What does a healthy relationship look like? This TED speaker wants you to know

Nine years ago, Katie Hood got a phone call no one ever expects — a best friend's cousin had just died. Her boyfriend had beaten her to death.

The victim was Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old lacrosse player who was three weeks shy of graduating from the University of Virginia. None of her family had seen any sign that Love was in an abusive relationship.

They realized that was a problem.

Love's mother went on to found the New York-based One Love Foundation, which Hood has been heading for the past five years. The organization teaches children and adults about unhealthy relationship behaviour, like extreme jealousy and manipulation.

"Our goal is to get ahead of abuse," Hood said a few hours after her talk at the annual TED conference in Vancouver. "I do think that abuse sneaks up on you disguised as unhealthy love."

Hood is one of a handful of people at the conference who want people to learn how to create healthy, meaningful relationships — a skill they say too few people learn.

"Relationships are not something that we should all be so on the fly about," Hood said.

Breaking the cycle of abuse

One Love spreads its message through online videos and in-person workshops, which to date have been delivered to more than 650,000 people around the world.

The training applies to people of all ages, Hood says, but One Love focuses its efforts on children and young adults in order to keep them from passing on unhealthy behaviour to their children, and thus break the cycle of abuse.

Bret Hartman/TED

The goal is to get participants thinking critically about what does and doesn't make a healthy relationship, and to recognize negative behaviour. 

The organization wants to do for abusive behaviour what Mothers Against Drunk Driving did for deaths by intoxicated drivers: reduce the numbers by half over the course of one generation.

Hood calls abusive relationships in the U.S. a "public health crisis." One in four men and one in three women will experience an abusive relationship at some point in their lives, she says.

"Emotional abuse is an equal opportunity offender," she said. "Women deploy it as much as men."

Love and kindness

Hood's talk resonated with author Mandy Len Catron, who wrote the runaway hit New York Times article How to Fall in Love with Anyone, and a book of essays by the same name.

Catron, who is attending the TED conference this week, writes an advice column about love and is working on a new book about kindness.

"When we're in a relationship where we do not receive kindness it's very difficult for us to offer kindness."

Maryse Zeidler/CBC

Catron agrees with Hood's premise that relationships — romantic or otherwise — shouldn't be something that people just slip into. She advises people to really think about who they chose to spend their time with.

"I think really the best thing that you can do … is to make those choices really thoughtfully," she said.

Healthy mindset

That's advice that Dawoon Kang, CEO of dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, agrees can help people find healthy relationships.

Kang, who was supposed to be at the TED conference this week but was unable to attend for health reasons, advises people who are dating to make mindful choices.

"I think the mindset that you have going into dating is probably the most important thing that you can take some time thinking about," she said over the phone.

Kang also emphasizes engaging in a healthy relationship with dating apps. Whereas some apps like Tinder supply daters with a seemingly endless supply of potential mates, hers only sends users a few select matches per day.

"It's very easy to get sucked into the infinity pool of information. You can just sit for hours browsing stuff, and I don't think that's healthy," she said.