This page includes information about fostering healthy relationships as well as information about signs of an unhealthy relationship. If, after reading this, you are concerned about your relationship and want to talk through it with someone, please know help is available at Hamel Health.
If you are in danger, call Merrimack Police immediately at 978-837-5911. If you are looking to make a report or to access other resources on campus, visit the Merrimack Anti-Violence Education Network website.
Communication is the most important quality of a healthy relationship. Although this may at times be difficult, it is vital to keep lines of communication open — to vocalize care for each other, to speak up when something is bothering you, to check in to make sure you’re both on the same page about what you want and expect.
How to Communicate Important Information
- Talk facet-to-face. Communicating via texts and social media can get confusing.
- Use “I” statements. “I feel like we haven’t been as close lately.”
- Be attentive. Look your partner in the eye, turn off distractions, turn your body toward them.
- Use the 48-hour rule. If your partner does something hurtful or that makes you angry, it’s important to communicate it. If you aren’t sure that you want to bring something up, try waiting 48 hours. If it’s still bothering you, let them know.
Important Topics to Discuss
Below are some important topics to bring up to your partner and to continue to discuss over time. Keep the lines of communication open!
- Physical boundaries. It’s a good idea to talk about this prior to entering into a physical relationship. Find out what your partner wants, and express what you want. Know that it’s OK to change your mind at any time. You and your partner should get each other’s consent every time.
- Time together vs. apart. Time together is (hopefully) great, but time apart is important, too. People often have different ideas about how much time to spend together. Remember, you don’t need to share everything or to be together constantly. Taking care of yourselves and pursuing your own interests (even if they are different) will only make you healthier individuals and a healthier couple.
- Texting and social media. Will you post your relationship status? Is it OK to tag or check in? What feels comfortable to post/tweet about the relationship? Does one person initiate contact more than the other? What does that feel like? When is it OK to text, and what’s the expectation about when that’s returned? What kinds of texts, snapchats, communication will and won’t be shared with friends?
Better Understand Yourself and the People You Love
When do you feel most loved?
- When someone gives you a gift?
- When you spend quality time with the other person?
- When someone hugs you or holds your hand?
- When someone verbally compliments or praises you?
- When someone cooks you dinner or helps with your laundry?
Would your partner answer differently than you? What about your mom or roommate?
Not everyone experiences love in the same way. Perhaps you feel most loved when someone surprises you with a gift, but your partner feels most valued when someone compliments them or their work. It can be really helpful to understand your own preferences as well as of those around you. Author Gary Chapman identifies five “love languages” — gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and physical touch. Take this quiz to learn what your love language is.
Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down. Avoid name-calling and talking negatively about your partner to family or friends. Try to encourage your partner when he or she needs it, and ask for support when you need it. No one is a mind reader, so promise each other that you’ll ask for support when it is needed.
Resolve Conflict Respectfully
Disagreements come up in all relationships; how you navigate that is important. If conflict occurs frequently or over essential issues, it may be a sign that you want to evaluate whether or not the relationship is right for you.
Tips for Healthy Conflict Resolution
- Figure out the real issue. Usually, conflict happens when someone’s needs aren’t met. Sometimes anger can mask hurt that a person is feeling. Try to figure out what you and your partner really need. For example, if someone is angry because they haven’t heard from you in a while, they may have been feeling hurt, alone, worried about you or insecure.
- Compromise, or agree to disagree. Compromise where you can. Be thoughtful about who usually compromises, how often and what you are compromising about. Compromising about where to eat is one thing, but in a healthy relationship you should not feel you need to compromise your values or beliefs. Do your best to understand your partner’s point of view; but if you can’t agree, perhaps agree to disagree and drop it.
- Take a deep breath and think before you speak. Ridiculing your partner or using hurtful language will not help to rectify a situation. Try taking deep breaths or walking away from an argument until you’re calmer and ready to have a conversation.
What Isn’t a Healthy Relationship?
Relationships should be life-giving, exciting, respectful and joyful. They should not make you feel bad about yourself. Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, rather than equality.
Relationships can exist on a spectrum, so it can be hard to tell sometimes what crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy. A good indicator that something isn’t right is trusting your gut. Does how you talk about your relationship to other people, or do the things you post about it, match your internal experience of it?
Warning Signs Your Relationships Is Going in the Wrong Direction
- Having your phone or accounts checked without permission.
- Being called names, being put down.
- Being a recipient of extreme jealousy or insecurity, such as not feeling as though you can hang out with a girl or guy friend.
- Being yelled at or having anger directed at you very quickly.
- Feeling or becoming isolated from family and friends.
- Being physically hurt in some way.
- Having decisions made for you, feeling as if your partner is becoming possessive of you and your time.
- Feeling pressured or having physical boundaries crossed that you aren’t comfortable with.