Healthy relationships

Whether with a friend, a romantic partner or in a professional context, a healthy relationship is one in which both people: 

  • Respect each other  
  • Feel free to be themselves 
  • Can communicate easily and freely 
  • Trust each other 
  • Are involved in the relationship 

Human relationships are not fixed; they can change over time. A relationship that starts out healthy can slowly become unhealthy. To maintain healthy relationships, respect must remain a central element for each person involved. This means that each person must respect their partner and feel respected by them as well.

Respect

Respect is a value that everyone can define in their own way. The important thing to remember is that talking about respect means talking about being considerate—toward oneself and others.  

Self-respect is important, especially in relationships with others. It is also important for a person to listen to their instincts and feelings. Intuition tends to reveal the boundaries of what a person will or will not accept, what they want or don’t want.  

People who respect each other listen to each other, accept each other’s differences and are attentive to each other’s feelings. People who respect each other do not demean each other and do not interfere with each other’s freedom.

Consent

Respect goes hand-in-hand with consent: when someone respects another person, they ask for their opinion and take it into account.  

Giving consent is giving permission to do something. Consent can be given to sell a property, marry someone, have sex with someone, etc. However, it is fundamental to the concept of consent that the person give it themselves; otherwise the consent is not valid. 

In order to give their consent, a person must have complete freedom to respond, and that response must be accepted, whether or not it is consistent with the other person or persons’ desired outcome. In all cases, the absence of clear consent means refusal. Consent must be clear, free and enthusiastic. For example, a person who is unconscious, intoxicated, or asleep cannot consent to anything. 

There are five important elements to remember with regard to consent: 

  1. Consent is invalid if the person asking for consent is in a position of authority over the other. 
  2. Consent is valid only if it is given without coercion, that is, the person consenting cannot be forced to do so in any way (through blackmail, threats, the consumption of alcohol or drugs, etc.). 
  3. Consent can be partial, meaning the person who gives their consent can choose to accept only part of what is proposed or requested. 
  4. Consent must be renewed. For instance, the person who previously obtained the consent of another person for a particular activity must make sure that the other person consents to the same activity again. 
  5. Consent can be withdrawn at any time; a person who consents to something can change their mind at any time and withdraw their consent. 

Legal age of consent

To protect children and young adolescents, the Canadian Criminal Code considers persons under the age of 16 to be incapable of giving consent: Age 16 is therefore the legal age of consent This hyperlink will open in a new window.

In other words, if a person aged 16 or older has a sexual relationship with someone under the age of 16, they could face criminal charges.  

There are exceptions for adolescents who have voluntary, consensual sexual relations with each other based on their age range. 

Consent by 16- and 17-year-olds 

Persons aged 16 and older are considered to be legally able to give their informed consent, except under certain circumstances.  

A 16- or 17-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity if: 

  • the partner is in a position of trust or authority over the person (teacher, employer, coach, etc.) 
  • the partner is in a position of financial control over the person (owns the house or car, pays their expenses, pays part of the cost of their education, etc.) 
  • the partner is sexually exploiting the person (e.g. offering money or goods in exchange for sexual activities, asking them to participate in sexually explicit videos, etc.)  

Consent by 14- or 15-year-olds 

The law allows 14- and 15-year-olds to legally consent to sexual contact or sexual relations with a person up to four years older than them under certain conditions.  

For instance, a 14-year-old could legally consent to sexual contact or relations with an 18-year-old, but not with a 19-year-old. 

Other conditions must also be met. A 14- or 15-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity if: 

  • the partner is in a position of trust or authority over them (teacher, employer, coach, etc.) 
  • the partner is in a position of financial control (owns the house or car, pays their expenses, pays part of the cost of their education, etc.) 
  • the partner is sexually exploiting them (e.g. offering money or goods in exchange for sexual activities, asking them to participate in sexually explicit videos, etc.) 

The presence of any one of these circumstances could result in charges of sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a minor. 

Consent by 12- or 13-year-olds 

The law allows 12- and 13-year-olds to legally consent to sexual contact or sexual relations with a person up to two years older than them under certain conditions.  

For instance, a 12-year-old could legally consent to sexual contact or relations with a 14-year-old, but not with a 15-year-old. 

Other conditions must also be met. A 12- or 13-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity if: 

  • the partner is in a position of trust or authority over them (teacher, employer, coach, etc.). 
  • the partner is in a position of financial control (owns the house or car, pays their expenses, pays part of the cost of their education, etc.) 
  • the partner is sexually exploiting them (e.g. offering money or goods in exchange for sexual activities, asking them to participate in sexually explicit videos, etc.)  

The presence of any one of these circumstances could result in charges of sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a minor. 

Unhealthy relationships

A relationship becomes unhealthy when one of the people involved does not respect the other and establishes a balance of power. A number of signs, which may seem harmless when occurring by themselves, can help to identify a relationship that is unhealthy or on the way to becoming unhealthy: 

  • Controlling personality 
  • Manipulation 
  • Blackmail 
  • Jealousy 
  • Humiliation 
  • Belittling  
  • Insults 
  • Unpredictable behaviour (mood swings, angry outbursts) 
  • Isolation (less contact with friends and family) 
  • Social pressure (to drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex, etc.) 

An unhealthy relationship often lacks consent: the person who establishes the balance of power will try to dominate and take control of the other person. Certain behaviours may be red flags, such as when one person: 

  • Listens in on the other person’s phone calls, or reads their text messages or emails 
  • Regularly tells the other person that they’re not smart or competent 
  • Constantly asks the other person for favours and threatens them if they refuse 
  • Makes decisions for others without consulting them 
  • Demands that the other person tell them where they are at all times 
  • Frequently lies to the other person 
  • Gets disproportionately angry when the other person disagrees with them 

Can the dynamics of a relationship be changed? 

An unhealthy relationship that is not identified or stopped in time may lead to repeated episodes of violence (psychological, verbal, economic, physical, sexual) that may escalate. Examples include harassment at work, bullying at school, conjugal violence (see the cycle of violence), elder abuse, child abuse and so on. 

Episodes of violence may even escalate to the point of homicide. It is therefore crucial to keep an eye open for signs of violence: acting quickly can make a difference. 

Sometimes, acting early and deliberately to address the unhealthy dynamics in the relationship can help to rebuild a healthy relationship anew, or make it easier to end the relationship.  

The longer unhealthy relationships last, the harder it usually becomes to change the relationship dynamics or to being able to leave. The intervention of a third party (boss, support staff, police officer, lawyer, etc.) may be necessary and may require a little more planning (see Protective Measures for instances of conjugal violence). 

Healthy or unhealthy: How to tell

The table below can be used to assess different types of relationships. It shows examples of three categories of behaviour: acceptable, worrisome, and dangerous. The further down the list the behaviours are, the more they are an indication of an unhealthy relationship, and the more the power in the relationship is unevenly distributed.

Acceptable behaviours

Your relationship is healthy is your partner:

  • respects your tastes, choices, etc.
  • accepts your family and friends
  • asks for your agreement on what you do together
  • is happy to see you succeed and thrive
  • trusts you

Worrisome behaviours

Your relationship lacks respect if your partner:

  • makes derogatory comments about you
  • jokes about you, laughs at you
  • pretends not to see or hear you
  • criticizes your tastes, your opinions, your desires
  • resorts to blackmail if you deny them something
  • manipulates you, distorts reality
  • monitors you and interrogates you about where you’re going and where you’ve been
  • checks your messages (social media, emails, text messages)
  • insists on making you do things you don’t want to do
  • gets angry for over nothing, has you walking on eggshells
  • tries to keep you from seeing loved ones

Push for things to improve or keep your distance.

Dangerous behaviours

If your partner:

  • humiliates you, insults you, calls you names
  • loses their temper whenever something doesn’t go their way
  • breaks things around you or throws things at you
  • threatens you verbally
  • squeezes your arms, shakes you, hits you
  • threatens you with a weapon

Ask for help! The relationship is unhealthy and possibly even dangerous. Protect yourself!

Recognizing the signs of violence

Violence can manifest itself in different ways. It can affect anyone and is sometimes hard to spot. To better identify and recognize forms of violence, visit the Violence page, which outlines the differences between the various types of violence:

  • Psychological
  • Verbal
  • Economic
  • Sexual
  • Physical

Help and resources

Emergency 
If you need immediate help, dial 9-1-1.
 
Helpline for victims of sexual assault and sexual exploitation 
Free, bilingual, anonymous and confidential service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across Québec
1-888-933‑9007
 
Éducaloi (brief on sexual consent) This hyperlink will open in a new window.
1-800-668‑2473
 
Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Available in all regions of Québec, providing access to trained intervention professionals
1-866-532‑2822 
 
Tel-Jeunes This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Live chat service (from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week) and telephone helpline (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
1-800-263‑2266 
 
SOS Violence Conjugale This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Offers telephone support, psychological support, immediate intervention and referrals to shelters (SOS Violence Conjugale can make the call for you)
1-800-363‑9010 
 
Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (Sexual Assault Centres, CALACS) This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Offers direct help for women and female adolescents who have been sexually assaulted, as well as telephone support, support groups, accompaniment and support services for victims (police, hospital, etc.) and services for close friends and family of victims
1-877-717‑5252
 
The Director of Youth Protection (DPJ)
Possibility of reporting a situation to the DPJ by telephone or written report, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
 
Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) This hyperlink will open in a new window. 
Provides services free of charge to individuals whose human rights or youth rights have not been respected. Complaints can also be filed online
1-800-361‑6477
 
Contact information for organizations part of the ESPACE program (families and children) This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Program offering various workshops for children and operating a telephone helpline 
 
À cœur d’homme This hyperlink will open in a new window.
Offers referral, intervention and counselling services offering support to partners and fathers with violent behaviours 
1-877-660‑7799