Throughout our lives, we are involved with many different kinds of relationships. All healthy relationships – whether they are friendship, roommate or romantic – have similar characteristics. The persons involved have developed a way of combining the following common qualities in a unique way that works best for them. Each of these situations has the potential to enrich us, adding to our feelings of self-worth, enjoyment, and growth.
Four Components of a Healthy Relationship
- Respect: Learning about each other and valuing what is important to the other person and themselves.
- Honesty: Although honesty about thoughts, feelings, and the wanted direction of the relationship is hard to accomplish, it allows you and your partner to explore the real you.
- Trust: Trust and honesty are directly related. How can you trust someone who is not honest? In the beginning, you do not have to automatically trust someone else. However, trust yourself to be who you are and to look out for your well-being. Over time, determine if your partner is trustworthy. If you have trust in your partner, hold onto it until proven otherwise. Some situations may arise where things seem ambiguous. Try to talk with your partner without accusing until you have the facts. Remember, trust is hard to earn but easy to destroy.
- Communication: Communication is part listening and part speaking. When communicating, try to make your partner feel understood. Repeat what they are saying as you understand it and see if you are on the same wavelength. Don’t throw out hints your partner may not understand or expect your partner to read your mind. Be as clear and direct as possible.
Factors to Consider When Thinking About Becoming Involved in a Relationship
Although you really care and like this person, don’t forget about yourself and your needs in the process of becoming involved. Keep these things in mind:
- What type of relationship are you looking for? (friendship, long term relationship, love?)
- How do your values relate to what you desire in a relationship?
- What activities are you now involved in that you may not want to share?
- Remember that you and your partner both had a life before you came together. Keep that going. A relationship should enhance who you already are, not replace it.
- Also recognize change. Over time you and your partner as individuals will change which will lead to a change in the relationship. Try to avoid thinking that change is a negative thing. Change can be good and can help the relationship grow and develop.
As with friendships, romantic relationships take time. Use that time to enjoy each other as friends; many times friends make the best romantic partners.
III. When Sex is Involved
Considering your values about sexual relationships before becoming involved will give you a better sense of your needs. Think about where those values originate: family, media, friends, religion? How strongly do you rely on those values to help make your sexual decisions?
- Sex should be guilt free. You can have a romantic relationship without involving sexual activity. Don’t force it, if you or your partner aren’t ready.
- Sex should be something that you can discuss. It is best to communicate to your partner clearly and directly about sex (emotional involvement, monogamy, contraception, STI protection, etc).
- Sex too early in a relationship can actually prevent intimacy. Many individuals mistake sexual intimacy for emotional intimacy. If individuals aren’t emotionally connected, yet they are having sex, they may not work at creating a closer emotional bond.
- Don’t compromise your values for someone else’s sexual desires.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding Whether to Have Sex
1. Am I having sex to feel loved and wanted?
Sex does not equal love. In fact, if you are having sex to feel loved and wanted, it might have the opposite effect. Feeling loved and wanted comes from having a strong relationship based on mutual respect, trust, and good communication. Sex is best when these aspects of your relationship are already established.
2. Am I having sex because everyone I know is?
It’s unlikely that everyone you know is having sex. Even if they are, it doesn’t mean you are wrong for deciding not to. If this is your only reason for having sex, think some more about your decision.
3. Am I having sex to strengthen a relationship?
Effective communication, trust, and respect are the key to a strong relationship. If your relationship does not have these elements, sex will not make your relationship stronger.
4. Am I having sex because it is the only way to be intimate with my partner?
There are many ways to be intimate with your partner. Communication leads to greater intimacy. There is nothing more intimate than sharing your hopes, dreams, and desires with another person. Try finding ways to be emotionally and intellectually intimate, and don’t confuse these qualities with physical intimacy.
5. Am I having sex because my partner needs it and I want to please him/her?
Nobody needs to have sex to live. Wanting to please your partner is understandable, but having sex when you don’t want to is not the way to go about it.
6. Am I able to talk to my partner about what I want out of sex and our relationship?
Being able to talk to your partner about your emotional and physical needs is essential. People in healthy relationships want to hear about how to please their partners. If you are not able to discuss these needs with your partner, think about whether you are ready to have sex.
7. Am I having sex to prove I am in love with my partner?
If your partner loves you, he/she will respect the decision you make about whether to have sex. Remember that sex doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with love.
8. Do I know how to protect myself and my partner from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections?
Before you decide whether to have sex, you need to learn about precautions you and your partner can take to reduce the chance of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Remember that the only 100 percent effective method for preventing pregnancy and STIs is abstinence.
9. Am I having sex because it is a normal, healthy, fun thing to do?
Sex can definitely be part of a healthy relationship, and a healthy relationship can certainly exist without sex. Essential aspects of healthy relationships are trust, effective communication, and respect. It is important that you and your partner be able to talk about the emotional and physical issues associated with having sex, like expectations about your relationship, possible pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.