Written by Glenda Gilmer
Shows, such as Family Matters and The Cosby Show, attempt to portray what is considered to be the perfect family. These television series demonstrate the values that a good relationship requires. In 2008, the first African American couple became the President and the First Lady of the United States. This event gave America a look into the home of a perfectly happy family. However, there are times when the media focuses on the problems in African American relationships, such as the situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna, and these drastic contrasts in relationship portrayals can make any individual question falling in love.
What qualities promote a healthy relationship?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, aspects of a strong adolescent relationship include respect, good communication, trust, compromise, individuality, anger control, efficient problem solving, fair fighting, understanding, positive self-confidence, honesty, and inspiring each other to be role models (CDC, 2010). After taking each of these qualities into account, additional research questions would need to examine what qualities adolescent couples believe are essential to building a strong relationship. Debnam, Howard, and Garza decided to research how African American adolescent girls illustrate these strong relationships. In their study, they conducted semi-structured interviews with thirty-three 15 to 18 year olds (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014).
What qualities do adolescent African American girls believe promote healthy relationships?
The characteristics that the adolescents mentioned in their study were similar to the characteristics that were provided by the CDC. The main qualities that were not mentioned in the current study were inspiring each other to be role models, efficient problem solving, anger control, and fair fighting. Trust was the most frequently mentioned quality. The girls who participated in the study mentioned that they needed a partner to whom they could reveal their intimate feelings and share their daily activities. Trust was also defined in terms of its counterparts, such as cheating and lying (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014). Good communication was the next quality that was identified and is defined as openness and transparency in the relationship. Several of the girls described an individual portraying this quality as someone who would listen to them and be able to talk with them about their lives. Honesty was the next most frequently cited quality and was mentioned by twenty-six of the girls. A 17 year old girl said, “if you don’t have honesty in a relationship, there is no relationship.” Each girl believed that honesty acted as the foundation of a good, strong relationship (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014).
Respect was the next most frequently cited quality and was mentioned by twenty-two of the girls. Several believed that their partner should be respectful in general, rather than just respectful to them. The girls valued respect for their elders, respect for themselves, and respect for their bodies. Respect was closely related to honesty within the relationship. If their partner was dishonest, they would also view this as a disrespectful act (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014). Self-confidence and individuality were the next two most frequently cited qualities. The least frequently cited qualities included understanding and compromise. The four least frequently cited qualities relate to one another. The girls stated that they should not have to compromise or change for their partner. They were unwilling to change for a partner because they valued retaining their original identities. Only eight of the girls mentioned that they valued compromise. When mentioning compromise, the girls tended to discuss the future of a relationship, such as jobs later in life, work hours, children, and family values (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014).
What can be done to promote the qualities of strong relationships for adolescent girls in the future?
Studies have proven that programs and educational resources that address relationships help to prevent adolescent girls from entering harmful relationships (Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014). It is important for adults to show young girls how they should be treated and to make a difference by demonstrating the qualities of healthy relationships in one’s own relationship and acting as a role model.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chooserespect/understanding_dating_violence/healthy_vs_unhealthy_
Coltrane, S., & Messineo, M. (2000). The perpetuation of subtle prejudice: Race and gender imagery in 1990s television advertising. Sex roles, 42(5-6), 363-389.
Debnam, K. J., Howard, D. E., & Garza, M. A. (2014). 'If you don’t have honesty in a relationship, then
there is no relationship': African American girls’ characterization of healthy dating relationships,
a qualitative study. Journal Of Primary Prevention, 35(6), 397-407. doi:10.1007/s10935-
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor