What is a healthy relationship?
Romantic relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no single set of rules about what they should be. Yet there are some things that healthy relationships have in common – good communication, being respectful and supportive, feeling safe and secure. From a casual fling to a committed relationship, your safety and happiness should never be at risk.
Healthy relationships can take time and effort. Here are some tips you can use to help build yours.
Treat each other as equals
Treating each other as equals helps keep relationships strong, safe and supportive. As equals, differences in goals, abilities and interests becomes something to celebrate.
Equality in a relationship means both people:
- are willing to compromise where appropriate
- experience equal give and take
- respect each other’s ideas, boundaries and choices.
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship. They include how you want to be treated and what’s unacceptable. Everyone’s boundaries will be different, and they can change, so avoid making assumptions. Take some time to consider your wants, likes and dislikes – what do you want from the relationship?
Setting emotional boundaries helps you and your partner understand your limits. Think of them as imaginary lines that separate you from others. They include sharing your feelings and life stories, as well as your need for space and time apart.
Think about your experiences, life, dreams and hopes. Do you want to talk in detail or do you want to take it slowly and build trust along the way? What you choose to share is entirely up to you.
Spending time apart and maintaining your relationships and hobbies
It’s common in new relationships to want to spend all of your time with you partner, but relationships with the other people in your life are also important. Like all relationships, they too need to be nurtured. Finding a balance between friendships, family, your hobbies and your partner can be tricky but it’s good for your wellbeing to remain connected with other areas of your life and encourage your partner to do the same.
Discussing financial boundaries helps you both be clear about how you want finances to work in your relationship. Some people choose to share their money and other prefer to keep things separate. It really depends what works best for you.
The key to physical and/or sexual boundaries is respect and consent. Consider the amount and type of any physical and/or sexual contact and what is OK for you.
It’s important to remember that your body is yours and any form of violence, intimidation or overstepping of your boundaries isn’t acceptable and is not a part of healthy relationships.
What do you want when it comes to intimacy and sex?
Chatting about physical and/or sexual boundaries and consent helps ensure nobody feels pressured or uncomfortable. Consent is verbal, physical and emotional agreement to engage in sexual/intimate activity. It might feel awkward at the time, but it means that everyone will feel safe and respected and you don’t break any laws.
Sexual consent is an ongoing and freely given agreement between people who are engaging in sexual activity together.
consent to any sexual act needs to be stated clearly – this means there is no confusion or doubt that someone has given consent, don’t just assume they’re into it
setting physical/sexual boundaries means continuously checking in with each other about what is and isn’t OK. If someone consents to one sexual act, it doesn’t mean they consent to another. Ongoing communication is one of the key steps to healthy boundaries.
people can change their minds anytime. If you feel uncomfortable at any stage it’s perfectly OK to let the other person know that you want to slow down or stop.
- alcohol and other drugs can impact our ability to give consent, say no to sexual activity or recognise when someone isn’t giving consent. It can be helpful to limit alcohol and other drug use before sexual activity
discussing and agreeing on contraception and actions to prevent sexually transmitted infections is another way you can maintain your boundaries by practising consent.
The age that someone can consent to any kind of sexual activity varies between states and territories in Australia. Find more information about consent.
What does your digital relationship look like? What are you OK with when it comes to sharing personal information or sexual content online? Set clear expectations regarding what you feel comfortable being shared online or with other people.
You might want to consider:
- posting details about the relationship online
- using each other’s devices
- sharing texts/photos/nudes/sexting.
Relationships impact our mental health and wellbeing. Positive relationships provide a feeling of being respected and cared for. Join the community to find out what makes a healthy relationship and how to get things on track.
Trust in relationships helps you feel safe and secure – it’s important for both partners to trust and be trusted. It can take time to build and earn trust though and it can be built in many ways such as:
- respecting boundaries
- being honest
- being there for your partner – not taking them for granted
- feeling physically and emotionally safe in the relationship
- admitting your mistakes
- resolving arguments respectfully.
Healthy relationships include open and honest communication. Communicating well with your partner can strengthen your relationship and help you overcome any challenges.
Opening up to your partner can take trust, time and practice. Speaking up about what you think, feel and need is an important part of any relationship.
Being able to be ourselves is important, it helps us feel confident and understood. It builds trust in the relationship and helps both partners understand each other’s likes and dislikes.
Listening is an important part of a healthy relationship. Everyone needs the opportunity to be heard, talk uninterrupted and be taken seriously.
It’s OK to have different opinions – practise disagreeing and asserting yourself respectfully. Try to avoid personal attacks and instead focus on the issue.
Here are some healthy ways to resolve an argument:
- try to see your partner’s point of view
- be willing to compromise and come up with options you’re willing to accept
- admit when you're in the wrong
- agree to disagree
- if it gets heated, agree to take some time and come back to the discussion later.
See our tips on communicating clearly.
Look after yourself
It’s always a good idea to look after our mental health and wellbeing. Looking after our mind and bodies helps us feel balanced and better able to cope with any stress. You can:
- connect with people
- stay active
- eat well
- cut back on alcohol and other drugs
- get into life
- get enough sleep
- learn skills for tough times.
Know you are supported
No matter where you are on your relationship journey, remember that support is always available. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, teacher or Elder to share what you are going through. Or you can get in touch with your local headspace centre. There are also online or phone-based services like eheadspace or Kids Helpline – you can access them anonymously and without cost.
1800RESPECT – relationship resources and counselling
BodyTalk – resources on relationships
headspace Group Chats hosts many discussions for young people with a range of topics including conflict resolution and communication and assertiveness. You can register to join or view the transcripts
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 24 March 2021.