February is a great time to celebrate love and the important relationships in our lives. But between the chocolates and roses and ideas about what romance should be, we don’t always talk about what happens when a relationship goes bad.
In case you weren’t aware, or if you missed our impassioned guest post from author S.M. Parker earlier this month, February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. It’s important to be aware of what a healthy and safe relationships looks and feels like, and how to leave one that isn’t.
No romantic partner is perfect, but there is a fine line between “It’s complicated” and an unhealthy relationship. One in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. And these behaviors learned as teenagers persist into adulthood. One in three women and one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Dating abuse can happen to anyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, ethnicity, race, religion, or culture. Knowing the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship is an important part of awareness, so you can recognize the behaviors in your dating partner, your friends’ relationships, and even in yourself.
If you are in a relationship, ask yourself:
- Do you and your partner trust each other?
- Do you and your partner respect what each other wants sexually, including practicing safe sex?
- Do you and your partner remain respectful when having disagreements?
- Do you and your partner respect each other’s need to spend time with other people or alone?
- Do you and your partner respect each other’s ideas and beliefs?
- Do you and your partner support each other’s educational goals?
You might be in an unhealthy relationship if your partner…
- Gets jealous often
- Tries to control who you talk to, what you wear and/or where you go
- Constantly criticizes you and your decisions
- Threatens to harm themselves if you end the relationship
- Calls/texts more than you’re comfortable with
- Ignores/denies your need to spend time with friends and family or to have alone time
Some jealousy is normal in a relationship, but partners can use their jealousy as a reason to keep you from seeing friends and family. These behaviors can become more extreme and abusive. Aside from hitting, slapping, and physical harm, an abusive partner might also call you names, humiliate, or demean you, whether you are alone, in public, or with friends or family.
Other examples of abusive behavior in a relationship are:
- Acting mean or being quick to anger
- Obsessing over your whereabouts and activities
- Not respecting your decisions
- Threatening physical harm on you, themselves, or others if the relationship ends
- Pressuring you into sex or the use of drugs and alcohol
- Treating you badly, but never changing when those behaviors are addressed
But most importantly, if something doesn’t feel right in your relationship, you should be able to safely address it.
The most important part of any relationship is communication. If you are ever uncomfortable in your relationship, verbally expressing that feeling to your partner face-to-face is the best way to address the issue. If your partner is supportive, they will be willing to listen and thoughtfully respond to your feelings without putting you down.
If you believe you have experienced any abusive behavior from a romantic partner, know that it’s not your fault, and you are not alone. Seeking help can feel intimidating, or even awkward, but your safety and happiness are what matter most.
If there is an adult in your life that you trust —a parent, teacher, or counselor— consider going to them for help or advice. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are also trained professionals a phone call away you can reach out to:
National Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474 or www.loveisrespect.org to talk online
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-833-656-HOPE (4673) or www.rainn.org to talk online
If you have a friend or loved one in an unhealthy or abusive relationship:
- Listen and be supportive. Even if you don’t understand agree with their decisions, don’t judge, belittle, or blame them. Since abusive partners usually put down their victims, your friend’s self esteem may already be low.
- Connect them with resources and information that may be useful.
- Don’t post information about this loved one on social media sites, especially those that can reveal their current location.
- Leaving an abusive or unhealthy relationship can be difficult or even dangerous. Don’t give up on your friend, just because helping them at times can be frustrating.
- BELIEVE THEM!!!
Unhealthy and abusive relationships can change your perspective on romance and your own self-worth. But the most important thing to keep in mind during and after you have left an unsafe relationship is that you are worthy of respect and kindness in all your important relationships! If you’re ever feeling down or lost, click here to see an uplifting list of self-care tips.
If you think your class or school could benefit from doing something to help raise awareness for teen dating violence, consider sending these PDFs to your teacher or guidance counselor.