I wish there was a class in high school about what a healthy relationship looks like. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t sure where I ended and the person I had a crush on began. When my friends and I had boyfriends, we were all guilty of losing ourselves—some of us more than others. This time is filled with so much uncertainty about who you are and what feels right, it’s no wonder they are so darn tumultuous.
Now that I have three teenagers who are dabbling in the relationship world (even if they don’t admit it), I want to share my hard-earned wisdom in hopes it will build their self-confidence around relationships.
6 Healthy Relationship Tips
1. Don’t blow off your friends.
Yes, having a new boyfriend or girlfriend is really exciting. You want to be with them all the time, but resist. Don’t ignore your friends or blow them off. You can do irreversible damage to your friendships. Don’t risk it.
I made this mistake with my first real boyfriend and, before I knew it, my friends stopped asking me to do things. They didn’t feel important and when my relationship ended, I had a lot of work to do to win back their trust. I felt very alone for awhile—and I vowed never to make the same mistake again. You have room and time for both, always.
2. Don’t give up anything you love.
If you love playing basketball, don’t give it up if they aren’t into it, or so you can spend time with them after school instead of going to practice, or because they want you to start playing ice hockey instead. I dated a guy in college who gave up the ski club after we started dating because it took him away on the weekends. It ruined the spark in our relationship really quickly.
Sure, your sport, club, or hobby may lose its luster when you first meet, but you fell in love with certain things before they came along. It’s a big piece of who you are. No relationship is worth giving up the things that make you happy. And no one who loves you will ask you to make that sacrifice.
3. Don’t change your style to please your partner.
I watched a friend morph into whoever she was dating at the time. Finally, one guy told her he liked her style because it was hers. Had he not spoken up, she would have given up leather boots and skirts for Vans and jeans.
There’s a difference between wanting to look nice for someone and thinking more about what they will like on you than what you like on you. Don’t snuff out your own style to conform to how they want you to look. Just because they have several piercings, dress in all black, or only wear Nike sneakers, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s more important that you own your individuality and feel comfortable in your own skin.
4. Don’t try to change anyone.
In my early twenties, I would meet someone and fall in love with the idea of what they could be. I would convince myself that, with enough encouragement and effort on my part, one day they would enjoy and want the same things I wanted. It never happened.
Don’t start dating someone with the intention to change them. That’s not love or even like. It’s wanting a project to make yourself feel validated, and it’s not fair. If they aren’t good enough for you as they are in their current state, then let them be so they can find someone who will appreciate exactly who they are.
5. Speak up.
If your boyfriend or girlfriend acts in a way that upsets you, violates a boundary, or disrespects you or a friend, talk to them about it. Don’t keep quiet in order to keep the peace. Don’t sacrifice your beliefs or what you know to be right in order to get them to stick around, either.
I dated a guy for over five months before telling him that his drinking bothered me. He had no idea because I never talked about it or told him how I really felt. Part of being in a relationship is working things out, coming to an understanding, and learning together. There’s no room to do that if you aren’t talking about issues or situations that affect you.
6. If you are the one putting in all the effort, cut them off.
If you are the one always going to see them, always texting them, and making it really convenient for them to be in a relationship with you because you are putting in all the effort, you need to realize that’s not a relationship. That is you making it really easy to be with you which isn’t the same thing as being in a partnership.
I was once in this situation and I didn’t want to be the one to end things. The guy I was dating said he didn’t want to let me go—even though his actions said otherwise. It felt so much better to break up and know where I stood than to wonder if I would even hear from him. Being in a relationship is a give and take, thinking about the other person and what they’d like to do—and having them do the same for you. If someone wants you in their life, you will know.
I think the teen years are when a lot of people—especially young women—lose their voice a bit and refuse to speak up because they are afraid to lose their new love interest. I want my kids to realize now that the right person will let them have a voice, will put in effort to have them in their life, and will never ask them to compromise who they are in order to be with them.
Their teen relationships might not stick, but this is when they start learning about what feels right—and they will carry those lessons with them.