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Healthy relationships

Healthy relationships are about respect, honesty, trust and communication. They should make you feel good about yourself and the other person. 

All healthy relationships have ups and downs. Learning how to talk openly and move through the downs together can make your relationship stronger. 

There are no set rules when it comes to finding out what type of relationship will work for you. But violence, abuse and controlling behaviour are never part of a healthy relationship. 

What is a healthy relationship?

There are many types of relationships. You may be married, living together, in a long-distance relationship, a casual relationship or an open relationship. Or you may be having a relationship without sex. As long as you and your partner/s are happy with your choices they can form the basis of a healthy relationship. 

While relationships may vary, healthy ones are usually based on relationships are usually based on respect, honesty, trust and communication.  

Relationships can be hard! How can I tell if I’m in a healthy relationship?

Most long-term relationships go through some or all of these stages: infatuation, disagreements and power struggles, accepting and appreciating each other’s differences, and understanding our own behaviour. 

But relationships don’t move through these stages in order. Think of them as going in cycles. You can be in any one or more of the stages at any time, but it is important to try to learn from previous cycles. 

Talking honestly and openly as you move through these stages can lead to stability, commitment and contentment, and are signs of a healthy relationship. 

What are the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship?

There are some things that should never exist in a relationship.  

The following signs will help you identify if you are in an abusive relationship (sometimes called a toxic relationship): 

Your partner is: 

  • constantly putting you down, being critical, judgemental or undermining you 

  • constantly pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do (sexual or otherwise) 

  • being jealous or possessive 

  • trying to control different parts of your life (such as who you see and what you wear). 

You are: 

  • changing your behaviour because you’re afraid of what your partner might do or say 

  • feeling unable to go out and see your friends without the other person being angry, sad or jealous 

  • made to feel guilty for the choices that you make 

  • feeling less confident about yourself because of remarks or criticism from your partner. 

What should I do if I’m in an abusive relationship?

Recognising you’re being abused is often the hardest step. The next thing is to tell someone. Think of a friend, relative or teacher who will be supportive and can help you work out what support is available to you. Looking online for support or calling a helpline are good places to start. A healthcare professional or counsellor can also offer confidential advice. 

Let's talk about healthy relationships!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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When relationships go wrong: How can I deal with disagreements?

Here are some tips for discussing issues with your partner: 

  • give the other person space to speak – good communication is about talking and listening 

  • when it’s your turn to talk, be as honest and clear as you can 

  • ask questions to show that you’re considering your partners’ view 

  • use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. For example: “I feel left out when you don’t include me”, instead of “You always leave me out of conversations”. 

Sex and relationships: Do you have to have sex in a relationship?

Deciding whether to have sex is a personal decision. In a healthy relationship, you should be able to respect one another’s decisions about sex, whatever stage you’re at. Remember that both you and your partner need to want and consent to sex. If you are feeling pressured to have sex with your partner or pressuring them to have sex it could be the sign of an unhealthy relationship. 

If you decide you want to have sex it’s important to understand how to protect yourself and your partner from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV

Find out more about consent in relationships

Should I end my relationship?

It can be hard to know if and when to end a relationship. If you’ve tried to talk things through with your partner and still feel upset a lot of the time, it could be a sign that your relationship has run its course. 

How do I help someone in an abusive relationship?

If someone tells you they are being abused, listen to them and don’t judge. Help them think through their options. These situations can be complicated. You don't have to have all the answers, but it's important that the person knows that you are there for them and will support them. 
  
If you suspect that someone is in an unhealthy relationship, find a gentle way of asking them about it. Often, people in bad relationships find it hard talk. They may believe that it's their fault or feel embarrassed about how they are treated. 

It's important that you take someone seriously if they tell you about problems in their relationship. Avoid saying things that might suggest it's their fault or you don’t believe them. 

You can't force someone to leave a bad relationship – it’s their decision to make. Leaving an abusive partner can be frightening. If this is what they decide they want to do, it's better if other people are involved, so that together you can help keep the person safe. Encourage them to identify other people that they trust and are happy to tell.  

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  • Last updated: 22 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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