Welcome to The Mix's relationship support page

Welcome to The Mix’s relationship support site: a scientific and thoughtful approach to relationships for young people.

Read articles on a range of topics, from increasing your self-confidence to managing a breakup – all written in partnership with Click.

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Body image and low self-esteem
While it’s nice to imagine a time when we can all be comfortable with our bodies, and focus on being healthy and happy instead of worrying about what we look like or what others think of us, we’re not quite there yet. Research shows that both men and women struggle with body image. This affects our self-esteem, which in turn has an impact on our overall relationship satisfaction [1]. In a relationship, many of us want to present our best sides to our partners. If you’re dating, or in the early days of a relationship, you might find yourself drowning in insecurities. When you’re trying to convince others to look at you and see the best, it’s easy to look at yourself and see the worst. You might find yourself fixating on your flaws and insecurities, questioning how someone could possibly be attracted to you, let alone fall in love with you. Be kinder to yourself Your partner, prospective or actual, may well be doing the exact same thing with their own insecurities. Think about a time when a partner has expressed their insecurity about something they see as a flaw. When you love or care for someone, the things they worry about are often the things you love most about them. For example, your partner might think they don’t have the best singing voice – and maybe they don’t – but your heart melts when you hear them singing along to the radio. You might think you’re a terrible dancer but, even if you are, there’s nobody your partner would rather dance with.  Now think about this in terms of body image. Have you ever been totally in love with the things a partner worries about – an untameable curl, an eyelid freckle, or a misshapen finger? Well, it works both ways. Even if you think you have a wonky nose, silly eyebrows and a doughy tummy, your partner can still see you as the cutest, cuddliest creature on the planet. Most of us are our own worst critics. What you think of as your flaws could be just the thing your partner finds most adorable about you. In studies of body image, both men and women were less satisfied with their own bodies than their partners were [2] [3]. So, knowing that the person most likely to be most critical of your body is you, could you give yourself a break and try to celebrate the body you’ve got? Be kinder to your partner  If your partner has a negative body image, the first thing you can do is the most obvious thing – be kinder to them. Sincerity is essential here. It’s no good throwing out random compliments for the sake of it if your partner doesn’t believe you. While you can’t be 100% responsible for how someone feels about themselves, studies do suggest that the more things your partner believes you like about them, the more loved they will feel [4].  This can work in your favour too. When you see your partner in a positive light, you are more likely to feel satisfied with your relationship. This is worth bearing in mind if you think you might be prone to taking your partner for granted. And, the more loved your partner feels, the more optimistic you are both likely to be about the future of your relationship [4]. This, of course, can apply in any relationship – if you’re reading this because you’re seeking advice for a friend, you could do well to remember it in your own relationships too. How to show appreciation You might be wondering how to go about showing your partner that you appreciate all their components. While the specifics are very much down to the individual, most of us fall into one of a few categories, and there are certain things you can look out for to notice the types of things that your partner is likely to appreciate. Some people, for example, are moved most by words of love – simply being told, “You have lovely hands” is enough, provided it’s delivered sincerely. Some rely on physical intimacy, which doesn’t just mean sex – it can also include back rubs, cuddling or actually holding those lovely hands. Others need quality time together to know that they are truly loved, or little practical gestures like surprise cups of tea (delivered into their lovely hands). This isn’t just about paying them compliments—it’s about demonstrating that you love being with them. Try a few different things. Notice what your partner appreciates most, and try to do more of that. Of course, if your partner has very low self-esteem, it can be difficult for any kind of positivity to sink in [4]. If this sounds like you, try to be more considerate to your partner in general, and attentive to their insecurities. If it’s something they’re trying to change, support their efforts. If it’s something they can’t change, keep reminding them that you wouldn’t want them to even if they could. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves and we all want our partners to see us in a positive light. But even people with low self-esteem feel happier in their relationships when they truly feel that their partners love and appreciate them [4] – weird body parts and all. Getting support This article is about general body image worries. If you are worried that your partner has an eating disorder, or consistently negative body image, seek external help. You can find many routes to support through the eating disorder charity, Beat. References [1] Tager, D., Good, G., and Morrison, J. B. (2006). Our bodies, ourselves revisited: Male body image and psychological wellbeing. International Journal of Men’s Heath, 5, 228-237. [2] Markey, C. N., & Markey, P. M. (2006). Romantic relationships and body satisfaction among young women. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 256-264. [3] Goins, L. B., Markey, and C.N., Gillen, M.M. (2012). Understanding Men’s Body Image in the Context of Their Romantic Relationships. American Journal of Men’s Health, 6(3), 240-248. [4] Murray, S., Holmes, J., Griffin, D., Bellavia, G., and Rose, P. (2001). The mismeasure of love: how self-doubt contaminates relationship beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol.27(4), pp.423-436.
Article | self-confidence, YPc
If your partner is aggressive
What am I up against? Every relationship is different, and what works for one couple might not be what works for another. But it’s fair to say that no relationship will benefit from partners being aggressive toward one another. There are several forms of aggression, here we’re going to look at physical and psychological. Firstly, the physical kind. Research tells us that: 10% to 48% of adolescents report experiencing physical aggression in their relationships [1]. These acts include pushing, slapping, hitting and being held down. And secondly, the psychological kind. This includes: Making fun of the other person or calling them hurtful names. Saying negative things about their appearance, body, or family and friends. Telling them who they can see and where they can go. Constantly checking up on them and what they are doing. Using private information to manipulate or threaten them. Research also says that: 25%-50% of adolescents report psychological aggression while dating [1]. Physical aggression is often seen to be more harmful, but psychological aggression can be just as damaging to the individual and the relationship.  How do I deal with it?  1. Recognise the signs, and trust your judgement Early signs to watch out for are controlling behaviours, threats of violence, attempts to control your social interactions, or a short temper. During a series of interviews with young women who had experienced violence in relationships, they could all recognise these early signs but didn’t always trust their own judgement and leave the relationship. They also said it would have been much easier to get out early, rather than waiting until the relationship was more developed. 2. Consider carefully how long you hold on Brand new relationships can be powerful and compelling; this is one of the reasons that young adults sometimes stay in violent relationships, hoping their partners will get their anger management in check. When there’s a connection with someone, it might be easy to believe that you can fix them, or that you can heal them in some way. But research suggests that as relationships progress, it’s likely that the violence will too. The longer you stay in a violent relationship, the worse it’s likely to become [3]. 3. It’s not your fault If you’re a victim of violence, it really isn’t your fault - even if you feel like you’re exacerbating the situation. According to research, young people often stay in violent relationships because they feel like it’s their own fault that their partner is behaving in this way. It’s also quite common for people in a violent or aggressive relationship to justify the behaviour as ‘caring’, or ‘their way’ of expressing love [2]. They may be in difficult circumstances or have suffered past experiences that have contributed to the way they are, but it’s up to them to get help for that. You shouldn’t be punished for their emotional or psychological struggles. If you continue to put up with this behaviour, there’s a danger that it will become normal in your eyes. It could begin blurring your sense of what is right and wrong, which will make it even more difficult to leave the relationship [2].  4. Take it to someone Young men and women who experience violence often don’t report it because they don’t recognise it as violence or think no one will take them seriously [3]. This is most commonly the case with psychological violence, as it is often deemed to be a lesser offence than physical or sexual violence. This is a dangerous assumption; abuse of any kind should be taken seriously. While it’s a good thing to seek support from a friend, there’s a limit to the assistance friends can give in protecting someone from violence. If you don’t feel ready to go to a formal source of help, like an official support helpline, consider someone you can trust like a lecturer or a teacher. They can be impartial as they’re outside of the situation. [3] References [1] Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Kupper, 2001; Jouriles, McDonald, Garrido, Rosenfield, & Brown, 2005 [2] C. Barter, 2009 [3] Christine Barter et al., 2009
Article | physical abuse, emotional abuse, YPc
If you’re starting to argue a lot
What am I up against? When a new relationship kicks off, it can feel like everything’s wonderful. You don’t want to spend a minute without them, everything they do is adorable, and the way they slurp their tea is an endearing quirk. But, gradually, you awake from your love-induced coma and find yourself saying things like “you weren’t listening just then, were you?” This isn’t to say it’s all going downhill, but when you first start arguing, it may strike you that now you have to work at it. How to I deal with it? 1. Connect with each other People connect in different ways. The key is in understanding how your partner likes to connect, as well as how you like to connect. For example, some people feel connected with their partner through words of affirmation (“I love you”, or “I appreciate you” being the classics), meaning they like to be told how much they you are valued. Others feel special and valued by being shown physical affection, or by sharing quality time with their partner, or receiving thoughtful gifts. Everyone connects differently, so if you can learn how your partner connects, and they focus on how you connect, you’re both onto a winner. 2. Demonstrate commitment The golden ticket here is the word ‘demonstrate’. You may well be very committed and loyal to your new partner, but if you don’t show that commitment, the other person might not be able to feel it. And if they can’t feel it, they may not know your commitment is even there. It might be just as simple as saying the words, or involving them in other aspects of your life. Just let them know you’re keen to share your life with them.   3. Communicate regularly The art of conversation is not so much about the eloquent and intelligent back and forth between people, but about being able to listen. One of the biggest blockages to modern conversation and communication is a mobile device with a wi-fi signal. If you cast aside technology, physically face one another and listen as much as you talk, this will boost your communication no end. Do activities together that allow you to talk, such as playing a game, baking a cake or going for a walk. Communication in front of a TV, a computer screen or a tablet can dry up faster than a puddle in the Sahara. 4. Show care You might be surprised at how easy it is to show care. It’s often the small things that you can do for each other day-to-day that tend to make a big difference. OnePlusOne, the relationship research charity behind Click, ran a campaign called Love Nuggets, where people submitted their favourite gestures of care from their partner. In pole position was “A hug and an ‘I love you’”, followed by “making a cup of tea for them in the morning”, and thirdly, “the other person cancels what they were doing so we could spend some time together”. So, nothing mind-blowing, just some loving, consistent day-to-day gestures that go a long way. 5. Get good at resolving conflicts Every couple faces conflicts. What matters is how you deal with them. If handled correctly, they can even strengthen a relationship. Whatever the conflict, it might be helpful to take a moment before you react to it. It’s quite easy to fire from the hip during stressful situations and say things you might regret. Five minutes can be enough to get your mind and feelings straight. Part of healthy conflict is avoiding the temptation to try and win. Try to work together and tackle the conflict as a pair. Remember that arguments are not necessarily the sign of a poor relationship - any long term relationship needs maintenance.
Article | communication, dating, YPc
If you don’t feel ready for sex
What am I up against? When ‘the norm’ is to have lots and lots of sex (or at least it just seems to be) by the time you’re ‘legal’, there can be huge pressures from friends and classmates. You might encounter pressure from elsewhere too. You may have a partner that’s pushing, or you may be putting pressure on yourself. The bottom line is, there’s pressure from all directions to have sex at a young age. How can I deal with it? It appears that everyone else is having sex all the time A survey of nearly 3,600 11- to 16-year-olds in the UK found that 86% of respondents had never had sexual intercourse. In the same survey, 78% of people overestimated the sexual activity of their peers, and many people believed their peers to be ‘more experienced’ than they actually were [1]. Remember that everyone wants to portray an image, so there’s a chance that even people close to you will be keen to exaggerate (or even invent) their sexual experiences. A person’s reputation doesn’t rest on what they do, but on what people believe they do. Choose what's right for you In one survey of teenage girls in 2010, one third of young women under the age of 15 said they regretted their decision to have sex as early as they did. As part of the study, they also asked those girls if they felt pressured to have sex early, and 20% of them said yes. But not everyone regrets their first time; some people have sex for the first time quite young and look back on it fondly. Many young women from the study said their regret stemmed from a lack of planning with their partner and a lack of control over the sexual experience. So, considering this, if you don’t want to go down the “it just sort of happened” route, keep your own intentions clear in your mind and, if appropriate, share them with your partner. Once you feel the time is right to have sex, try not to get too worked up about it. Rather, let it be something that you’ll enjoy and hopefully remember fondly.  Feel free to talk to your partner about the experience, plan ahead and don’t be afraid to say what you do and don’t want.  Consider talking with someone, maybe even a parent You might think that any teenager would rather set themselves on fire than talk to their parents about sex but, according to a survey of 1,000 13- to 18-year-olds in the UK, more than half of teens actually want to talk to their parents about sex and would trust their parental guidance if they gave it. So if you have a good relationship with one (or both) of your parents, that might be something to consider. References [1] ‘Young people not having as much sex, drugs or alcohol as they think they are’, 2014
Article | sex, YPc
If your partner is regularly distracted
What am I up against? If you’re a good listener, you already know that listening is all about giving someone your full attention. In a world with internet on tap, there are a million ways that attention can be stolen. And when technology overrides the attention we need, our relationships lose out. There’s even a name for this – it’s called “technoference”. One study found that “technoference”, where computers, phones, tablets, or TVs interrupt couples’ everyday interactions, occurred in around 70% of relationships. In another study, 38% of partners said they had even sent texts or emails during conversations with their partners. How can I deal with it? Leave it out of the bedroom “iPads and computers have breached the boundary between the home and the bedroom”, according to Professor Wellings of the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Technology, while useful for keeping in touch, can be an intrusion, particularly when people check their messages and updates at bedtime. Because habits die hard, it might be an idea to agree on some rules, like turning off mobiles after 9 pm, or no mobiles and tablets in the bedroom. This might help you both to disconnect from the world, and make space to connect with each other. You may also find that your sleep improves. Look a little closer at why it annoys you If you’ve come through the hidden issues program, you’ll already be quite aware that some issues lie deeper beneath the surface. For example, if you were regularly ignored by your parents as a child, it can make you sensitive to being ignored in your romantic relationships. Even if it’s unintentional, your partner’s distraction may be affecting you far more than they realise. . If you can let your partner know how much it affects you, they may be more inclined to make a conscious effort to turn away from their distractions, and turn towards you. Be honest and keep the language more along the lines of “this is how I feel”, rather than “this is how you make me feel”. It’s a slight shift in language, but it’s helpful to eliminate accusation wherever possible. If you’re the distracted one If you’re aware of your own distractions and want to bring it under more control, it might help to put some boundaries in place. For example, make the active decision not to respond to emails, check messages, or even watch television during meal times. This simple shift in attention – even for just an allocated block of time – will gradually become habit, and could start to improve your day-to-day interactions. There’s also the option of removing the notifications, or even taking the big leap of deleting apps that are unnecessary distractions. Watch television, or don’t Often, putting the television on ends up becoming just another habit that blocks the conversation and engagement you might otherwise have. Try leaving the television off until there’s something specific that you want to watch together. Whether it’s the news, a film, or a series, what matters is that it’s an active joint decision. 
Article | social media, communication, YPc