Published: 2 May 2019
Our relationships with other people can have a big impact on our mental health. When we have healthy relationships, we’re more likely to feel positive and confident. When we have unhealthy relationships, we’re more likely to feel negative and insecure. This is the case whether it’s your relationships with your parents, friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend, or even with professionals we interact with regularly, like teachers or coaches.
The difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
Every relationship can have ups and downs or go through times of difficulty, but if you find there are more negatives than positives in your relationship with someone, then it might be time to think about whether or not it’s a healthy one.
Being able to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships helps us to evaluate our own relationships with other people. If you think you might be part of an unhealthy relationship, it’s important to take steps to deal with this, even if this means removing yourself from the relationship entirely.
If you’re not in a position where you can walk away from the relationship (for example, with a parent or sibling who you live with), then make sure to find ways to look after yourself. Talking to someone you trust about what’s going on or contacting a helpline like Childline can help.
What does a healthy relationship look like?
In a healthy relationship, you should feel:
- positive and comfortable about yourself
- loved, wanted, needed, and useful
- that your views and opinions are respected, even if you disagree on something
Having a happy, positive relationship is good for your mental health, and this goes for all relationships, whether that’s with your parents, family members, friends, and boyfriend or girlfriend.
In healthy relationships, people truly feel they can be themselves. They do not feel like they have to put on an act. If you feel like you can never relax around the other person, or you worry that they might not like you if you showed them your true self, then this is a problem. In a healthy relationship, the other person will accept you for who you are.
Healthy relationships need good communication. If there’s a problem in the relationship or something is bothering you, it’s important that you feel like you can talk to the other person about it. Likewise, if there’s something on their mind and they want to discuss something with you, it’s important to listen to what they have to say.
What does an unhealthy relationship look like?
In an unhealthy relationship you could be left feeling:
- angry with yourself or them
- you could be loving and hating the person at the same time
- depressed and worthless
These kinds of feelings can bring you down and affect your mental health. Negative feelings can impact on you and affect your future relationships too.
When relationships become unhealthy
An unhealthy relationship is a relationship that is bad for you. Instead of bringing feelings of security and happiness to your life, an unhealthy relationship can bring you sadness and worry. It is usually full of ups and downs. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, you may feel ecstatic and extremely happy one day, and utterly devastated the next.
This can be the case whether you’re in a romantic relationship with someone, or whether they’re someone you consider a close friend. Even the closest friendships can turn a bit sour sometimes.
Signs that a relationship or friendship is unhealthy:
- They constantly put you down and make you feel bad about yourself.
- You are arguing one day, and things are great the next.
- They often make you feel guilty.
- They are jealous of your other friends.
- You feel like it’s your responsibility to fix things.
- You change yourself to please them.
- You worry about setting them off and feel like you have to watch what you say.
- You feel anxious or unwell when you know you’re going to see them.
- They text and call you constantly.
- You have lost confidence in yourself.
- They break your trust.
These are things to look out for in any kind of relationship, and a sign that things aren’t right.
What can I do if my relationships are unhealthy?
If you are worried you might have an unhealthy relationship or friendship, it’s important to do something about it. Try to talk to the person about what’s going on. If they’re willing to listen and to work on it, you can try to find ways to make it work.
If the other person isn’t willing to listen to what you have to say, or if they keep returning to the same behaviour again and again, then it’s time to cut ties. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve been close for a very long time, or if it’s someone you see often, like a classmate.
Explain to them why you want to end the friendship or relationship and ask them to respect your decision. Try to avoid engaging in arguments or gossip with other people about the person. Remember to always do what’s best for you and your mental health, and work on creating healthy relationships.
Talk to someone
It can be difficult to deal with an unhealthy relationship, but you don’t need to go through it alone. Talk to someone about what’s going on, whether that’s a friend, a parent, a guardian, or another trusted adult.
Sometimes, the person you would usually talk to about these kinds of things might be the person you’re having difficulties with. We can get into conflict with even the people we trust the most. If this is the case, it’s okay to reach out to someone else for support. If you can’t think of someone you know to go to, consider contacting a support service like Childline.
You can call Childline for free on 1800 66 66 66, free text 50101, or live chat on childline.ie
How to have healthy relationships
If you want to work on creating healthy, fulfilling relationships, start by asking yourself what you think a healthy relationship looks like. How does it make you feel? How do you make the other person feel? Learn to recognise the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships so that you can evaluate their behaviour and your own behaviour.
Be confident with relationships in your life. Decide what you are comfortable with in a relationship or a friendship, and make sure the other person understands this. If someone has pushed these boundaries, talk to them and try to explain clearly why these boundaries are important to you.
Communicate with the people in your life. Let them know if something is bothering you, and listen to them if they try to talk to you. Communication is key to any good relationship, no matter what kind of relationship it is. If you are willing to listen and to compromise, your relationships will be healthier.
Know when to walk away
Take time to think about your relationships and evaluate whether they are healthy or unhealthy. If a relationship is making you feel down, anxious, or affecting other parts of your life, decide if it’s something you can work on together, or if it’s time to walk away. It can be difficult because you may still care about the person, but you have to do what’s best for you.
Getting along with parents
The relationship between parents and children is not always easy. Your relationship with your parents can get particularly difficult as you grow up and start to make your own choices in life. You may also clash with your parents if you start doing things they don’t approve of or don't quite understand. Things like relationships, sexuality, school or college, careers, and religious or political views can all cause problems between parents and children.
You may feel like your parents don’t understand you, or that they never listen, and they might have similar feelings. It can be hard to find ways to communicate, but sometimes it can be worth it to try and talk it out.
Talking to one another
A problem cannot be fixed without talking about it. Pick a time when you are both calm, then sit down and talk about the issue. Make a rule that you will not interrupt each other when you are talking. You may be surprised at what happens when you have a calm conversation with your parents. You might be able to reach some type of compromise by talking it out.
Tip: Avoid “You” statements and instead use “I” statements, such as “I would like to stay out past 9pm on a Friday, as I feel that I can be responsible” instead of “Why can’t you let me stay out past 9pm on a Friday?”
Your parents may just need time to come to terms with your identity, decision, or choice, so give them time.
Try to give your parents information to help them understand what you’ve discussed with them. They may disapprove simply because they don’t understand, but if you’re willing to, let them know that you want to help them understand. Explain to them that you’re doing this for the sake of your relationship.
Ask them to consider counselling
If you feel you and your parents cannot resolve your arguments by yourselves, it may be a good idea to attend a counselling service, either as individuals or together. This gives you a chance to talk out your issues in a safe space with someone who has been trained to help people in situations like these.
When parents don’t accept your gender or sexuality
There are some arguments that can be harder to get past or forgive than others. If your parent or parents won't accept your gender or sexual identity it can be extremely hurtful and create a difficult environment to live in. If you are experiencing a situation like this there are services that are there to support young LGBTI+ people.
BeLonGTo offer advice, youth groups, and support services to young LGBTI+ people in Ireland, as well as advice and support for parents. Find out more at BeLonGTo.org.
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) provides resources and support to transgender people in Ireland. Find out more at teni.ie.
Dealing with conflict between siblings
It’s normal for siblings to argue from time to time, but some people might find they argue with their siblings a lot. Even though you’re related, you might be very different people, and not all siblings get along. Sometimes the relationship improves are you get older, but other times there might always be tension between you.
This can be difficult to handle and can cause a lot of anxiety. Try not to place blame on yourself or on anyone else, and remember that some people are simply not a good fit. No matter how you feel about them, it’s important to always treat your sibling with respect. Talk to them about what’s going on and see if you can get to the bottom of it. Try and identify the things that are always causing problems so that you can address them. Ask yourself what you can do to change, and what it is you think your sibling could do too. Things will only get better if both of you are willing to work on it.
Bullying within a family
If you feel your sibling is bullying you or purposely trying to hurt you, talk to someone about it. Speak to your parents and let them know what’s going on and how it makes you feel. If your parents won’t listen or don’t understand, reach out to someone else, like a teacher, another family member, or a support service like Childline.
It’s not always possible to walk away from a relationship if the other person is your sibling, especially if you live in the same house or see each other regularly. Speak to them and ask if you can work it out. If they don’t want to fix the relationship, then try not to let them get to you. They are most likely treating you this way because of some insecurity that they feel, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Surround yourself with friends and other people who love you and care about you instead.
Dealing with a relationship breakdown between parents
Conflict between parents is always difficult to handle, and if your parents decide to separate or divorce, it can be hard for everyone. Parents separating can bring up a range of emotions, some of which you might not even understand. You could be feeling upset that this is happening, angry that they couldn’t work it out, relief that things might not be so tense anymore, or feeling guilty and thinking that this may somehow be your fault. However, no matter what, it’s important to remember that their separation is not your fault.
This can also be a stressful time, especially if there are questions around where you’re going to live, how often you will spend time with each parent, financial issues, and parents meeting new people.
Remember that you are not to blame
Your parents deciding to separate is not your fault. You are not to blame for your parents feeling unhappy together, or for any decisions they might have made about their relationship, whether that’s trying to make it work for your sake or deciding to split up. There are a lot of reasons why a couple might decide to separate; you are not one of them.
Look after yourself
You might feel pressure to take sides or be asked to take a side. The most important thing in this situation is to try and stay as neutral as you can so that you can keep a positive relationship with both parents when theirs is coming to an end.
It’s also important that you look after yourself. If you need time to yourself, take it. If you need a distraction, meet up with friends. If you need to talk, open up to someone, whether that’s a friend, a parent, a teacher, or another trusted adult.
Know that it’s probably for the best
No matter how much you want things to work, not all relationships last. If there have been a lot of arguments at home or tension between your parents, then you might even be relieved that this will stop. Sometimes, the best thing for everyone is for the couple to separate, so try and look at the positives too.