Part of the process of growing up is developing discernment for whether or not your relationships are healthy. We learn to navigate this early on. One of the markers of the emergence of early childhood is the identification of having “best friends.” While toddlers exhibit parallel play, playing alongside a peer without much direct interaction, as early as age three, children begin to crave more social engagement with their peers and begin to identify and assign specific value to their friendships.
We continue to practice this through all phases of development as we learn conflict resolution and how to treat others. By the teenage years, romantic relationships begin to blossom and adolescence is an important time to begin discussing in depth the foundational boundaries of a healthy relationship.
According to loveisrespect.org, an advocacy and educational site for teen violence awareness, “One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.”
One reason for this is teenagers are learning to navigate the complex world of love and relationships based on their varied backgrounds and experiences from home while experiencing high levels of hormones and emotionality. These experimental phases are often the scaffolding for the relationships they will create and maintain later in life. Also from loveisrespect.org, “Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.”
Abuse is cyclical and engaging in a relationship of this nature during the formative years can make it difficult to discern what a healthy relationship looks like later. Whether you have been involved in an abusive relationship or are just trying to determine what your values are for establishing a healthy relationship, the questions below will help guide you on developing the proper discernment.
Does this relationship demonstrate respect?
Respect is a foundational value for any relationship. Respect is a regard for another individual despite conflicting differences. It is easy to have respect for someone who agrees with you all the time, but what about when there are disagreements or differently held beliefs?
Respect could also be viewed as the consideration you take for another person when making decisions or taking action. How often and how carefully you think of how your actions impact another person is indicative of your level of respect for that person. Ask yourself if your partner is demonstrating regard for any differences you may have or taking consideration for how they impact your life. Ask yourself the same question in relation to the regard and consideration you give your partner, as relationships are two directional.
Does this relationship demonstrate trust?
Another foundational value of any interpersonal relationship is trust. Do you trust this person to make decisions you can support and are in accordance with your values? Are you able to share your own thoughts, ideas, and make contributions to discussions with this person uninhibited? Being able to trust your partner to listen to your words and not to criticize your ideas is an important part of being able to work together on many issues.
Does this relationship support healthy boundaries?
Examine the boundaries of your relationship. Do you feel your relationship is balanced in the effort that is put forth by both parties and in the time you spend together? Do you feel like you can maintain your own identity while uniting your life with this person?
Having healthy boundaries means you can say no to certain things without being punished, ridiculed, or coerced. It also means that the other important relationships in your life, such as family and friends, are not negatively affected by your romantic relationship.
Is this relationship codependent or interdependent?
Codependency is defined as excessive reliance on a partner, in which case the identities of the two individuals becomes mixed and meshed. Codependency is a common dynamic in abusive relationships. It may seem counterintuitive, as the very nature of a relationship requires reliance on and intimate confiding with another person. But the goal for a healthy relationship should instead be a type of interdependence, in which the two individuals rely on one another, have an evidenced connection, but are still able to maintain their own identities and personal spaces within the relationship.
Every relationship is different, but these foundational values should be held across the board for any healthy relationship to succeed.