Adolescence and young adulthood are opportunities to get to know yourself, explore who you are, try on different identities and develop your interests.
While it is common to date, it might feel tricky to determine if your romantic relationships are healthy, unhealthy or somewhere in between.
You are not supposed to have all of the answers about relationships, but you can begin to learn what works for you through your peers, family, community and own dating experiences. It is helpful to learn from trusted adults and to trust your gut if your relationship does not feel right.
Sometimes it takes trial and error to learn what works in dating or which partners offer you safety and love. Taking time to get to know each other and avoiding rushing into sexual experiences early on will help you form a healthy relationship from the start.
What makes a relationship healthy?
Mutual respect, support, open communication, fun, compatibility, honesty, trust and happiness are some of the essential ingredients in healthy relationships. When a relationship is healthy, both partners generally feel good about themselves and are encouraged by their partner to go after their goals and dreams.
In a healthy relationship, you will feel you can openly express yourself to your partner, be authentic and not keep your emotions bottled up. Your partner will support you during the ups and downs of life, as well as be someone who you can laugh, smile and have fun with.
He or she will be there to celebrate your successes, will listen attentively when you share about your day and will be a shoulder to cry on after an argument with your parents.
A healthy relationship is not all play without work. In fact, difficulties are unavoidable in intimate relationships.
The key to a healthy relationship is effectively handling the expected struggles and disagreements that naturally arise. With honest communication, mutual commitment and good listening skills, a couple in a healthy relationship perseveres during times of conflict and generally feels closer once issues are resolved.
Managing your expectations
Realistic expectations play a huge role in making your relationship happy and healthy.
While pop culture might romanticize relationships and make you believe the right partner will take all of your pain away and make your worries vanish, you will be the healthiest version of yourself and a great partner if you do not put your own happiness in the hands of anyone else.
While your partner should support you and lift you up, it is unrealistic to assume your partner is responsible for your happiness. Instead expect to be there for each other, but most importantly, be there for yourself first.
Taking care of yourself
Relationships are the healthiest when you take care of yourself in and outside of the relationship. It is important to think about what brings you happiness and make time for your interests, hobbies, goals and values.
For instance, if you love to dance and your partner enjoys being on the debate team, your relationship will be stronger if you both invest time in your separate interests.
Think about all of the aspects of your life that were important to you prior to your relationship (friends, family, pets, community, hobbies, academics, etc.) and resist giving them up once you are in a relationship. Although it is tempting to spend every second together, healthy relationships require time apart.
Is your relationship healthy?
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not a relationship is healthy or is worth fighting for. You might enjoy some moments with your partner, but you also might fantasize about ending your relationship. As a general rule, if your relationship does not feel right, it probably isn’t.
In healthy relationships, there is no abuse, violence, lying or manipulation. There is no pressure to have sex or to do anything you do not want to, such as use alcohol or drugs.
While relationships require compromise, your partner should never disrespect you, threaten you or force you into anything when you say no.
A healthy partner will respect your boundaries, adore you for who you are and not try to change you. A healthy partner will not make your relationship all about sex and instead will enjoy spending time with you that is nonsexual in nature. You will make decisions together and be respected and so will your friends and family.
Other red flags and warning signs
Be aware of a partner who degrades you, brings out your insecurities, insults you and does not support you.
Also steer clear of boyfriends or girlfriends who are possessive, jealous and controlling. A healthy partner will not control your behaviors, actions, time, clothing or other relationships, isolate you from others or insist on knowing where you are or who you are with at all times.
In a healthy relationship, you will be able to be independent, socialize with friends, develop your own interests and have freedom to be yourself.
Navigating breakups and getting support
You should never have to convince yourself to stay with someone who does not treat you well, puts you down or causes you to feel scared or unworthy. Although walking away from someone you once cared for can be painful and sad, you should not stay in a relationship out of fear, to please your partner or because it feels as though there are no other options.
Breakups can be devastating, uncomfortable and overwhelming, but with time to grieve and support from your loved ones, you will get through it.
In dark moments, you might feel alone. However, it is important to remember there are always people and resources to help you.
There is no shame in speaking up, asking for help, talking to a mental health professional or joining a support group. In fact, it shows tremendous strength, courage and bravery to protect yourself and ask for help.
For more support and resources on how to navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships, I urge you to spend some time exploring loveisrespect, Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Break the Cycle.
As parents, you have a powerful role in teaching your teens about dating and relationships. You serve as a model, as well as a key person your teen can turn to for support and guidance.
It is vital that you are available to listen without shaming your teen because it can feel embarrassing for teens to ask their parents for help.
You can also teach your teen how they should expect to be treated in a relationship through an open dialogue and modeling healthy relationship behavior in your relationships. For example, you can demonstrate healthy communication strategies, give your partner and children your undivided attention when they are speaking and treat others with respect and love.
You can take technology out of the picture and set aside time for your partner to keep your own relationship healthy and illustrate how your teen also can make his or her relationship healthy.
Most importantly, help your teen cultivate self-love and self-esteem so they will attract the happy and healthy relationship they deserve.
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