Relationship advice for people under 21

Your first relationships are a big deal. Getting close to someone, having sex, or falling in love for the first time can all be amazing. But relationships can also be difficult and stressful sometimes too, especially when you're new to dating. You're figuring out how things work and what you want.

Find out more about what unhealthy relationships look like and how to build a healthy one.

What does a good relationship look like?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Every relationship's different and what works for one couple may not work for another. 

But there are some key things that are a part of all good relationships: trust, respect and honesty. This isn't just true for long-term relationships, it applies to casual dating and hookups too.

You should always be able to trust the person you're with and know they respect you and will be honest with you. Communication is important too. You should feel you can talk to them and that they'll listen to you.

If you've got these basics down, you're probably in a good relationship. Don't get too hung up on how things look from the outside or the picture you might have in your head about what the perfect relationship should be like. What matters is that your relationship makes you feel happy (and the person you're with too).

What does an unhealthy relationship look like?

Knowing the signs of a bad or unhealthy relationship can help you avoid a lot of pain and heartache. 

Abuse is the big sign of a bad relationship. This doesn't just mean violence or sexual abuse; it can be emotional or verbal too. The bottom line is that it's not OK for someone to hurt you, physically or mentally. Trying to control you or make you do things you're not comfortable with is another big red flag. No one should be treated that way and you don't have to put up with it.

Sex and relationships

You don't have to have sex just because you're in a relationship, or because someone else wants to. You should wait until you feel ready.

And if you are having sex, remember that it's always your choice what you do and don't do. Just because you've done something before doesn't mean you have to do it again. And you can change your mind after something's started too. If you're in a good relationship, they'll respect you and what you want.

Read more about consent on the Brook website

What to do if you're in an unhealthy relationship

It's important to know what matters to you and what you want from a relationship. If the person you're with doesn't give you that, always remember that you can end things with them. It's your choice. You shouldn't feel any pressure to do what they want, or stay with them. Both people have to want to be in a relationship.

It's hard to see things clearly when you love someone. A good way to work out what to do is to think about how you'd feel if a friend was in a relationship like yours: would you want them to stay with that person?

If you're finding it hard to leave a bad relationship, it'll help if you can tell your friends and family and ask for support. You can also get help from us - our Under 25s services can support you if you're in a bad relationship. Find your local service. 

Dating apps - how to stay safe

If you're using dating apps, here are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Chat and make sure you see plenty of photos before you meet, so you can find out more about them and make sure it's not a fake profile
  • If they're pressuring you to meet up right away take it as a warning sign and stop talking to them
  • Always meet in a public place for the first time, just in case they're not who they say they are or something goes wrong. If they're pressuring you to come to their place, again, take it as a warning sign and don't meet them
  • Tell a friend where you're going, who you're meeting and send them updates to let them know you're safe
  • Have an escape plan. In lots of pubs and bars you can 'Ask for Angela' which lets a member of staff know something's wrong in a subtle way, so they can help you.
  • Trust your gut - if something feels off, you're probably right

 

Three young people with arms round each other