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Graciela Padilla Graciela Padilla

What is a healthy relationship, and how do you know if you're in one? In healthy relationships, you and the other person talk honestly, listen well, and trust and respect each other. This includes respecting a person's decisions about his or her body and the right to say "no." You should always feel safe in a relationship.

Graciela Padilla knows what healthy relationships look like. She's a peer advocate at loveisrespect, where she offers support and advice to girls on their dating relationships. See what Graciela has to say about building healthy relationships, what to do if you're in an unhealthy relationship, and how you can help a friend who is in an abusive relationship.

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You're a peer advocate at loveisrespect. What does that mean?

Being a peer advocate means providing support, education, and help in a crisis for young people with concerns about their dating relationships. I help people assess their current situation, focus on what they're feeling, and create a plan of action to stay safe or find additional resources if they need them.

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What does it mean to be in a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship means that you and your partner are equals and that you support and respect each other. It means that you feel safe to be yourself. Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down. In a healthy relationship, you know that your feelings and boundaries will be respected, no matter what.

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Do you have any tips for building healthy relationships?

A good way to keep a relationship healthy is to be clear about what you want and don't want. Both of you should ask for and respect boundaries around things like spending time apart, being intimate, texting and social media posting, and privacy. Boundaries help each person feel comfortable and safe in a relationship. It's also important to feel like you can talk about any issues that come up along the way. You and your partner should feel that you can talk about issues freely without guilt or fear.

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What isn't a healthy relationship?

An unhealthy or abusive relationship is one where you feel unhappy or afraid a lot of the time and communication isn't open, especially when partners aren't being honest with or supportive of one another. We have a great quiz on the loveisrespect website called "Is My Relationship Healthy?" Taking the quiz gives people the opportunity to step back and think about what they're experiencing in their relationship. Answers to the quiz can show where a relationship falls on the range of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.

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Are there signs of unhealthy relationships that girls should watch out for?

Yes! You may be in an unhealthy relationship if your partner puts you down a lot, tells you what you can and can't wear, decides who you can or can't hang out with, checks your phone or demands your social media passwords, makes you feel guilty for their own actions/feelings, threatens you, throws or breaks things when they're angry, or irrationally accuses you of cheating. None of these things are okay, and no one deserves to be treated this way.

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Do you have advice for girls who think they may be in an unhealthy relationship?

Unhealthy relationships can happen to anyone. You are not alone, and you are not to blame. You deserve to feel safe, and if something doesn't feel right about your relationship, it probably isn't! At loveisrespect, we are here to help 24/7, so don't hesitate to text, chat, or call us for support.

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What is consent?

Consent is about open and safe communication about being intimate. You have a right to share if you are not comfortable with something physical. You are the only one who gets to decide what you do and don't do with your body. Consent is required every time you are being intimate, and you shouldn't ever feel pressured to do something, even if you've consented to it in the past.

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What should girls do if they are feeling pressured to have sex?

If you're feeling pressured to do something that you don't want to do, you never have to do it. Let your partner know that you want to slow things down and that right now you don't feel like you're on the same page. If they react negatively or make you feel guilty about it, that's a sign that your partner doesn't respect you.

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As girls start dating, what do you think they should know?

So often we think that we need someone to "complete" us, but it's not true! You are already a whole and complete person, and loving yourself is a major part of loving someone else. Look for someone who will respect you, support you, encourage you, and who makes you feel safe.

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What can girls do to help a friend who may be in an abusive relationship?

Be a listening ear. Let her know that the things she's telling you make you concerned and that you are there for her if she ever wants to talk. Acknowledge her feelings. You can say things like, "That does sound scary," "That's not OK that they made you feel that way," and, "That concerns me, too." Continue to remind her that everyone deserves to feel safe in their relationship. If you feel like there's nothing more you can do, know that you are already doing a lot by just being there for her. It can be tough, but it's important to respect your friend's decisions and empower her to make her own choices. If you believe your friend is being physically hurt or you know her partner has a weapon and/or is making specific threats to seriously injure your friend, and she is refusing to reach out for help, you might consider talking to a trusted adult. And remember, loveisrespect can help, too, whether you need advice on how to help her or she wants to talk to someone herself.

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Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I believe that having healthy friendships and relationships, while feeling empowered in your choices, is necessary for girls to thrive. Be true to yourself and know that you always deserve to have a healthy, safe, and loving relationship!

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Visit our Relationships section to learn more about dating, healthy relationships, and dealing with conflict.

Content last reviewed May 10, 2016
Page last updated May 10, 2016

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.