Relationships are an important part of our lives. They create a sense of security and belonging through the sharing of experiences and expression of emotions. Successful, healthy relationships are essential for fulfilling, happy and stress free lives. Relationships take time, commitment and effort to work and involve mutual respect, trust and honesty. At different times, there may be various tensions and pressures on partners which require support, care and compassion.
Establishing and maintaining healthy personal boundaries or limits in a relationship will enable you to develop a healthy, intimate, physical, and emotional relationship. Boundaries can be intellectual, emotional and physical. Knowing what you want, what you believe and how you feel, is necessary in order to establish boundaries. Personal boundaries make it possible for us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others and to take responsibility for what we think, feel and do.
They can often become blurred in relationships as your partner frequently becomes your confidante. People in relationships tend to know a lot about each other and it is important that insecurities or issues from the past are not brought up in disagreements. Keeping a level of respect for one another is a matter of boundaries. It is important to acknowledge that however close you are you are still two independent people with differences. Therefore giving each other space is essential for a healthy relationship. Healthy boundaries are flexible; they allow us to get close to others when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close.
Effective communication contributes positively to relationships by increasing trust, openness, closeness and improving the ability to solve problems and to resolve conflict. Often people find it difficult to talk about their emotions and feelings accurately, this takes time and encouragement between partners. Communication is not just about talking, it’s also about listening and taking the time to acknowledge and understand your partner. Often showing an interest in your partner and asking questions will open the door to communication. Good communication helps avoid miscommunication and assumptions. Talking about your feelings will help your partner to understand you better.
Emotional and physical intimacies are both an essential part of a healthy relationship. Through intimacy people seek to feel accepted, respected, worthy and loved. Intimacy often involves an element of self-disclosure which means being open. Increased openness can produce a level of vulnerability which some people may find difficult as they may be fearful of rejection.
A healthy relationship means:
- Treating each other with respect.
- Feeling secure and comfortable
- Resolving conflicts satisfactorily.
- Enjoying the time you spend together.
- Supporting one another.
- Taking interest in one another’s lives: health, family, work, etc.
- Trusting each other.
- Communicating clearly and openly.
- Encouraging & engaging in other friendships.
- Having more good times in the relationship than bad.
An unhealthy relationship means one or both of you:
- Try to control or manipulate the other.
- Make the other feel bad about her/himself.
- Ridicule or call names.
- Do not make time for each other.
- Criticise the other’s friends or family.
- Are afraid of the other’s temper.
- Discourage the other from being close with anyone else.
- Are overly possessive or get jealous about ordinary behaviour.
- Control the other’s money or other resources (e.g., car).
- Use physical force or threats.
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, however, understanding your differences and learning to compromise is a key feature of a healthy relationship. Negotiation is a way of approaching any issue that is causing tension or disagreement and finding a solution that is acceptable to all people involved.
Negotiation can be challenging depending on the amount of emotional openness in a relationship, however, it is an essential tool when trying to resolve a disagreement in relation to behaviour or a decision. Good negotiation leads to acceptable solutions that work for both partners and will ultimately strengthen your relationship.
Feeling safe and secure in a relationship is about trust. This is earned over time and if lost is often hard to regain. Trusting your partner will stop feelings of jealousy and insecurity. If you feel that you don’t trust your partner you need to ask yourself why. It may be useful to discuss these feelings with your partner to establish if this is due to a previous relationship, your current partner’s behaviour or your own behaviour.
Change is an important aspect of a relationship to acknowledge. Changes can happen at any time and in many cases can lead to increased stresses and strains. Embracing change may make a relationship stronger or in some cases may mean that a relationship comes to an end. These may include adopting new or changing views and opinions, changes in career, financial changes, deciding to have or not have children, aging or illness.
Having sex for the first time
Whether you are having sex for the first time with a new partner or you are having sex for the first time, deciding you are ready to have sex is a decision only you can make. It’s important to remember that each time you have sex it’s your choice. Just because you’ve had it before doesn’t mean you have to do it again.
It is very important not to feel pressurised into having sex when you don’t want to. You can always change your mind and say no if you decide it is not what you want. You never owe anyone sex and you do not have to have sex to prove your feelings for someone.
Although there is a legal age of consent, that is the age at which it is legal to have sex, it is not necessarily the right time for you to start having sex. In the UK this is 16 years old.
It is important that you feel comfortable and prepared. Often talking to your partner about having sex for the first time allows you both to express your worries and in many cases you may realise you are feeling the same.
If you do decide that you are ready and want to have sex then you need to consider the method you are going to use to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy or STI.
Set out below are ten questions to ask yourself if you are thinking of having sex for the first time:
- Is it the right time?
- Is it the right place?
- Is it with the right person?
- Am I planning to have sex because I want to?
- Do we both want this?
- Is it legal?
- Do I know how to have safe sex?
- Do I know my partner well enough?
- Do I feel comfortable enough to have sex with my partner, and to do it sober?
- Will I regret this tomorrow or 5 years from now?