As we grow up, we learn a lot about health. Mostly about physical health, our bodies, how they work, how they break down, and how to heal. In recent years, the importance of mental health in these conversations has come into greater focus, which is absolutely critical, especially now.
However, missing from too many of our lessons is relationship health. Because we do not center conversations about or education on healthy relationships, the answers to questions like, “how do I advocate for what I need in a relationship?” or “how do I know if my partner is manipulating me?” often go unanswered and unasked. Because of our cultural stigma surrounding conversations like this, it can feel difficult or awkward to talk about unhealthy relationships. However, we must work to change these norms.
We know that, in the United States, one in three teens will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from someone they’re in a relationship with before they become adults, and nearly half (43%) of college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behaviors (https://www.loveisrespect.org/get-involved/tdvam/). These numbers are staggering, and we at SADD are committed to doing our part. For us, this means empowering young people to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships in order to keep themselves and their friends safe.
And, although it is Valentine’s Day and National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, it is important to evaluate and understand whether all our relationships are healthy, from significant others, to family and friends. Everyone deserves to feel loved and respected by the people in their lives.
Keep reading to learn about some key qualities that make a relationship healthy. Keep in mind that every relationship is different, but these are a good baseline to determine if your relationship is serving you.
When you trust someone, you can be more open and vulnerable with them, as well as more forgiving and understanding of shortcomings–and we all have them! Trust indicates a fundamental belief in someone’s character, and that they have your best interests at heart. However, trust is built over time! Click here for some trust exercises to build trust in your relationship.
Relationships should always be based on the premise of equality, meaning that both individuals' values, interests, and needs are equally represented and important, rather than one person’s needs or wants dominating the relationship. Equality in a relationship means that there is a fair balance of power and neither individual has undue authority over the other.
In an honest relationship, both parties are open and prepared to both tell and hear the truth to each other. It also means bringing your true self to the relationship, and not feeling the need to hide who you are, whether that is intended to deceive or to please your partner. You should be able to share openly about your feelings, thoughts, and opinions in a healthy relationship.
Consent is the active process of willingly and freely choosing to engage in activities of any kind with another person. Consent is often discussed in the context of sexual or physical activities, but it applies to any interaction and has to do with an individual's ability to freely make decisions for themselves. Affirming consent is the shared responsibility for everyone who wants to engage in the activities in question. Consent must be mutual, voluntary, sober, wanted, and enthusiastic! Click here for specific examples about what consent does and does not look like.
Boundaries are limits you set with your partner, and they can be about anything, whether sexual, emotional, digital, or beyond. You get to decide what you want to share in your relationships, and it is up to your partner to respect that rather than pressure you to change or make exceptions to your boundaries on their behalf. Learn more about setting boundaries here.
Respect encompasses all of the above. If you respect someone, it means that you trust and value them no matter what. Even in an argument, you will fight fair, not dirty, speak kindly, and always listen. A respectful relationship provides the space and freedom for both partners to grow and achieve their best selves, and to always be loved for who they are.
SADD Nation was founded on the basis of love and respect–because we love and respect the people in our communities, we know it is our responsibility to work to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy. This means not only behind the wheel or on the road, but also in our friendships, romantic relationships, and families. So, be intentional about building strong, healthy relationships in every facet of your life, and don’t forget to show up for your loved ones, today and every day. We love you!
The Relationship Spectrum, love is respect