All of a person’s social and emotional needs cannot and should not be met in a single relationship, so while dating, never isolate yourself from your circle of friends and family.  Staying connected with others helps you maintain balance and perspective in a dating relationship.  If any concerns about your partner arise, lean on your special friends, family, and trusted adults as sources of support.  This is not airing out your relationship details for public discussion, but nothing should be too personal, private, or off-limits to share with these trusted individuals.  It is not betrayal or weakness, but instead it is mature to seek ongoing support outside of a relationship.

Not all disagreements are created equal

In an unhealthy relationship, a person may not take responsibility for poor behavior and may actually blame the victim for the abuse.  The partner may minimize their own misconduct or insist they were joking.  A partner may also apologize and promise to never to act a certain way again, but without a change in behavior, these apologies and promises are empty.  In unhealthy relationships, sometimes you can’t even discuss key issues to resolve conflicts or reach common ground because you are afraid or it will escalate into a blame game or fight.  It is only when both sides are willing to look at problems and solutions in healthy ways that disagreements give way to growth.

When a couple is willing to both communicate and listen, conflict resolution during disagreements can be a normal, healthy part of a relationship.  Couples don’t have to agree on everything.  There may be instances where you never fully agree, but as long as you can see one another’s perspectives, respect differences, and compromise when necessary, disagreements can make you stronger.  While conflicts should not be constant, learning how to disagree is essential in a healthy relationship.

I’m in an unhealthy relationship: What should I do?

If you are in an unhealthy relationship, write down concerning behaviors, conversations, and incidents. List the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship.  Most importantly, find someone to talk to about these problems.  There is no reason to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or to blame for a struggling relationship.  If you can take a step back from the relationship, it will help you find the space and time to sort through your concerns and get a fresh perspective.  No matter what, start developing a plan of action to set healthier boundaries to protect yourself moving ahead.

You have the right to be in a safe, supportive, healthy relationship.  The thought of breaking up with a partner can be agonizing, even when you are being treated unfairly.  Your partner is a big part of your life and it can be hard to imagine losing them.  If you cannot break up right now, then look at your concerns, and create a plan to stay safe. See for more information on safety plans.  If both you and your partner are committed to establishing healthy boundaries, talk over what areas you both need to work on.  It may help to speak to someone like a school social worker or counselor together.

In any relationship, you can only control yourself and your actions.  Do your share by respecting your partner.  But equally important, set healthy relationship boundaries with your partner to ensure you likewise are respected.   If your partner cannot honor your boundaries, you are experiencing an unhealthy and likely even an abusive relationship.  Abuse is not normal.  You are not a failure, nor are you to blame if you can’t “fix” the relationship.   It may be an incredibly hard, painful decision, but taking action to end an unhealthy relationship is often what’s best for your own sake and even the sake of your partner.  No matter how much you care about someone or see their potential, enduring an abusive relationship is never right for you.  You are inexpressibly valuable, and there is someone who will treat you so.

If you are ready to break up or express that you need space, you don’t have to explain all of the reasons why you are breaking up.  Your partner may beg you not to leave and promise to change.  They may hang onto the relationship and continue to contact you regularly, threaten you, or try to control you in any way possible.  This may feel like an emotional roller coaster, but you must find within yourself what is best for you and stick to it.  If you are scared to end a relationship, speak to a trusted adult.  You may also call 1-800-799-SAFE to speak with someone who can address your concerns.

What if I am abusive towards my partner?

Recognizing you are not making healthy choices in a relationship is a major step in the right direction.  However, changing is not necessarily a quick or simple process.  You need to examine the different types of abuse, determine what behaviors you must stop, and then dig deep and try to determine why you have been acting this way.  Identifying causes and triggers are important steps on the path to change.  Lay out healthier response strategies and involve your partner and someone else in your plan for extra support.  Also, seek support from someone more qualified such as a school social worker or counselor.  If you are having ongoing struggles, stepping away from an abusive relationship may become necessary.  You are not alone nor should your path to healthier relationships be walked alone.  The earlier you identify and address abusive behavior, the sooner you can start developing healthy relationships.

How can I help my friend stuck in a bad relationship?

It may be painful to watch, but you cannot force a friend end an unhealthy relationship.  Your friend may not even recognize signs of abuse.  Your friend may believe they can change their partner or try harder to make it work.  They may even believe the cycle of abuse is normal.  It can be painful and frustrating to watch, but your continued support and encouraging presence can be one of the pivotal influences to help your friend take positive steps in their relationship.  Remember, this is a process, and you can’t control anyone’s actions other than your own, even your closest friends.  They may not leave their partner, but don’t be surprised if down the road, your friend thanks you for being there through these tough times.

On the other hand, if your friend is showing signs of abuse towards their partner, it is important to bring such sensitive matters to their attention.  It may seem simpler to stay out of it, but by not doing anything, you become part of the problem.  They may not realize the harm in their actions.  When you address their conduct, approach them in a caring, non-confrontational way.  Do not allow your friend to blame their partner.  Be a supportive voice to help your friend in recognize unhealthy behavior and develop better ways to respond in the future.