A relationship should be a source of joy, support and friendship and should not cause anxiety, insecurity or isolation. This information will help you understand the foundations of healthy relationships and recognize the signs of an unhealthy one.
- Emotional Responsibility - Each person is responsible for their happiness and sense of self-worth.
- Mutual Respect - Each partner should respect the other in words and actions. Boundaries should be established and honored.
- Trust - Trust creates a safe connection between partners where each is affirmed by the other. Partners who trust each other do not feel threatened by successes or joys but rather encourage the growth and success of their partner.
- Honesty - Honesty goes hand-in-hand with trust. You should not have to lie or hide things from your partner in a healthy relationship.
- Support - In a healthy relationship, your partner should provide a shoulder to cry on during tough times and celebrate with you during good times.
- Equality - Relationships are about "give and take." One person should not be fighting to get their way all of the time.
- Separate Identities - A healthy relationship allows each partner to take personal time, explore their interests and spend time with friends outside of the relationship.
- Open Communication - Each partner should feel safe discussing their desires, expectations, needs and limits. Both partners should feel free to express themselves and talk through conflicts.
While healthy relationships are based on mutual respect, understanding, compassion and individuality, unhealthy relationships are usually based on power and control. Unhealthy relationships can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Signs of an unhealthy relationship
Sometimes, unhealthy relationships can even become abusive.
There are many signs of an unhealthy relationship. It is not healthy if you or your partner:
- Is consistently inconsiderate, disrespectful or distrustful.
- Is possessive or jealous.
- Trying to emotionally or financially control the other.
- Keeping the other from getting a job or getting the other fired.
- Humiliates the other online or in front of friends.
- Threatens to out the other to family.
- Is jealous of time spent alone or with friends and family.
- Constantly criticizes their ideas or appearance.
If your partner demonstrates any of the following behaviors, seek help immediately.
- Has an explosive temper.
- Pinches, slaps, pushes or grabs you.
- Forces or intimidates you into sexual activity.
- Blames you for their anger.
- Makes you feel afraid.
If your partner has become emotionally or physically abusive, we encourage you to access the resources below. You do not have to go through this alone.
- If you feel that you are in danger, call 911 immediately.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.7233.
Even the healthiest of relationships will experience conflict at times. Conflict can strengthen a relationship as long as it is resolved constructively with respect for both partners. Differences of opinion can stir up many emotions, such as anger or hurt. These emotions are normal and should not become a problem if both partners communicate with respect.
- Remain calm. Try not to overreact to a problematic situation. Your partner will be more likely to consider and understand your viewpoint when you remain calm.
- Express feelings in words, not actions. If you start to feel so angry or upset that you think you may lose control, take a time out and do something to help yourself feel calm: take a walk, do some deep breathing, play with the dog or write in your journal.
- Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on and can lead to miscommunication.
- Deal with only one issue at a time. Don't introduce other topics until each case is thoroughly discussed.
- No hitting below the belt. Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger and vulnerability.
- Avoid accusations. Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone's actions made you feel.
- Try not to generalize. Avoid words like "never" or "always." Such generalizations are usually inaccurate and will heighten tensions.
- Avoid make-believe. Exaggerating or inventing a complaint will prevent the real issues from surfacing. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
- Don't stockpile your complaints. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
- Avoid clamming up. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result. However, if you feel overwhelmed or shutting down, you may need to take a break from the discussion. Just tell your partner that you will return to the conversation as soon as possible, and then don't forget to follow up.
- Establish standard ground rules. You may even want to ask your partner to read and discuss this Information with you. When both people accept favorable common ground rules for managing a conflict, resolution becomes more likely.
- Before you begin, ask yourself, "What exactly is bothering me? What do I want the other person to do or not do? Are my feelings in proportion to the issue?"
- Identify your goals before you begin. What are the possible outcomes that could be acceptable to you?
- Remember that the idea is not to win but to come to a mutually satisfying solution.
- Set a time for a discussion with the other person, and it should be as soon as possible but agreeable to both persons. Springing a conversation on someone unprepared may leave them feeling like they have to fend off an attack. If you encounter resistance to setting a time, try to help the other person see that the problem is important.
- State the problem clearly. At first, try to stick to the facts; then, once you've stated the facts, communicate your feelings. Use "I" messages to describe feelings of anger, hurt or disappointment. Avoid "you" messages, such as, "You make me angry." Instead, try something like, "I feel angry when you..."
- Invite the other person to share their point of view. Be careful not to interrupt and genuinely try to hear their concerns and feelings. Try to restate what you heard in a way that lets your partner know you fully understand and ask your partner to do the same for you.
- Try to see the problem through their eyes. The opposing viewpoint can make sense to you, even if you disagree with it.
- Propose specific solutions and invite the other person to propose solutions, too.
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal.
- Be willing to compromise. Allowing the other person only one option will make it difficult to resolve the concern. When you reach an agreement on a way forward, celebrate! Decide together to check in, discuss how things are working and make changes to your contract, if necessary. If no solution has been reached regarding the original problem, schedule a time to revisit the issue and continue the discussion.
Rights and responsibilities
- To always be treated with respect.
- To be in a healthy relationship.
- To not be physically, sexually or emotionally abused.
- To enjoy friends and activities apart from my romantic partner.
- To express me honestly.
- To recognize my culture and identities.
- To determine my values and set limits.
- To decide what I share and with whom.
- To say no.
- To feel safe.
- To be treated as an equal.
- To feel comfortable being me.
- To leave or stay.
- To communicate my values and limits.
- To respect my romantic partner's boundaries, values, feelings and privacy.
- To accept my romantic partner's culture and identities.
- To not physically, sexually or emotionally abuse.
- To listen.
- To be considerate.
- To communicate clearly, honestly and respectfully.
- To give my romantic partner space to enjoy activities and friendships outside of our relationship.
- To not exert power or control in relationships.
- To compromise when needed.
- To admit to being wrong when appropriate.
- To ask for help from friends, family and mentors.
One of the keys to having a healthy relationship is maintaining good communication. The following tips and guidelines should help facilitate positive communication between you and your partner.
- Wait for the right time. If something is bothering you and you'd like to talk to your partner about it, make sure that you bring it up at an appropriate time. Wait to speak to your partner in person and when they are not doing anything important. Avoid interruptions by talking to your partner privately unless you do not feel safe. Try not to start a serious conversation with your partner when they are going to sleep or stressed about something else.
- Watch your body language. Show your partner that you are listening and engaged by maintaining eye contact, sitting up straight and not answering your phone or texts. Don't cross your arms, sigh or roll your eyes.
- Check your wording. Sometimes the way we frame a discussion can impact how people understand us. People immediately become defensive and less receptive when they believe that they're under attack. To avoid this sort of interaction, try using phrases that begin with "we" and "I" instead of "you." For example, instead of saying, "You have been distant with me," you may instead choose to say, "I feel as if we haven't been as close lately."
- Take a moment. Step back and take a breather before you start the conversation. You might even want to wait a day or two to assess your feelings about the issue you wish to address.
- Let it go once the conversation is over and the issue is resolved. Holding onto past wrongs can cause resentment and bitterness.
For more Information and tips on healthy communication in relationships, please visit loveisrespect.org.
Content adapted from the following sources: Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin: Fighting Fair to Resolve Conflict McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (1983).; MESSAGES: The Communication Book. Oakland, CA: NewHarbinger Publications.; University of Florida Counseling & Wellness Center.