We have many different kinds of relationships during their lifetime. From the moment that someone is born, they may have relationships with their parent/caregiver, relationships with siblings and other family members, relationships with friends, relationships with teachers, relationships with dating or intimate partners, etc. Past experiences and relationships may shape expectations for future connections. We hope that experiences in early life set the stage for healthy dating relationships later in life, because everyone deserves to have safe and healthy relationships. All relationships exist on a spectrum, from healthy to unhealthy to abusive.i It can sometimes be challenging to determine where a relationship falls on that spectrum, because healthy relationship qualities can vary greatly from the social and cultural messages that we receive.
Healthy relationships are built on foundations of equality, respect, trust, communication, honesty, and other positive qualities. In healthy relationships, everyone’s needs are addressed equally, instead of one person’s needs being met over another’s. People get to make decisions about themselves, and have equal access to decision-making power within the relationship. These, of course, include decisions about sex. In healthy relationships, people enjoy spending time together, but are also happy to be apart. Everyone in relationships can choose their own friends, and maintain relationships with those friends. In a healthy relationship, everyone’s feelings and opinions are respected.
Unhealthy relationships are based on attempts to control another person or people. In an unhealthy relationship, a person might feel pressured to only spend time with their partner. Their boundaries may not be respected. Abusive relationships are based on power and control, and can include accusations, blame shifting, isolation, manipulation, and violence. It is important to know that abuse is always a choice, and there is never a reason to act abusively. No one ever does anything to “deserve” violence or abuse, and the only thing that puts someone at risk of experiencing abuse is another person’s decision to act abusively.
No matter where a relationship lands on the spectrum, it is always possible to work towards building healthier relationships. Sometimes, like in the case of abuse, ending a relationship is the healthiest choice that a person can make. Everyone deserves to have healthy and safe relationships in their lives.