As you get older, your relationships with friends and family will change. That’s normal. You’ll probably begin to think about dating and romantic relationships, too. Romantic relationships can feel complicated, exciting and overwhelming all at once. That’s ok! Healthy relationships can be hard for anyone. If you’ve seen unhealthy or abusive relationships in your home, relationships may be especially complicated. Talk to a trusted adult, like a teacher, healthcare provider or counselor.
There are lots of ways to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship. However, there are some fundamental building blocks that belong in EVERY relationship. Here, we mostly talk about romantic relationships. However, you can use this guide in your relationships with friends and family members, too!
Healthy relationships are based on respect. Respect means that you don’t just see your partner as a way to get something that you want. Instead, you know that your partner is a whole person just like you. You understand that they have their own opinions, values and life experiences. You both respect each other’s boundaries (more on that below).
When you respect your partner, you don’t try to change them. This means you don’t try to control how they dress, what music they listen to, what clubs they belong to, or what they believe. Your partner shouldn’t try to change you, either. They should appreciate you for who you are.
Boundaries are the lines that divide what we’re ok with from what we’re not ok with. They’re important because they help us stay true to ourselves. They also keep us separate from the people around us. This lets us grow as unique individuals.
Everybody has different boundaries. Your boundaries will probably change over time. This is all normal and ok.
Your boundaries might be different from your partner’s. That’s ok! Just like you deserve to have your boundaries respected, your partner deserves to have their boundaries respected too.
Here are some examples of common boundaries:
- Keeping passwords private: You deserve to message others without worrying that someone will look at your conversations. You also deserve to post what you want on social media without your partner controlling it.
- Asking before going to someone’s house: This shows that you respect their time and privacy. You recognize that other people have a life outside of the time you spend together.
- Spending time apart from each other: It may be tempting to spend all your time with your partner, especially if you’re in a new relationship. But spending time apart lets you both grow as individuals and pursue your own hobbies, goals and dreams. It also lets you keep up with your own friends and spend time with family.
- Boundaries related to sex and physical touch: Everyone has different boundaries when it comes to sex and physical touch. Think through what you’re comfortable with and not comfortable with before things get sexy. This way, you’re not trying to make a decision in the moment. You might find our practical guide to consent helpful.
Violating someone’s physical boundaries can be painful, triggering and deeply upsetting. It’s never ok to ignore your partner’s boundaries, make them feel bad about their boundaries, or pressure them to change their boundaries. In turn, you deserve to have your boundaries respected. We talk more about consent below. Remember that you don’t need to justify or explain your boundaries to others.
We talk about how to think through your boundaries here.
Consent is maybe the most important part of sex (of all kinds). Even if you’re not having sex right now, consent is important for other kinds of physical touch. It means freely, enthusiastically agreeing to something—in this case, sexual activity. In a healthy relationship, both partners understand and respect consent. After all, unwanted touch can feel violating, triggering and painful. Your partner and you should care about getting consent before any sexual activity, and respect each other’s boundaries. They shouldn’t pressure you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with, and you shouldn’t pressure them.
Consent is all about making sure that everyone feels good and is treated the way they want to be treated. It’s not a word or lack thereof—it’s a conversation.
There’s a lot that goes into consent. Check out our practical guide to giving, getting and understanding consent.
In a healthy relationship, both partners trust each other. This means that you both feel safe with each other. You don’t need to know what your partner is doing all the time, because you trust they’re being honest with you. You also don’t get overly jealous of your partner or try to control their behavior.
Trust isn’t necessarily something that you’ll feel right away. Instead, you build trust over time as you get to know each other.
Trust can apply to a lot of different areas of your life. For example, you trust your partner to…
- Show up for you when you need a shoulder to lean on.
- Show up for you to celebrate winning a big game or getting a new job.
- Not make fun of your goals, desires, fears or dreams.
- Do what they say they will (like follow through with plans you make together).
- Be honest with you.
- Keep your secrets.
When someone breaks your trust by lying, cheating or not being there for you, it can hurt. It might be hard to trust someone again. That’s normal. Be patient with yourself. Remember that it’s not ok to use your own insecurity to try to control your partner’s behavior.
You and your significant other have an equal say in your relationship. For example, you hang out with both your friend groups and switch off who chooses the movie. Neither partner should have more power in the relationship than the other.
Equality usually involves compromise. Compromise is when you both give up something to create a solution that works for both of you. When you compromise, you don’t get exactly what you want. For example, you really want to eat pizza, but your significant other has a craving for Mexican. A compromise would be getting Indian food instead of either. Or, eating pizza today and Mexican the next time.
No one should ask you to compromise on your core values and boundaries. For example, it’s not ok for your partner to ask to touch you a certain way because they drove you home from work. This is NOT ok, and is a major red flag.
Effective communication is a super important part of every relationship. Communicating can be hard though, especially when you’re sad, angry or upset.
Good, healthy communication means you and your partner:
- Are honest about your feelings, even when you’re upset.
- Listen to what the other has to say.
- Are fair. You don’t try to hurt your partner’s feelings when you have a disagreement. You know that it’s ok to disagree.
- Use “I” statements, such as “When you don’t call me back, I feel uncared for,” or, “I feel overwhelmed when you message me multiple times in a row.”
No one is perfect. Communication takes practice. It’s normal to sometimes keep what you’re feeling to yourself, snap at someone when you’re upset, or say something you don’t mean. You can take responsibility by apologizing and making a commitment to do better next time.
Your partner doesn’t make fun of you, call you names, or do things to purposefully hurt you. Instead, you are both kind to each other. You think about each other’s feelings.
Remember you are not alone.
Take a look at our page on unhealthy and abusive relationships. Do any of the behaviors there look familiar? If so, talk to someone you trust about what’s going on. Use the next steps and resources we list there to help you decide what to do next.
If you don’t think your relationship is abusive but you’re not sure it’s healthy, talk to someone you trust. They may have some insight into it. If you feel safe and comfortable, you may want to have a conversation with your significant other about what you’ve noticed and how you’d like the relationship to change. Use those communication strategies we mention above!
Remember that you don’t need a reason to end a relationship.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.