It can be tempting to jump from a bad relationship to a new one that seems better. But how do you know whether to trust a new person? What does a balanced relationship look like? A psychotherapist specializing in treating children who have been abused spoke to magazine staff about healthy relationships.
Q: What makes a relationship healthy?
A: When you are connecting with someone who brings out the best in you and the relationship is not based on "What can you do for me?" Both people share ideas, feelings, respect. Both people listen and talk, and they do things to help each other.
Empathy, really trying to feel what the other person feels, is a huge piece of a healthy relationship. It's not trying to fix their problem, but just listening to them.
Often adults tell kids what they should be feeling or how to fix the problem. Everybody, including kids, needs someone to hear what they are feeling, because it helps us figure it out. We make better decisions when we know what we are feeling.
In a healthy relationship, you can be your real self. You don't have to act like somebody else to be loved or accepted.
Q: How do you find your real self?
A: By thinking and talking about your own feelings. If you act from your own feelings, you'll be true to your own values. You're not worrying about what other people want you to be or what the media tells you to be.
Q: What questions should you ask yourself about a new relationship?
A: Is the person able to give and take?
Do you feel valued for who you are rather than what you can do for them?
Can you be yourself?
Can the other person?
Can you have boundaries? Do they respect them? Can you say "I can't talk now, I have to do my homework" or "I'm not comfortable telling you that yet"? Or "I don't want to have sex yet"? You deserve your own space: intellectual space, sexual space, actual physical space, emotional space. And stick to it! Boundaries only work when we enforce them and follow through.
Q: If you've been abused, how do you know who to trust?
A: Take it slow with people you don't know. Give them a chance to prove to you that they can be trusted. Don't tell them your whole life story the first time you meet them. You can have boundaries around the pain in your life and you get to choose who you share it with.
The more that you learn to trust yourself, the more comfortable you will be in trusting others because your boundaries protect you from people who make you uncomfortable. If we're listening to our inner voice, we will pick up the red flags of another abuser or any other danger.
Q: How can you get help to begin healing and work toward healthy relationships in the future?
A: Getting treatment is very important, because abuse can have long-term effects on your other relationships, including repeating the cycle (being abused again and/or becoming abusive yourself).