Unhealthy YA Relationships
I do like Twilight, but I'm not going to deny that the relationship between Bella and Edward is unhealthy. Twilight has the most famous love triangle of all time (Edward-Bella-Jacob), Bella constantly puts herself down in comparison to Edward, and indeed, there is some definite instalove. Ohhhh, the instalove.
Those tropes are just the beginning when it comes to how Twilight fails at portraying good romantic relationships. As many others have pointed out in the past, Twilight also matches almost every red flag of a potential abusive relationship.
Healthy YA Relationships
Switcheroo: A Case Study
Their romance begins as a farce in the midst of a love triangle, which is a large part of why it's so unhealthy. There is no communication. Peeta truly loves Katniss, but she never communicates with him about her own feelings (or lack thereof). Katniss and Haymitch communicate more than Peeta and Katniss, and they're around each other much less. On top of that, Katniss herself has no idea of her feelings, which you see with that there love triangle, and she's not making the active choice needed to establish a relationship. She's stringing Peeta and Gale right along with herself.
It takes something truly horrible for the dynamic to shift: Peeta gets taken by the Capitol and then hijacked. In his absence, Katniss realizes how much she needs his support; after his return, for the first time, she sees darkness in him. Not only that, but he sees darkness in her. That changes everything. Katniss experiences, for the first time, something similar to what he had been receiving from her. She realizes at last that relationships are two-sided and that she hasn't been giving. And in that she realizes that Peeta is the one she loves and can have a stable relationship with. The dynamic between her and Gale is too volatile. Peeta has softened her and she has learned, finally, to see him as an equal. Those two things together allow for the finally healthy relationship that they establish at the end of the trilogy.
Pretty cool, huh?
How to Write Relationships
Second, we have to resist the temptations to take shortcuts. When there's a love triangle, it needs to have purpose larger than just to cause conflict. Instalove should be avoided at all costs: build the romance up, give the readers emotional background so we can have honest fulfillment, earn our hearts with something sincere. Basically, prioritize the "friendship" underneath before you add the sexy stuff in. Additionally, don't throw in self-confidence issues (particularly for a female character) just because you can. Healthy relationships require equal footing and mutual respect.
More than anything else, prioritize communication in your fictional relationship. Even if there are bad moments, it's important that writers make it clear to the reader that good communication is a necessary and key part of a healthy romantic relationship.
In this way, we can set up an example that teens can look to.
What examples of unhealthy/healthy romantic relationships in YA lit can you think of?
Images via popcrush.com and thehungergames.wikia.com.