Relationships are incredibly important at any age. Stable relationships with friends, families and partners are especially important for young people as they can influence physical health, promote self-esteem and a sense of belonging and assist in the development of problem solving and social skills. Difficult relationships can impact on school, uni and work commitments and can lead to anxiety and unhappiness.
Signs of troubled relationships:
- constant fighting with parents or siblings
- feeling angry, frustrated or lonely most of the time
- being unable to discuss things with parents or friends
- relationship pressures
- being left out or bullied
- difficulty focusing at school or uni.
During childhood and adolescence, personal relationships can undergo significant change and can be challenging and difficult for young people to navigate. Relationships with friends, family and partners can provide a great support network for young people, but can also become overwhelming and stressful.
Young people are highly influenced by their families, and home is often a safe space where values and coping strategies are learned. This is why it is important, that family relationships are as stable as possible. Stressful relationships with family members can arise for a range of reasons, such as:
- Expectation and academic pressures: many young people struggle with managing their own lives and feeling they are meeting the expectations of their family. School and work performance and choices can be a particularly difficult source of tension.
- Differing opinions and values: adolescence is a time when people begin to form or change core opinions and values. If these conflict with other relatives this can be very difficult and may lead to arguments etc.
- Independence: many young people encounter difficulty establishing independence. Young people may feel their family are uncompromising or treat them like a child.
- Family changes: the separation or divorce of parents and new partners, babies or siblings moving out or into the family household can be difficult to adjust to.
Establishing and maintaining friendships can be difficult for young people. Adolescence is a time of transition and change which can lead to pressures in friendships. The most common sources of tension among friends are:
- Peer pressure: fear of being ostracised or left out can be a powerful motivator for young people to engage in activities or behaviours that they may not want to, such as binge drinking, smoking or taking drugs.
- Arguing and falling out with a friend: this can be isolating, possibly lead to bullying and be highly stressful for young people.
- Friends going through change: when life becomes busy for friends, or they get into serious relationships it can lead people to feel left out, which can be highly distressing.
- Not having friends: not having friends at school or university can be a very isolating and lonely experience for young people, and may make it difficult to engage in education or work.
Intimate or special relationships are often both rewarding and challenging, and the first intimate relationship a person is often especially so. Young people can feel pressured into having a partner if all their friends are in relationships, or distress at not being in a relationship. Some issues that arise with intimate relationships may relate to:
- Sex: deciding if or when to have sex for the first time can be a major source of stress for young people. Many young people can feel pressured by their partner and may become sexually active despite not being ready.
- One sided relationships: if a young person is in a relationship where they are the only one making any effort, or feel neglected by their partner it can be very damaging to self esteem and if sustained over a long period of time can cause serious unhappiness.
- Balancing and managing time: getting into a serious relationship can be all consuming, and it can be difficult learning to manage school or education commitments.
- Breaking up: breaking up is always a difficult and upsetting experience but it is very important that young people feel able to get out of difficult or upsetting relationships.
What young people can do about difficult relationships
If worried about an abusive relationship, or that a friend may be in an abusive relationship it is important to seek help and talk to somebody, such as a counsellor, teacher or parent about the situation immediately.
Learning how to communicate with and listen to family and friends is important to manage relationship difficulties. Confidently communicating with partners is important when discussing sex, and safe sex measures. Part of good communication is being able to keep calm and not get too angry. This is essential to be able to discuss issues and reach compromises with family, friends and partners much easier to resolve.
Furthermore, it is important to not always take the blame for friendship troubles, or assume that there is a personal reason for friends not having much time to spend together. Developing and improving on coping strategies and positive ‘self talk’ can help with this.
ReachOut.com resources on relationships
- How to make friends
- Conflict with family
- Dealing with divorce and custody
- Toxic friendships
- Being single
- Choosing to have a relationship
- What is sexual consent?
- Having sex for the first time
- Coping with a break up
- Signs of an abusive relationship
- Tips for communicating
- When someone is always angry
Recommended professional resources
How to help
- Listen with empathy for the feelings of the young person.
- Help them to identify things that exacerbate the situation, and plan strategies to resolve them.
- Support them to work on positive communication and conflict resolution skills.
- If they are experiencing abuse, assist them to get appropriate support.