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What Healthy Dating and Romantic Relationships Look Like

Adolescents may have questions about what is "normal" or "healthy" when it comes to dating. Learning and communicating the facts is important. For example, adolescents often think their peers engage in more sexual activities than they do, including more casual "hooking up." However, compared to previous generations, adolescents ages 15-19 are less likely to have sexual intercourse, and only a small percentage of sexually active teens—2 percent of adolescent females and 7 percent of adolescent males—had their first sexual intercourse with someone they had just met.1 The overestimation of a hook-up culture can be harmful to teens, causing embarrassment, shame, and pressure to engage in sexual activity or unhealthy relationship behaviors that they are not prepared for or do not want.2 Every relationship is different, but healthy romantic relationships are built on a core set of characteristics

Partners Treat Each Other with Respect and Provide Space

  • Partners should treat each other with respect, value each other, and understand the other partner's boundaries or limits in what they do and do not want to do.
  • Partners should encourage self-confidence in each other. 
  • Partners should maintain their own individuality and keep their own friends and hobbies. It also is important for both partners to support each other in making new friends or pursuing hobbies.
  • Partners should be role models to their partner, friends, and others and be an example of what respect means.

Partners Communicate 

  • Partners should practice effective communication. This means speaking honestly and waiting until the other partner is ready to talk.
  • Partners should try to understand each other's feelings.
  • Partners should be honest with each other and build trust in their relationship.
  • Partners should value consent and not pressure each other to go outside of their comfort zone, including for sexual activity. Partners should respect each other's boundaries. Partners should feel comfortable and able to say "no" to activities, and those wishes should be respected.

Partners Practice Effective Problem Solving 

  • Partners can practice good problem solving by breaking problems into manageable parts, coming up with solutions, and talking things through.
  • Partners should be willing to compromise and acknowledge the other person's point of view.
  • Partners should manage anger in healthy ways, like using breathing techniques or discussing why they are angry.
  • Partners sometimes argue but when they do, they should try to stay on topic, stay away from insulting their partner, and take some space if the discussion gets too heated.

Although all healthy relationships should contain these core characteristics, relationships may look different as adolescents get older. For middle school youth, the focus of relationships tends to be on peer relationships and on developing social skills, with less focus on romantic relationships. Also, younger teens are more likely than older teens to hang out with someone of romantic interest in group settings with other friends around. Establishing positive social skills during early adolescence may help youth develop healthy relationships at later ages.

Romantic relationships become more serious among older teens in high school (ages 15-17). At this time, romantic relationships become more exclusive, last longer, and can be more emotionally and sexually intimate.3


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). National health statistics reports: Sexual activity and contraceptive use among teenagers in the United States, 2011-2015. (Report No. 104). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr104.pdf
2 Weissbourd, R., Anderson, T. R., Cashin, A., & McIntyre, J. (2017). The talk: How adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment. Cambridge, MA: Making Caring Common Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/mcc_the_talk_final.pdf
3 Meier, A., & Allen, G. (2009). Romantic relationships from adolescence to young adulthood: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The Sociological Quarterly50(2), 308-335.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on May 28, 2019