All healthy relationships – whether they are friendship, roommate or romantic – have similar characteristics. Consider the following list when thinking about your own relationships. Not all of these characteristics need to be present for a healthy relationship but many are important components.
In a healthy relationship, you:
- Treat each other with respect
- Feel secure and comfortable
- Are not violent with each other
- Can resolve conflicts satisfactorily
- Enjoy the time you spend together
- Support one another
- Take interest in one another’s lives: health, family, work, etc.
- Have privacy in the relationship
- Can trust each other
- Are each sexual by choice
- Communicate clearly and openly
- Have letters, phone calls, and e-mail that are your own
- Make healthy decisions about alcohol or other drugs
- Encourage other friendships
- Are honest about your past and present sexual activity if the relationship is intimate
- Know that most people in your life are happy about the relationship
- Have more good times in the relationship than bad
The characteristics of a healthy relationship fall into four main categories:
Learning about and valuing what is important to each other.
Being candid about thoughts, feelings, and the desired direction of the relationship will allow both you and your partner the opportunity to simultaneously explore yourselves and the relationship.
Over time, trusting your partner will be necessary for a healthy relationship, but in the beginning trust is not automatic – it has to be earned. Always trust yourself to be who you are and to look out for your well-being. It is important to remember that trust is hard to earn but easy to destroy.
Communication is equal parts listening and speaking. When you and your partner are communicating, try to make them feel justified in their emotions. Repeat what is said as you understand it and ask if you understand the situation correctly. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Be as clear and direct as possible.
In an unhealthy relationship, one or both of you:
- Try to control or manipulate the other
- Make the other feel bad about themselves
- Ridicule or call names
- Dictate how the other dresses
- Do not make time for each other
- Criticize the other’s friends
- Are afraid of the other’s temper
- Discourage the other from being close with anyone else
- Ignore each other when one is speaking
- Are overly possessive or get jealous about ordinary behavior
- Criticize or support others in criticizing people by their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other personal attributes
- Control the other’s money or resources (e.g., car)
- Harm or threaten to harm children, family, pets, or objects of personal value
- Push, grab, hit, punch, or throw objects
- Use physical force or threats against the other
- Blackmail the other from leaving the relationship
Sometimes it’s not so easy to decide if a troublesome tie should be maintained the way it is, worked on, or ended before it goes any further. One thing to consider is if the relationship was ever different than it is now. Is there something stressful happening that could be impacting the way you interact? Maybe money is tight, you’ve moved, you are looking for work, are dealing with a difficult family circumstance, or are going through some other kind of transition. Or maybe there are problems from a while back that were never resolved, and are now resurfacing. What in particular is bothering you, and what would you like to see change? Talk over these questions with each other, or with someone you trust, like a friend, parent, or counselor. Think about what, if anything, you can each do to make the other feel more comfortable in the relationship.
If a partner is harming you or your loved ones emotionally, physically, or sexually, it’s time to seek help. Relationship violence (link page) is a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors that include physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Relationship violence happens to people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, classes, ages and abilities.
There are a lot of resources available to help you. You deserve to feel safe, valued, and cared for. You have the right to leave any relationship where you feel unsafe or on edge. Perhaps the most important thing to do is to trust your instincts and the people close to you whose opinions you trust and value. Keep in mind that one of the strongest signs of a healthy relationship is that both people involved feel good about themselves. Also, by treating yourself with self-respect and believing in your right to be treated well, you are taking important steps towards developing equitable, mutually fulfilling ties in the future.