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Cultivating Healthy Relationships

The Spectrum of Relationships

Relationships exist on a spectrum and can range from healthy to abusive, with unhealthy existing somewhere in between. Relationships look different depending on the partners, friends or family members within them. No matter the relationship, it should build you up, rather than break you down.

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Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, respect and kind communication. They allow you to feel supported and respected within the relationship, while still maintaining your independence. Healthy relationships don’t mean that conflict never arises, it just means that whenever it does it can be navigated through compromise and understanding. Within a healthy relationship, equality and respect are the norm.


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Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy relationships involve disrespect and distrust. Sometimes this can manifest as stonewalling (refusing to speak with you or answer your questions) and/or defensiveness. In an unhealthy relationship you may not feel equal to your partner or like your goals are being supported.


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Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships exhibit patterns of destructive behaviors that are used to exert power or control over their partner. Abusive partners can make you feel fearful, they may make threats to harm themselves, you, your loved ones or your property. Blame is unequally shared; abusive partners don’t take responsibility for their own actions. You may feel unsafe, as perpetrators will often isolate you from your support system and exhibit various forms of physical, emotional and/or sexual violence.

Review some of the aspects of healthy relationships that build you up, as well as some of the behaviors that can be used to break you down. It is helpful to be aware of these red flags, so that we can take action earlier on in the spectrum before the relationship becomes abusive. To explore even more great content on healthy relationships visit wellness.asu.edu.

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Healthy partners trust you and the decisions you make. Unhealthy or abusive partners may require you to prove where you were or control who you can talk to.

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Healthy partners exhibit kind communication, even when a concern arises. Unhealthy or abusive partners may guilt-trip or give ultimatums.

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Healthy partners respect your boundaries. Yes, this means all of them: sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional. Everyone goes at their own pace in relationships and everyone’s pace must be respected.

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Healthy partners support you in reaching your goals and care about what matters to you. Unhealthy or abusive partners limit or control you in a way that is not conducive to your goals.

You may begin to notice some of these red flags in your own relationship, or a friend’s, but feel unsure about what to do next. It is normal to want to talk to someone to formulate a plan:

Poster messages

Here are some tips for intervening based on our “Healthy Relationships” poster series.

Healthy relationships are supportive and encourage you to succeed.

Healthy relationships build you up rather than break you down. Healthy partners and friends encourage you to reach your goals while maintaining independence outside of the relationship. This can mean your partners or friends assist you with studying for a stressful exam, offer a listening ear or give you additional space during a particularly tough week.

Healthy partners…

  • Respect your boundaries and understand that your boundaries are your own and may look different than theirs. All partners’ boundaries must be mutually respected.
  • Support your goals academically, professionally and personally by caring about what matters to you.
  • Encourage you to maintain your independence outside of the relationship. Healthy relationships involve a mixture of time spent together and time spent apart.
  • Trust you. Healthy relationships require trust and kind communication. This means that when concerns do arise they are expressed with compassion and your partner trusts the decisions you make.

Consent must always be present, even in relationships.

Healthy relationships mean that everyone’s boundaries are respected and that consent is present. Consent is a sober, enthusiastic “yes!” given by all partners. It is active, which means consent must be present before every act and can be removed at any time.

Consent is...

  • Mutual: All partners involved in the activity must consent. If not everyone is excited about the activity, then consent isn’t in the room.
  • Voluntary: Consent is voluntary and freely given. If someone is coerced or forced in any way to offer consent, then it is not consent.
  • Clear: Know or it’s no. If you are unsure, then you do not have consent. Being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs alters one’s thinking. When someone is under the influence of any of these substances they cannot consent.
  • Active: Consent is required before every act, every single time. Just because someone consented to some form of sexual activity earlier, does not mean they are consenting now. This also means anyone can change their mind during sexual activity; consent can be revoked at any time and must be an active part of the interaction.
  • Enthusiastic: A shrug of the shoulders or a “sure” isn’t going to suffice. Anything that leaves you wondering if the other person really does want to engage in the activity with you, isn’t consent. You want your partner(s) to be enthusiastic about the activity they are hoping to engage in with you.
  • Mandatory: Consent is required, even when in relationships. Being in a relationship with someone, of any capacity, does not negate the need for consent nor allow for consent to be assumed. There is no situation or relationship in which consent can be assumed.

Unhealthy relationships include distrust and poor communication.

There is pervasive distrust in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and a lacking ability to take responsibility for one’s own actions. This lack of trust can often manifest in ways that attempt to control you, such as...

  • guilt-tripping. Your partner may use guilt to try to encourage or force you to do what they want.
  • giving ultimatums. This creates a false representation of reality which covertly forces you to decide between two things you should never have to decide between.
  • making threats to either harm themselves, your loved ones, your property and/or you in an attempt to force you to do what they want or to stay in the relationship.
  • dictating where you can go or even who you can talk to. This is often done in an attempt to limit, or even eliminate, your social circle so that you become even more reliant on your partner.

Unhealthy relationships turn abusive when there are threats or acts of violence, isolation, blame and fear. If you believe your friend is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, talk to them in private and share your concerns. It can be difficult to support someone in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, so seek support for yourself as well.

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