Creating new relationships is an important part of development in adolescence. This is a time when teens are beginning to form their own interests and identities outside of their family unit. It can be exciting, but it also comes with a new set of challenges. As teens begin to create new relationships, both with friends and romantic, they also run the risk of relationships changing or even ending. For teens who have not experienced a relationship that ends, it can feel confusing or overwhelming to figure out what comes next. When a friendship or relationship with a significant other turns bad, it can be devastating to many teens.
Identifying Unhealthy Relationships
Most adults remember their first crust or their first school dance. There is a spark of excitement around new relationships, especially during our formative years. And because everything is new and thrilling, it can be easy for teens to get swept up in a relationship. Some teen girls may find themselves forgoing their friendships to spend all their time in their new relationship. They may begin to eschew hobbies or interests they previously enjoyed, instead of trying to mold their interests to fit those of their romantic interest.
A relationship becomes unhealthy when it involves mean, disrespectful, controlling, or abusive behavior. Some teens who have grown up in an environment where fighting or abuse was common may believe that this behavior is normal. Teens in unhealthy relationships may make excuses or misinterpret bad behavior. If a boyfriend or girlfriend is acting jealous or possessive, they may think “Oh, that just means they really like me.”. It is important for teens to understand the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and ask themselves the following questions:
Does my boyfriend/girlfriend:
- get angry when I don’t drop everything for him or her?
- criticize the way I look or dress, and say I’ll never be able to find anyone else who would date me?
- keep me from seeing friends or from talking to other guys or girls?
- want me to quit an activity, even though I love it?
- ever raise a hand when angry, like he or she is about to hit me?
- try to force me to go further sexually than I want to?
Encouraging Healthy Relationships
Understanding the traits of an unhealthy relationship is helpful, but it is equally as important to understand how to create a healthy relationship as well. Here are some qualities to think about for a healthy relationship:
- Mutual respect. Respect is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Does your partner respect your boundaries? Do they listen when you say “no” or you tell them that you are uncomfortable? Respect goes both ways and means that each person understands and values the other person’s boundaries.
- Trust. Jealousy is a natural emotion, especially for young adults who are experiencing a relationship for the first time. But it is important to pay attention to how you or your partner react when those feelings of jealousy arise. Can they recognize that emotion without being controlled by it? Do they trust that you are committed to their relationship? Without trust, you cannot have a healthy relationship.
- Honesty. Without honesty, there can be no trust in a relationship. Can you and your partner talk openly about your concerns or needs? Do they follow through when they tell you they’ll meet you for dinner or text you later? If your partner is consistently being honest with you, it can allow you to feel more confident in the relationship.
- Support. It may be easy to celebrate together when good things happen, but is your partner still there for you when things go wrong? In a healthy relationship, your partner will be there for you to lean for support no matter what is happening. Sometimes, there is a fear that big disappointments or setbacks will be too much for others to handle. You may worry that your problems will make it too hard for them to love you. But a supportive partner will always be there for you, no matter what.
- Fairness/equality. Just like friendships in elementary school, relationships are about taking turns as well. Does one person always choose the activity or do you take turns doing something you’ll each enjoy? If a relationship turns into a power struggle with one person fighting to get their way all the time, the relationship quickly becomes unbalanced.
- Separate identities. In a new relationship, it is common for two people to want to spend every free moment together, and the time they aren’t physically together is spent texting or calling. Being able to make compromises is important in a relationship, but it should mean that you feel like you are losing yourself. You and your partner should both have other people, hobbies, and interests in your lives. Neither person should feel like they have to pretend to like something they don’t or be someone who they are not. Both people should feel comfortable developing new interests and friendships while they are in a relationship.
- Good communication. In any relationship, good communication is key. Can you talk to your partner about your fears or concerns? Do they listen when you talk to them about things that are important to you? Do you feel comfortable talking to them even when the topic is challenging? Does your partner give you the time and space you need to communicate your feelings?
Moving Past Old Relationships
Some relationships may end because they are unhealthy. Some other relationships end simply because they have run their course. People grow and change, and it is just a natural part of life that many relationships will end. But even understanding that it is normal and natural, it can sometimes be challenging to move past an old relationship.
For some, losing a significant other because of a break-up can feel very painful. To go from seeing them and talking to them every day to having no contact may feel inconceivable. It may be hard to imagine your life without them. Because of that emotional pain, it is easy to see why fast-forwarding through those hard feelings may sound appealing. You may try to distract yourself by keeping busy with other things and people, ignoring those painful emotions. But the reality is that the end of a relationship usually requires a grieving period, where you can take some time to process what has happened. Rather than trying to suppress your feelings, allowing yourself to feel them is integral to the healing process. Know that you can always reach out to family and friends for emotional support as you go through the process.
After a relationship ends can be the perfect time to reconnect with yourself. If you were in an unhealthy relationship, take some time for yourself before attempting to jump into a new relationship. Perhaps you found that you were losing your identity in your previous relationship, choosing to go along with what the other person wanted instead of thinking about your own needs. Taking a break can help you assess what those needs are. Reconnect with your own interests and passions. This could be engaging in activities you previously enjoyed such as cooking or hiking. This could also be joining a group where you will be surrounded by people who enjoy the same interests as you do. It can feel validating to be around like-minded people who appreciate your talents and passions.
It can be easy to replay a relationship over and over again, remembering where things went wrong or wishing you had done something differently, but blaming yourself only brings about negative emotions and delays the healing process. Instead, try to see the relationship as a learning experience. Every relationship, if we let it, can teach us something about ourselves and give us greater clarity about what we need to be happy. Know that a relationship isn’t a failure just because it ended. If you grew as a person and learned something to move your life forward, then it served a purpose and was truly a success.
Remember that just because a relationship failed, that does not mean that every relationship will fail. Each relationship teaches us a little bit more about ourselves and what we are looking for in a partner. By practicing those traits of a healthy relationship and looking for a partner who also has those qualities, you can work to build more healthy relationships in the future.
Solstice East can help
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for girls, ages 14 to 18, grappling with teen depression, anxiety, trauma, and other emotional or behavioral issues. We strive to help our girls lead themselves back onto a path of health and happiness.
Solstice East supports a therapeutic culture where acceptance, change, and growth is recognized and embraced. Our approach employs the guidance of The Hero’s Journey and its themes, providing a foundation for our students to advance victoriously and grow closer to internal harmony. Solstice East students embark on a therapeutic journey that teaches inner growth and understanding and fosters positive relationships. Our groundbreaking approach allows our students to heal while compiling skills and practices to best serve them throughout their life journey.
For more information about how Solstice East handles social media addiction, please call 828-484-9946!