Compatibility: Keep in mind what you’re looking for in a relationship. Take the time to really get to know someone before the relationship gets serious and committed. It’s important to get a good sense of who they are, whether their values match your own and whether this is a good personality fit. Sparks can be fun but they don’t always mean compatibility!
Healthy, good quality relationships and social support networks are so important! They have a direct impact on our well-being and even on our life expectancy. Strong, healthy relationships help us to manage stress effectively, problem-solve and overcome life’s challenges.
You might have lots of different types of relationships over the course of your life. Relationships with family members, friends and co-workers, and intimate relationships with one or more partners. There’s also an important relationship we often forget to talk about: the relationship we have with ourselves.
It’s important to know, love, respect and value yourself before getting into intimate relationships with other people. It makes for a solid foundation when each partner has a good sense of personal identity and self-esteem, and when everyone contributes to, and benefits from, the relationship in a balanced way.
Intimate relationships can enrich your sexual life, and your life as a whole, so long as they are healthy relationships that you feel good about being in at least most of the time, if not all of the time. There are lots of different types of intimate relationships. There are monogamous relationships, casual dating relationships, married relationships and polyamorous relationships, just to name a few. It’s always important to make sure that each person knows and understands what the other(s) wants and expects and what they’re comfortable with themselves.
What to be on the look-out for!
Communication: Good communication means each person feels comfortable expressing their feelings, needs and desires, and listens respectfully to what the other person has to say. It also means that both people respect their partner’s opinion, even if it’s different from their own. It’s also key to pick up on the non-verbal ways in which we communicate (e.g. body language, tone of voice, facial expressions). Non-verbal communication plays a big role in how we relate to others.
Honesty and accountability: Being fair and straightforward helps to maintain a healthy bond. Honesty requires each person to feel comfortable enough to express their deepest feelings and desires with their partner(s) and not to be afraid to speak up when something in the relationship isn’t working for them. Accountability means that each partner takes responsibility for their own feelings and behaviour. This means respecting any agreements negotiated with your partner(s). For many people, this means being monogamous.
Shared power: Sharing power is a key to a healthy relationship. Each person should feel safe and respected and have equal say in all aspects of the relationship. An important part of shared power is negotiation. In negotiation, everyone shares their needs about specific situations, and together, you try to find a solution or compromise. Everyone should feel satisfied, respected and validated as opposed to feeling bullied into a situation or solution.
Healthy physical boundaries: It’s important to establish what you and your partner(s) are comfortable with when it comes to different types of touch and sexual activity. Be sure to communicate those boundaries with your partner(s).
Healthy emotional boundaries: It’s perfectly ok (and in fact healthy!) to establish emotional boundaries in your relationships. Emotional boundaries can help keep a strong sense of self and protect yourself from being manipulated or entrapped. It allows you to separate yourself from the problems or feelings that your partner(s) might be experiencing. It’s not about being unsympathetic, uncaring or unsupportive, but about recognizing that it’s not your responsibility to resolve another person’s problems for them (no matter how much we might love and care for that person).
Trust and caring: Trust and caring are crucial ways to foster intimacy. When we care about another person and they care about us, it’s easier to let ourselves be vulnerable with each other and show our true selves. Trust is part of being intimate with your partner(s) because most people need to be able to trust that their partner(s) respect their boundaries and mutual agreements. When you trust someone enough to be intimate with them, you’re trusting that they’ll treat you with respect and dignity, that they won’t divulge personal details about your intimate life to other people, and that they will honour the boundaries you’ve established around what you are or are not comfortable with sexually.
Nurturing our full selves: While a new relationship can be fun and exciting, and you might want to spend all of your time together, it’s important to try and maintain a sense of balance in your own lives and personal relationships. It’s also okay (and in fact healthy!) for each person to maintain their own identity and full lives (including their own interests and other important relationships). It’s important to remember that both people are individuals. Regularly taking time for yourself to get in touch with your own feelings and needs benefits everyone.
What about sex in the context of healthy relationships?
In healthy relationships (including casual ones) neither person feels any type of pressure to have sex. Even if the other person has paid for your dinner, your date night, or if you’ve been in a relationship with that person for a certain amount of time. When and if you decide to have sex with our partner(s), the responsibility around seeking and upholding consent is shared. In the case of vaginal sex, this includes checking in about using contraception to avoid pregnancy. Partners also have a shared responsibility to protect themselves from STIs (including HIV). The most effective method of preventing STIs is to use a condom during vaginal or anal sex, as well as to use a condom or dental dam for oral sex, every single time. Get more tips and tools for safer sex.
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