Each romantic relationship is one-of-a-kind.
What worked for you in a previous relationship, or what works for your friend, might not be good for you and your bae. In fact, supposedly happy couples on TV and in films often act in damaging ways. So when it comes to your relationship, it’s probably better to not keep up with the Kardashians! Instead, use these six guidelines to make sure you have a healthy relationship.
1. You are kind to and trust each other.
Sometimes it’s harder to bare your feelings than your bod! It’s natural to be a bit uncertain at the beginning of a new relationship (especially if it’s your first!). But as you get to know each other, you should be able to trust your partner. Trust means knowing that your partner has your back and vice versa. A huge part of trust is knowing and respecting both of your boundaries. When your partner is out with friends, you don’t need them to text you play-by-play updates. You don’t get jealous or assume they’re cheating on you if they hang out alone with someone else, and neither do they. You don’t need each other’s passwords to build trust. Everyone needs their personal space, and trust means that you respect that.
2. You communicate dreams, desires, and fears.
You talk about what you both want from your relationship, and what your expectations are of each other. When you are freaking out, you can talk without fear that the other will dismiss, ignore, or make fun of you. You understand that neither of you is a mind reader. You explain what’s upsetting you rather than assuming your partner should know what you’re thinking. When you’re stressed out, you don’t let an issue simmer for weeks. You talk about it. This doesn’t mean that you never disagree – it would be weird if you didn’t! But when you do, you don’t resort to name calling or intentionally hurting each other, and you definitely don’t get “handsy”! If the disagreement gets too intense (which can happen), you take a step back until you can cool down and come back to the conversation ready to really hear what your bae has to say. You might argue every now and then, but you have way more good times than bad times.
3. You have your own friends, activities, and identity outside of your relationship.
The beginning of a relationship is exciting, and you may want to spend all of your time together. It’s easy to let other friendships and interests take a back seat during this time, but your relationship can’t be your everything. That puts too much pressure on your partner and can be suffocating. Instead, you each have your own interests and friendships. You spend time apart, meaning (again) that you are not constantly texting. Remember: Spending time away from each other can strengthen a relationship. It builds trust and lets you grow independently. After all, even crazy glue needs time alone to dry!
4. You support each other, even when things change.
You and your partner have each other’s back. When life gets crazy, your bae helps you get through it. Your relationship may change as a result which (OMG!) can be scary, but instead of freaking out and letting the fear of change control you, you work through it and support each other’s goals. You recognize the other’s need to grow and want them to be the best that they can be.
5. You give each other a break!
You compromise. Since you and your special someone will never agree on everything, it’s important to cut each other some slack! Your relationship is made up of equal “give and take” from both of you, even though there are times when one of you needs to lean on the other emotionally. In the end, you both recognize and appreciate the other’s compromises. That said, your partner would never ask you to change what’s important to you (school, friendships, your feelings on sex). They don’t ask you to text them a nude photo because you chose the rom-com last night. That is not a compromise, that is coercive – and it’s not ok! Understand what compromises you’re making and always stay within your comfort zone.
6. You’re flying first class together, not riding a roller coaster.
Your relationship should be a safe space that energizes you and lets you deal with life knowing you have someone on your side. Sure, a relationship takes work (remember all that communication, support, and compromise?), but it shouldn’t be draining. You don’t need to go on expensive dates to enjoy each other’s company. Instead, just being together makes you happy—cuddling and laughing, listening to music, taking a walk together. Yes, relationships can be intense, but they should ultimately be comfortable. Despite what popular shows and movies have taught us, relationships should not be a roller coaster of emotions where you feel like every issue is life or death. Instead, relationships should be more like flying first class—a smooth ride without much turbulence. If yours is filled with drama (high highs and low lows, constantly breaking up and getting back together), really think about whether that partner is right for you.
Of course, no one is perfect. Both you and your partner may fail to check off every single item on this list 100% of the time. However, a healthy relationship will still generally follow these principles. Ultimately it’s about figuring out what makes you and your partner genuinely happy.
Linda Escobar Olszewski, PsyD is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.