Relationships that occur in the teen years may affect dating relationships later in life. The lessons teens learn today about respect and what is right or wrong may carry over into future relationships. So it is important for teens to recognize healthy relationships.
A healthy relationship is free from physical, emotional, and sexual violence. Qualities like respect, good communication, and honesty are important parts of a healthy relationship. Educating teens about the importance and value of respect (both respect for oneself and respect for other people) may enable them to form healthy relationships before they start to date—to prevent dating violence before it starts.
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of respect. Respect is a choice, and when you give it, you are more likely to get it in return. It is important for teens to learn how to treat others the way they want to be treated. Teens also need to recognize that when respect is absent, their relationships may turn from healthy to unhealthy.
The following are characteristics of a healthy dating relationship:
- Mutual respect. Respect means that each person values who the other is and understands the other person’s boundaries.
- Trust. Partners should choose to trust in each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
- Honesty. When a dating partner lies, it takes time to rebuild that trust in him or her. Honesty builds trust and strengthens the relationship.
- Compromise. In a dating relationship, each partner does not always get his or her way. They should acknowledge different points of view and be willing to give and take.
- Individuality. Each partner should not have to compromise who they are, and his or her identity should not be based on their partner’s. Partners should each continue seeing his or her friends or doing the things that he or she loves. They should be supportive if their partner wants to pursue new hobbies or make new friends.
- Good communication. Each partner should speak honestly and openly to avoid miscommunication. If a partner needs to sort out his or her feelings first, their partner should respect those wishes and wait until they are ready to talk.
- Anger control. We all get angry, but how we express it can affect our relationships with others. Anger can be handled in healthy ways such as taking a deep breath, counting to 10, or talking it out.
- Problem solving. Dating partners can learn to solve problems and identify new solutions by breaking a problem into small parts or by talking through the situation.
- Fighting fair. Everyone argues at some point, but if you stick to the subject and avoid insults you are more likely to come up with a possible solution. Partners should take a short break away from each other if the discussion gets too heated.
- Understanding. Each partner should take time to understand what the other might be feeling by putting themselves in their shoes.
- Self-confidence. When dating partners have confidence in themselves, it can help their relationships with others. It shows that they are calm and comfortable enough to allow others to express their opinions without forcing their own opinions on them.
- Being a role model. By embodying what respect means, partners can inspire each other, friends, and family to choose respect, too.
An unhealthy relationship has an imbalance in which one partner tries to exercise control and power over the other through threats, emotional/verbal abuse, or physical or sexual violence.
The following qualities may be signs of an unhealthy dating relationship.
- Control. One dating partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with.
- Dependence. One dating partner feels that he or she “cannot live without” the other. He or she may threaten to do something drastic if the relationship ends.
- Dishonesty. One dating partner lies to or keeps information from the other. One dating partner steals from the other.
- Disrespect. One dating partner makes fun of the opinions and interests of the other partner. He or she may destroy something that belongs to the other dating partner.
- Hostility. One dating partner conflicts with or antagonizes the other dating partner. This may lead the other dating partner to “walk on eggshells” to avoid upsetting the other.
- Intimidation. One dating partner tries to control aspects of the other’s life by making the other partner fearful or timid. One dating partner may attempt to keep his or her partner from friends and family or threaten violence or a break-up.
- Physical violence. One partner uses force to get his or her way (such as hitting, slapping, grabbing, or shoving).
- Sexual violence. One dating partner pressures or forces the other into sexual activity against his/her will without consent.
If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, you should be able to talk to your partner about your concerns. If you feel like you can’t talk to your partner, try talking to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Call the DASAS crisis line and talk with an advocate to get more information, support, explore your options and/or discuss safety planning.
Click here to download a teen safety plan.
Click here to download the Dater’s Bill of Rights.