When Lulu broke up with their ex, they were at a loss for how to deal with their emotions.

“I was just going along with what he wanted. It really messed with my head because I didn't feel like I could say no to anything he wanted.”

Now 18, they wish their younger self had some form of education to help them know what a healthy relationship should look like, and guide them through the fallout afterwards. They say it’s a topic that “should be way more talked about”.

Nearly nine in 10 young people who’ve been in a relationship have experienced relationship harm such as emotional abuse, according to research commissioned by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

The research also found that 68% of young people (16-24 year olds) have experienced harmful break-ups.

Harmful break-ups are defined as involving experiences such as depression, self-harm, substance abuse, revenge porn and violence.

The research discovered while emotionally abusive behaviour is most common, one in six have experienced ‘physical’ arguments, and 36% have stayed in relationships despite wanting to leave.

The need for better support and education around healthy relationships has led to the launch of Love Better, a campaign where people share stories of their bad break-ups to help others going through similar situations.

The Government-led initiative launched on Wednesday and encourages young people to ‘Own the Feels’. It’s one branch of the government’s bigger strategy – which was launched in 2021 – to eliminate family and sexual violence in Aotearoa.

“This approach hasn’t been trialled by any government around the world. New Zealand has shameful statistics of family and sexual violence and we need innovative approaches to break the cycle,” says Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment.

Ethan Tauevihi-Kahika, a Family Court Navigator and Youthline facilitator, says that when rangatahi don’t learn how to manage difficulties in their first relationships, this can lead to family and sexual violence in their adult relationships.

“They don't know how to deal with those big emotions like anger, sadness. The only way that people may think is a coping mechanism is to use violence, whether that's to each other or to themselves,” he says. 

“The better resourced they are to deal with their emotions, the better they'll be able to find more healthy ways of coping, as opposed to the default of going towards violence.”

The Love Better programme is using video, podcasts and other resources on social media, including TikTok and Instagram, with Youthline supporting the programme.

Ethan says he’ll be using these resources in his work with Youthline.

“I think there's a lot of power in going through something similar together. You're not the only one that has these types of feelings.”

Lulu says that hearing other young people’s stories with relationships and break-ups can help them learn constructive ways to deal with the complex emotions that come with intimate relationships, rather than power through a difficult experience alone.

“You don't necessarily need to go through a break-up to have those conversations. You just talk to someone about how their experience was and you can be like, ‘Wow, I would have done it a completely different way.’”

Where to get help:

  • The Love Better campaign is being supported by Youthline. People who need support can text lovebetter to 234, email lovebetter@youthline.co.nz, or phone their main support line on 0800 376 633
  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community. 

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