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A healthy relationship is based on equality, mutual respect, shared responsibilities, and commitment. It involves open communication, trust, and healthy boundaries. These traits are not inherent in most relationships. They must be taught, practiced, and worked toward for the duration of the relationship.
Adolescence is a critical time in learning about and exploring relationships. It is important that parents and community members provide teens with the ability to identify and define the qualities of a healthy relationship—with friends as well as with dating partners.
Most teens can easily recognize and describe relationships involving overt physical abuse. However, it can be very challenging to identify the components of a healthy relationship. It is helpful for teens to have adults in their families and communities sharing information about and modeling aspects of healthy relationships.
Equality means that both people have the same rights and privileges in the relationship. Each person respects, trusts, and believes the other. Neither person sets rules for the relationship or for the other person. Decisions are made together and responsibilities are shared. While each person may have different interests, abilities, and goals, neither person considers themselves superior. Instead, these differences are appreciated and are seen as a valued part of the relationship.
Open communication is when each person feels safe bringing up concerns and knows that these concerns will not be minimized or ridiculed by the other person. Each partner accepts that conflict within the relationship is normal and will work through issues as they arise. Neither person tries to hide or lie about their feelings to protect the other person or avoid conflict. Weaknesses are not taken advantage of or used during the ‘heat of the moment.’ Differences in opinions may be challenged but are respected. Neither person always or never gets their way.
Boundaries are the limits a person establishes for him or herself. These may be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature. Each person’s boundaries are discussed and identified in the relationship to avoid them from being crossed (for example, not showing affection in public because one person is uncomfortable with this behavior). For a relationship to be healthy, both individuals must respect each other’s boundaries. Boundaries may change across the course of the relationship and it is important to communicate these changes as they occur.
Educate yourself on components of healthy relationships. Being able to discuss the components of healthy relationships with teens in your family or community group offers hope and promise as they learn that they do not have to accept or repeat abusive behaviors in current and future relationships.