they have had that conversation with their partner and oftentimes, that’s a really important step to developing what you want in a relationship and who you are as a person.”

Asking questions and being clear about what each partner wants is vital in communication. Especially when it comes to extremely personal ideas or actions, it is key to communicate exactly what is expected and which boundaries are set.

“I think intimacy is an area where there is pressure, and so students will do things they’re not comfortable with because they care deeply about their person,” said Devnich. “My advice would be to talk about intimacy upfront – what does intimacy look like to you? What does it look like to your partner? Are there any boundaries that you’re unwilling to cross, and what happens when you’ve said yes to something and then you decide you don’t want to engage in the activity anymore?”

Above all, Devnich wants teens in relationships to remember that relationships should not be a source of stress or contention.

“Relationships shouldn’t be hard,” said Devnich. “Relationships take work, friendships take work – you have to tend to them. You have to nurture them. You have to nourish them. But if it feels hard all the time, then I just don’t think that’s the right person for you.”

Students often feel a sense of failure when a relationship is not healthy or doesn’t work out, and this can prevent them from ending the relationship or seeking help afterwards if it is needed.

“Something we do is when something looks good on paper, we think it should work and so we ignore red flags or we let it get uneven and heavy-handed in one way or another,” Devnich said. “I think that even though it’s hard, you need to walk away. Nobody likes to fail at anything and so when a relationship doesn’t work out, it doesn’t feel good.”

However, relying on a trusted and established support system can be significant in the recovery process, as well as engaging in activities that replenish your well-being.

“You don’t need a lot of people in life, but everybody should have their go-to people…check in with those people who really care about you,” said Devnich. “I would also do self-care – get outside, get fresh air, take a walk, drink my water, find a really good book to throw myself into. Sometimes it’s as simple as remembering that I need to eat during the day, or doing things to nurture your soul and your heart and give yourself time to heal.”

In recovering, knowing and authentically experiencing any emotion is important.

“Even if it’s something you wanted, it is still painful,” said Devnich. “It’s good to feel those things and feel those feelings. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to go outside and yell, scream at the top of your lungs – go on a mountain and do that. But don’t push your feelings down. Don’t ignore it. Don’t engage in behaviors that are numbing, engage in behaviors that are soothing, but also help you process all the emotions that you’re feeling.”

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