Falling in love can be wonderful.
Its the singular experience of losing ourselves in pursuit of a dream or desire.
Creating a sustainable relationship, on the other hand, is hard work.
You want to be happy, be available, make time and have fun with the other person, but also keep something for yourself. It can be a hard balance. Sustaining yourself and nurturing your relationship, having fun, keeping safe, riding the storms and managing the anxiety that's an inevitable part of any new relationship. It can be even harder for young people who are same-sex attracted, given the difficulties of potential stigmatisation and telling those closest to you about your feelings - although it doesn't have to be.
All relationships have their ups and downs and we need to find a way to maintain our own equilibrium through these challenges. Sometimes it can be hard to balance our own anxiety and insecurity with the needs of another person. Will they be there when I need them? What if they don't like me? What if they end up being unavailable?
Where will my own needs be in this complexity of desires and expectations? Is there space for me in this relationship?
These are important questions which we all need to ask before we embark on something that might feel great in the beginning, but may in the end thwart and frustrate us - or worse, break our heart.
Good relationships are all about communication. Being honest and real with the other person and spending time negotiating so that both parties can feel heard and supported. Arguments are a part of any relationship that lasts - but it is how we fight and the way we repair that are important. Repairing can mean exposing our most vulnerable feelings and that can be scary. But without being vulnerable we can never experience real intimacy.
The start of a relationship can be misleading in that most people tend to be on their best behaviour - trying to create a good impression. If we are in the obsessional realm of falling in love, it can be even harder to make good judgements. A relationship that is worth having will make us feel good, supported and nurtured overall, although there may be times when things are not perfect.
Good relationships – signs that things are working
- You like each other for who you are. You want each other to feel good and you support each other’s goals in life.
- You are independent and have your own interests.
- You see your own family and friends whenever you want – alone and with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- You are good at listening and talking to each other.
- You have different opinions and sometimes fight but you listen to each other and compromise.
- You make big decisions together, and you can both make compromises. For example, you take turns deciding what movie to watch!
- You can tell each other truthfully what you think and what you want without being afraid of being hurt or put down. You trust the other person to be honest with you.
- Sexual contact is what you both want – no one is pressured into it. You can be honest with each other about what you like/don’t like.
- If there is jealousy, you listen to each other, talk about it, and try to work things out together (instead of making threats or demands that restrict the other person’s freedom).
- You both respect the other person’s right to have their own private communication with their friends and family.
- You agree about whether you are seeing other people or only each other.
- You accept each other the way you are.
Bad relationships – signs that things aren’t working
- Trying to change the other person rather than accepting them for who they are.
- Not trusting each other or lying to each other sometimes.
- You (or your partner) don’t talk much or open up about your feelings.
- Fighting a lot. Things don’t seem to get worked out.
- There is a lot of tension when you are together.
- Constantly worrying that relationship is going to end or that the other person is interested in someone else.
- One of you or both of you give up your friends or other interests for the sake of the relationship.
- You have to see each other all the time.
- Secretly reading the other person’s Facebook or texts to see what they are up to.
- Feeling overwhelmed by the other person’s demands or needs.
- Feeling like you don’t know who you are or what you want anymore.
- Friends or family say they are worried about you or your relationship.
- There’s lots of criticisms or jokes that hurt or embarrass the other person.
- You don’t look forward to spending time together.
Some of these things can mean you need to sit down with your BF/GF and have a serious talk.
Abusive relationships – the signs of control
- One person’s needs and decisions always come first. The other person feels they must go along with it.
- One of you wants to know where the other person is all the time.
- One of you checks up on the other way too much – texting to see where you are and who you’re with.
- One of you stops the other from seeing family or friends. They say stuff like, “You don’t need to see them” or “we only need each other” or “you’re friends are boring”.
- One of you is a snoop and disrepects the right to privacy – reading texts, a private diary or journal, phone messages, Facebook stalking, or installing software programs that record what websites are visited.
- One of you feels pressured, tricked or forced to do sexual things they don’t want to do.
- One person feels scared to end the relationship because they are worried their BF or GF will hurt them, or will commit suicide.
- Emotional manipulation like “If you really loved me, you would… (have sex/stop talking to your ex-boyfriend/spend every night with me…”).
- One person often humiliates the other and makes them feel bad (eg. ”you’re stupid/embarrassing/fat /clumsy, ”no one else would want you, ”you can’t do anything right).
- One person scares the other through threats, pushing, hitting, locking them in, smashing things or aggression –the other person feels so afraid of upsetting them that they just go along with the demands of their BF/GF.
- Jealousy is used as an excuse to demand that the other person has to stop talking to other guys/girls, ex-partners, friends or family.
- Sending nude or humiliating pictures around of your BF or GF without their consent.
If any of these sound familiar, see If things get ugly for information and advice.