7 tips for building a healthy relationship
Setting boundaries, listening, and being able to say sorry can all help to build healthy relationships
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Meeting someone new and starting a relationship can be an exciting time as you get to know one another and develop feelings. Butterflies in your stomach, thinking about the other person a lot and wanting to spend time with them are often part of a new relationship and it can be great to experience this with someone new.
Whether you have had previous relationships or this is one of your firsts, you may find yourself unsure of how to behave as you are getting to know the other person. At times it can be hard to know how open to be with someone new or to have the confidence to let them know how you feel or what you want. Learning to trust someone takes time and respecting that process can help you build relationships that work for you and your partners.
Keep in mind that your relationship with yourself is the most consistent relationship in your life, and that it impacts all of your other relationships. Having a healthy relationship with yourself can help stop you from forming unhealthy habits in your relationships with others. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ relationship, but here is some advice on healthy habits that can help you build a happy relationship that works for each of you.
7 ways to help build healthy relationships
Show kindness and respect
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness, and reminding yourself of this at the beginning of dating someone can help to build a healthy relationship. Arguments are bound to happen, but there is a difference between disagreeing with someone and having a falling out, and treating someone badly. Cursing and calling each other names, purposefully trying to hurt someone’s feelings during an argument, and threatening or emotionally manipulative behaviour are all toxic traits in a relationship.
Read our article Am I in a toxic relationship? to find out more about the signs of toxic relationships and your options if you might be in one.
Set boundaries in your relationship
Boundaries are standards that you set for yourself and someone else within a relationship. Healthy boundaries allow people to connect with each other while also taking care of their individual wants and needs. People often have different boundaries from their friends, family or sexual or romantic partners. Getting to know what makes you feel good can be very helpful for maintaining healthy relationships with other people.
For example, someone’s boundary may be that if they began to date someone they would not feel comfortable telling them certain things about their past or introducing them to their family until a later stage in a relationship. Other boundaries can include letting someone know that they cannot always expect an instant reply if they text or for you to always answer their calls. Setting boundaries is a healthy habit as it can let you take a relationship at your own pace and not feel you have to be always available to the other person or do anything you are not comfortable with.
Examples of setting boundaries:
Telling someone you are only available to see them on certain days
Deciding not to have sex
Only doing sexual activities that you are comfortable with (read our article on setting boundaries during sex)
Spending time with your friends without the person you are seeing
Not texting or answering calls when you are busy or need space
Deciding you do not want to send nudes or sext
Saying you do not want to talk about personal subjects (however this should not mean refusing to discuss issues within the relationship)
Agreeing with the other person that you can both end the relationship without their being threats or emotional manipulation
Take things slowly in your relationship
When starting a relationship it is good to recognise that people feel comfortable taking certain steps at different times. For example, if you meet someone on an online dating platform you might feel you are ready to meet up with them but they may still only be comfortable messaging or speaking on the phone. There are many different stages in a relationship and there is no set point or timeframe for reaching these. Every relationship is different and will progress at a different pace. What is important is that you and who you are seeing are comfortable with the situation and that no one feels under pressure to do something before they are ready.
If you do not feel comfortable with a situation and someone becomes angry or sulks because of that, they are not taking into consideration your feelings and what is best for you. It is easy to feel under pressure in these situations to change your mind to make the other person happy, but whoever you are seeing should care about you being comfortable, respect what you say, and not make you do anything you do not want to. Similarly, if you are seeing someone and feel like things should be moving faster or want them to do something that they do not want to, it is not okay to put pressure on them or make them feel guilty because they are not ready.
Talk about consent with your partner
When you start a new relationship you might decide that you would like the relationship to be sexual. Whatever you are ready for, this might be different to what your partner is ready for and you should never assume they are at the same stage as you. For example you might be ready for your partner to see you naked and to touch one another, but they may be comfortable with touching with clothes on instead.
Talking to your partner about what they are comfortable with happening and sharing what you wish to happen allows you both to be aware of the boundaries around your physical interactions. It enables you to get their consent before doing anything, which is an essential part of a relationship and also to share your consent with them, which is equally important.
When having sex, consent is an agreement between both partners that they definitely want to have sex, or do any sexual act. Both partners need to fully and clearly agree to it, and it must be continuous for the duration of sex. That means that either partner has the right to change their mind at any time.
Consent is needed every time you want to do any sexual act with someone and just because you or your partner may have agreed previously, that does not mean you have to agree again. When having sex no one should feel under pressure to do anything they don’t want to and it is important to recognise that with your partner.
Openly talking to your partner about consent can help to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect and create an intimate relationship that works for you both. Read our article on consent and find out about making it an essential part of your relationships.
Spend time apart from your partner
Spending time with someone when you first start seeing them can be amazing and whether it is in person or online it may be all that you want to do. Having someone show interest in you can feel great but if they want to spend all their time with you, or expect to be able to contact you at all times this can be a warning sign that they may be controlling or too dependent on you. Having space from one another and enjoying time apart, both in person and online, is a healthy part of any relationship and establishing this as a boundary at the beginning can help to strengthen positive relationships. If someone is not willing to maintain these boundaries, they may not be emotionally prepared to be in a relationship.
Listen to one another
Being able to listen to someone when they speak and take on board what they are saying can make a big difference in relationships. Sometimes it can be easy to butt in when someone is speaking if you don’t agree with what they are saying or feel you have good advice to give. However, making an active effort to listen to someone while they speak can help develop positive communication skills in a relationship and in doing so help to prevent arguments. Read our article on how to be a good listener to learn more about active listening and how to put it into practice.
Be able to apologise
Being able to recognise when you are in the wrong and apologise is a great skill to have and it can help to strengthen relationships. Whether you meant to hurt someone or not, apologising is a way to show another person that you understand that you did do something hurtful. Whatever has happened, being able to say you’re sorry gives both of you a chance to let go of any resentment or negative feelings and move on.
Offering an apology can also help to make the relationship with the other person stronger. It shows them that you care about their feelings and recognise that you did something to hurt them. If you not only show that you’re sorry, but explain what you will do in the future to change, it can strengthen trust. However if a person always says sorry but continues the hurtful behaviour, it may be a sign of a toxic relationship. Read our article on how to say “I’m sorry”.
Feeling overwhelmed in your relationship and want to talk to someone about it?
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