Relationship Basics

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Throughout our lives, we are involved with many different kinds of relationships. We have friendships, romances, work and school-related connections, family ties, and, quite often, relations that don’t fit neatly into any category.  Each of these situations has the potential to be a positive fulfilling relationship, adding to our feelings of self-worth, enjoyment, and growth. These relationships are healthy.

However, in other situations, we may find ourselves feeling uncomfortable. It can be difficult to come to the realization that a lover, friend, co-worker, or family member is not treating us with the respect we deserve. Keep in mind that in all kinds of kinships, there is likely to be disagreements, need for compromise, and times of frustration. These alone do not necessarily mean that a relationship is unhealthy, but it should be considered. Here are some things to think about when looking at whether a particular relationship is a healthy one or not:

In a healthy relationship, you:

  • Treat each other with respect
  • Feel secure and comfortable
  • Are not violent with each other
  • Can resolve conflicts satisfactorily
  • Enjoy the time you spend together
  • Support each other
  • Take interest in one another's lives: health, family, work, etc.
  • Have privacy in the relationship
  • Can trust each other
  • Communicate clearly and openly
  • Make healthy decisions about alcohol or other drugs
  • Encourage other healthy friendships
  • Are honest about your past and present sexual activity if the relationship is intimate
  • Know that most people in your life are happy about the relationship
  • Have more good times in the relationship than bad

In an unhealthy relationship, 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
  • Criticize the other's friends
  • Are afraid of the other's temper
  • Discourage the other from being close with anyone else
  • Ignore each other when one is speaking
  • Are overly possessive or get jealous about ordinary behavior
  • Are critical of others because of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other personal attribute
  • Control the other's activities, dress, money or other resources (e.g., car)
  • Harm or threaten to harm children, family, pets, or objects of personal value
  • Push, grab, hit, punch, or throw objects
  • Use physical force or threats to prevent the other from leaving

Sometimes it's not so easy to decide if a relationship should stay the way it is, worked on, or ended before it goes any further. One thing to consider is if the relationship was ever different than it is now. Is there something stressful happening that could affect the way you interact? Maybe money is tight, you've moved, are looking for work, are dealing with a difficult family circumstance, or are going through some other kind of struggle. Maybe there are problems from a while back that were never resolved, and are now resurfacing. What in particular is bothering you, and what would you like to see change? Talk over these questions with each other, or with someone you trust, like a friend, teacher, or counselor. Think about what, if anything, you can each do to make the other feel more comfortable in the relationship.

If a partner, friend, or colleague is harming you or your loved ones physically, emotionally, or sexually, it's time to seek help. If s/he is encouraging other harmful behaviors, like abuse of alcohol or other drugs, unsafe sexual activity, or other activities that make you feel uncomfortable, you have a right to leave. There are a lot of resources available to help you. Perhaps the most important thing to do is to trust your instincts and the people close to you whose opinions you trust and value. Each and every one of us deserves to feel safe, valued, and cared for. Keep in mind that one of the strongest signs of a healthy relationship is that both people involved feel good about themselves. Also, by treating yourself with self-respect and believing in your right to be treated well, you are taking important steps towards developing equitable, mutually fulfilling ties in the future.

Building Relationships

Choose Balanced Relationships
Often people seek out a partner for the wrong reasons, relationships that grow from common interests and values tend to be more satisfying and much more likely to be successful.  Look for a boyfriend or girlfriend who feels like your partner, not your rescuer or someone who needs rescuing.  Find someone you think of as an equal, someone you can talk to, laugh with, and even fight (fairly!) with. If you feel like an even match with your partner, then you're both more likely to relax and be yourselves -- and get something really good out of being together.

Avoid imbalances and power struggles -- they're warning signs that maybe one (or both) of you is in the relationship to bolster a fragile ego, rather than out of love and respect for the other.

You know those times when one person really, really likes the other, but the other person just isn't into it? Beware! That's a no-win situation. The person with the puppy-dog eyes will inevitably get their feelings hurt, and the other will probably feel like dirt for hurting them. Trust me -- if you're the one who's fallen for someone -- hard -- play it cool and get to know them as a friend. If they're right for you, you'll eventually be able to look them in the eye without choking. That'll be the time to make your move -- if you still want to.

Set Aside Time To Be Alone
Once you get into a relationship, remember to take a little time just for yourself. It's easy to give your boyfriend or girlfriend every minute of your extra time and attention. (If you're not with them, you're thinking about them!) Add to that school, friends, parents, and whatever else you have going on, and it's easy to give up the most important part of your day -- a few minutes doing just what it is that you want to do.

Whether that's listening to music, going for a bike ride, writing in a journal -- do whatever you do that gives your head time away from the rest of the world (without the TV on!). Protect those dreamy moments. They're the key to seeing things clearly and knowing who you are. Which leads us to number three...

Pay Attention to Who You Are
rowing up is a process of becoming more self-sufficient -- learning how to take care of yourself and nurturing the insight and strength to make good decisions that will get you where you want to go. You're it -- everything -- so you need to take care of your self-image right along with your laundry and your checkbook.

Pay attention to yourself. What do you like? What do you believe in? What makes you happy? What do you want? Get to know who you are. It sounds easy, but it's really one of the hardest things in the world to do. And as you practice knowing yourself, it becomes easier to know what isn't working for you -- like a bad relationship.

 If you do find yourself in a bad relationship, change it or get rid of it. Frankly, it's often easiest to get to know yourself when you're alone (other people just make it harder to hear your own voice). It can take a lot of courage to be alone -- to know who you are as you, not in relation to somebody else. Sometimes, when you don't trust that who you are alone is enough, it can be the scariest thing in the world.  But rest assured, you are the key to your own happiness. It's amazing how much more attractive, secure, and desirable you feel when you know and respect yourself.  And as you stand on your own feet, you'll find that you choose better boyfriends or girlfriends, who are more likely to become great partners.

Sexual Orientation

During the teen years and young adulthood, many people struggle to discover who they are and that includes trying to figure out whether they're gay (homosexual), straight (heterosexual) or bi (bisexual).  Some people have sexual experiences with people of the same gender when they are young, but grow up to be heterosexual and, some have sexual experiences with people of the opposite gender when they are young, but grow up to be homosexual.

Sexual orientation is something that develops over time. Your feelings, not just behaviors, will eventually help you decide whether you're gay, straight or bisexual.  It's probably a bad idea to label yourself, focus instead on trying to figure out how you feel toward different people and in different situations. Talk with people you trust and try to figure out what makes you happy.

Taking a Relationship to the Next Level

How Long Is Long Enough

Under the right circumstances, with an appropriate partner, sexual intercourse and the interaction that leads up to it can be one of the most exciting and enjoyable things we do in our lives.  In the wrong situation, the experience can be at best negative, at worst dangerous or deadly.  Making healthy decisions about sexual activity involves both communication and education.


Just how long should a couple wait to have sex?  After three dates, a month, six months, a year?  That depends.  Many people date and never have sex; some wait until marriage; others until they have a committed relationship.  How do you know when is the right time?  Communicate.  Get to know each other, discuss your expectations, each others’ likes and dislikes, values, goals, dreams, and hopes. You should also know what the other person wants from the relationship.  Understand that on the emotional side, sex can change a relationship. And both partners don't always experience the same change or view sex in the same way. Be open and honest.

Talking and spending time together could bring you closer. Or, it could lead you around to the decision to skip sex altogether with this person. That could save you tons of regrets in the future.  Many people think that having sex makes you closer to your partner; however sex alone rarely is the basis for a lasting relationship.  If you hope to ‘fix’ a problem relationship with sex, you are likely to create much more significant problems.  Making a mature sexual decision means being willing and able to do some clear thinking about wants, needs, values, feelings and ability to handle possible consequences of your actions. If you do this, you'll feel better about your decision -- whatever it is.


Sexual contact of any kind (including oral sex) can result in unintended consequences such as pregnancy and/or disease. Teens often dismiss these very real dangers with: "It can't happen to me."  But it can, and it does.  BEFORE you decide to engage in sexual activity, you should fully understand the risks and possible consequences.

Making an Informed Decision


Abstinence (not having sexual contact) is the only 100% effective way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) however using appropriate, effective protection EVERY TIME can significantly reduce the risks.  While different behaviors have higher or lower risk, any sexual contact (including oral sex) with an infected person or anyone who has had sexual contact with an infected person carries some risk.  In 1996 there were 15.3 million new cases of STD’s, over 60% of which affected people under 25.  As much as 50% of all new HIV infections were contracted by people under 25 and 33% of all sexually active people have contracted at least one STD by age 24.  Despite these statistics, only 14% of men and only 8% of women believe they are personally at risk of getting an STD.

STD’s are divided into two groups:  bacterial (usually curable), and viral (incurable but usually treatable).  Both types may not show signs of infection but can be passed on even if symptoms are not occurring.  If left untreated, many infections can lead to additional problems including infertility, cancer and increased susceptibility to HIV.
Some people decide to get tested because they worry or think they've been exposed to an STD. Some get tested before they decide to have sex with each other. If you have been having unprotected sex or if your partner has, it's smart to be tested.  You might say something like this: "I'm worried I may have one or several STD’s. I had unprotected sex during the last three months;" or, "I had sex with someone I don't know very well and I'm worried..." Most STD’s, however, have an incubation period (the time from when a person becomes infected to the time that they develop symptoms). The incubation period varies by individual and by strain of the bacteria or virus.

Signs and symptoms may vary a little, but in the event that you have unprotected sex and experience any of the following, it may be wise to get tested.

  • sore bumps or blisters near your sex organs or mouth
  • burning or pain when you urinate or a feeling that you need to urinate frequently
  • swelling or redness in throat
  • fever chills, aches
  • swelling of lymph nodes near genitals or swelling of genitals
  • a drip or drainage from penis
  • burning or itching in the groin area

Birth Control

A healthy woman is most likely to become pregnant from vaginal intercourse during the six days that end in ovulation. However, she may become pregnant up to five days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and two - three days following ovulation.  Since a male’s sperm can survive in a woman’s body for 5 days or longer, a woman can become pregnant for 14 or more days each month.  Since a woman’s menstrual cycles often vary from month to month, it may be hard for her to know exactly when intercourse can cause pregnancy. Also, there are rare but well-documented cases of women becoming pregnant from vaginal intercourse at any time during the cycle (including the menstrual period).

While the birthrate for teens has been dropping steadily over the last several years, 40% of girls in the US have become pregnant at least once by age 20 and 28% have given birth at least once.  Of those pregnancies, 85% were unplanned and 79% were to unmarried teens.  Teenagers account for 7% of overall births and 13% of overall abortions annually.

Even though 93% of sexually active teenagers use some form of contraception, 21% become pregnant each year.  The teen pregnancy rates are much higher in the US then many other developed nations – twice as high as England and nine times as high as Japan.  Only about 20% of the fathers marry the teen mothers of their first children and on average, the remaining 80 percent pay less than $800 annually for child support -- that is less than $16 a week (although with the advent of the new ‘deadbeat dad’ laws, this is changing – now they will find you and they will make you pay).  Each year, approximately 40% of teenage pregnancies end in abortion.

Studies show that if you don't use any form of contraception/protection when you have sex, you have an 85% chance of causing a pregnancy within one year.  The chart below shows the percentage of unintended pregnancy within one year with various forms of birth control.  Keep in mind that while a woman can get pregnant on average of only 12-15 days per month, you can get an STD with any sexual encounter.


Method of Birth Control

Unintended Pregnancy

w/typical use


No Protection






Cervical Cap

(in women who have never given birth)








Note: this is

nearly 1 in 6

Condom (male)


Condom (female)



Oral Contraceptives (the pill)











H&S Mod 3 - Worksheet

1.     Read through the indicators of a healthy relationship, list two relationships that you have had


that have been generally healthy: ______________________________________________________




2.     Read through the indicators of an unhealthy relationship, list two relationships that you have had


that have been generally unhealthy: ____________________________________________________




3.   According to this module, one of the strongest signs of a healthy relationship is:  _____________




4.   Making healthy decisions about sexual activity involves both _________________ and




5.   ________________________is the only 100% effective to avoid unwanted pregnancy and


      transmission of STD’s.  However using _________________, ________________ protection every


      time can greatly reduce the risks.


6.   ________% of all sexually active people have contracted at least one STD by age 24.


7.   T  |  F   Any sexual contact (including oral sex) with an infected person or anyone who has had


                  sexual contact with an infected person carries some risk of transmission.


8.   T  |  F   30% of all new STD cases affect people under age 25.


9.   STD’s are generally divided into two groups:  ______________ which are usually curable, and


      _______________  which are incurable but usually treatable.


10.  Both types may not show signs of ________________ but can be passed on even if


      ______________ are not occurring. 


11.  If left untreated, many infections can lead to additional problems including ______________,

______________ and increased susceptibility to ______________.


12.  _______ percent of girls in the US have become pregnant at least once by age 20.


13.  _______ percent of teenage pregnancies are unplanned.


14.  _______ percent of sexual relationships will result in unintended pregnancy after one year with


typical use of a latex condom.