Healthy and unhealthy relationships

Relationships can be confusing. Especially if you really like someone but they do things you're not comfortable with. We're here to help you think about what feels right for you. 

What is an unhealthy relationship?

Being in a relationship can be exciting and should make you feel happy. A healthy relationship is when everyone feels respected, trusted and valued for who they are.

A healthy relationship includes:

  • Good communication
    You and your partner can talk openly about things without feeling scared of what might happen, or being judged for what you’ve said.
  • Mutual respect
    You listen to each other and respect each other’s boundaries. And nobody does anything to make you feel uncomfortable, scared or humiliated.
  • Trust
    You can trust each other without getting jealous, including being able to spend time with other people.
  • Honesty
    Being able to say what you think and feel without censoring yourself or worrying what might happen.
  • Equality
    Nobody in a relationship should have power over the other person, and it’s never okay for someone to force you to do something.
  • Being yourself
    You’re able to keep being yourself, doing things you enjoy and spending time with friends and family outside of the relationship.

Even when it feels like you need your relationship, it can still be unhealthy or abusive. There might be one thing that makes you question your relationship, or lots of little things. Whatever’s happening, we’re here to help.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship

It’s not always easy to spot when your relationship is becoming unhealthy or abusive. But if something is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then it’s important to talk about it.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • your partner going through your phone
  • being criticised for how you look, or having to change your appearance
  • getting bullied, hurt or hit, this is always abuse
  • feeling pressure to do sexual things or send nudes
  • being stopped from seeing people, or getting jealous if you do
  • feeling like you’re not in control of what you do or say
  • receiving gifts, but being made to feel like you need to do something in return

If you’re worried or unsure about something in your relationship, it can help to talk about it. You could post about it on the message boards to get advice, or share what’s happening with a Childline counsellor.

opening up

Talk to a Childline counsellor

Feeling unsafe in a relationship

If your partner is abusive or makes you feel scared or unsafe in your relationship, it's important to get support. Try talking to an adult you trust or to a Childline counsellor. In an emergency, you should always call 999.

Making a safety plan can tell you what to do if your partner threatens you or you’re not safe. Find out more about how to make a safety plan.

Leaving or ending a relationship can be scary. But it can help make you safer in the future. It can take time to feel ready, but we’ve got advice to help:

  • Plan what you want to say
    Focus on your feelings but remember to clearly say that you want to end things.
  • Pick a neutral place
    Meet in neutral place with other people around, and bring someone with you if you can. You can end things over messages if it feels safer.
  • Plan what to do after
    Plan how you'll get home safely before you meet up. It's also a good idea to let a friend or family member know where you're going.
  • Talk to people you trust
    Getting support from your family, friends and people you trust can really help you to feel better.
  • Get support afterwards
    If they contact you again or try to threaten you, this isn’t your fault and you can get support. You can talk to us, someone you trust or even the police if you’re scared.

Sex, consent and healthy relationships

Deciding whether you’re ready to be sexually active with your partner is your decision. And if you’re not feeling comfortable or ready then nobody has the right to pressure or force you.

Respecting each other’s boundaries is part of a healthy relationship. If you’re thinking about doing something sexual, then everyone must be consenting and comfortable with it. It’s your responsibility to know whether your partner is consenting.

Worried about someone else?

If you think someone else might be in an unhealthy relationship, it can be difficult to know what to do. Especially if the person you’re worried about is being groomed or doesn’t see things the way you do.

Anyone can be in an unhealthy relationship. And if you’re worried, there are things you can do to help.

If you’re worried about someone:

  • tell why you’re worried and that you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk
  • share information on this page about healthy relationships
  • tell someone you trust, like a parent, carer or teacher
  • get advice from the message boards or a Childline counsellor
  • help them make a safety plan, and in an emergency call 999

When you’re supporting someone else, it’s important to take care of yourself as well. Childline is always here to support you.