While Valentine's Day celebrates amore, we need to be aware of its polar opposite, ABUSE. I had an unfortunate front row seat in an emotional abuse situation this week that has really bothered me and my counseling colleagues.
The scene involved a young couple who had been dating for a while who had formed some unhealthy habits over time. All their friends saw the warning signs and knew that they were heading for disaster, but they did not know what to do. Finally, jealousy exposed their unhealthy bonds and the young man physically assaulted the young woman. As the young man was to be escorted away, the girl interfered with his arrest causing her to get into trouble as well. The whole school was buzzing with the news, as it was displayed in a very public area. Although this situation is heartbreaking, I want to use this time to teach our students about the causes and signs of dating abuse among teens.
February 11th-15th has been recognized as Dating Violence Awareness Week.
Below are some links you can use to teach your students about healthy relationships.
Teen Dating Violence Month
Love Is Not Abuse
Love Is Respect
Online Training Module
(Expert from Love Is Respect - Healthy Relationships )
Communication is a key part to building a healthy relationship. The first step is making sure you both want and expect the same things -- being on the same page is very important. The following tips can help you create and maintain a healthy relationship:
- Speak Up. In a healthy relationship, if something is bothering you, it’s best to talk about it instead of holding it in.
- Respect Your Partner. Your partner's wishes and feelings have value. Let your significant other know you are making an effort to keep their ideas in mind. Mutual respect is essential in maintaining healthy relationships.
- Compromise. Disagreements are a natural part of healthy relationships, but it’s important that you find a way to compromise if you disagree on something. Try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way.
- Be Supportive. Offer reassurance and encouragement to your partner. Also, let your partner know when you need their support. Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down.
- Respect Each Other’s Privacy. Just because you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean you have to share everything and constantly be together. Healthy relationships require space.
Creating boundaries is a good way to keep your relationship healthy and secure. By setting boundaries together, you can both have a deeper understanding of the type of relationship that you and your partner want. Boundaries are not meant to make you feel trapped or like you’re “walking on eggshells.” Creating boundaries is not a sign of secrecy or distrust -- it's an expression of what makes you feel comfortable and what you would like or not like to happen within the relationship. Remember, healthy boundaries shouldn’t restrict your ability to:
- Go out with your friends without your partner.
- Participate in activities and hobbies you like.
- Not have to share passwords to your email, social media accounts or phone.
- Respect each other’s individual likes and needs.
Healthy Relationship Boosters
Even healthy relationships can use a boost now and then. You may need a boost if you feel disconnected from your partner or like the relationship has gotten stale. If so, find a fun, simple activity you both enjoy, like going on a walk, and talk about the reasons why you want to be in the relationship. Then, keep using healthy behaviors as you continue dating.
What Isn't a Healthy Relationship?
Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, not equality and respect. In the early stages of an abusive relationship, you may not think the unhealthy behaviors are a big deal. However, possessiveness, insults, jealous accusations, yelling, humiliation, pulling hair, pushing or other negative, abusive behaviors, are -- at their root -- exertions of power and control. Remember that abuse is always a choice and you deserve to be respected. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind.
If you think your relationship is unhealthy, it's important to think about your safety now. Consider these points as you move forward:
- Understand that a person can only change if they want to. You can't force your partner to alter their behavior if they don't believe they're wrong.
- Focus on your own needs. Are you taking care of yourself? Your wellness is always important. Watch your stress levels, take time to be with friends, get enough sleep. If you find that your relationship is draining you, consider ending it.
- Connect with your support systems. Often, abusers try to isolate their partners. Talk to your friends, family members, teachers and others to make sure you're getting the emotional support you need. Remember, our advocates are always ready to talk if you need a listening ear.
- Think about breaking up. Remember that you deserve to feel safe and accepted in your relationship.
People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave. They don't understand that breaking up can be more complicated than it seems. There are many reasons why both men and women stay in abusive relationships. If you have a friend in an unhealthy relationship, support them by understanding why they may choose to not leave immediately.
- Fear: Your friend may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. If your friend has been threatened by their partner, family or friends, they may not feel safe leaving.
- Believing Abuse is Normal: If your friend doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
- Fear of Being Outed: If your friend is in same-sex relationship and has not yet come out to everyone, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret. Being outed may feel especially scary for young people who are just beginning to explore their sexuality.
- Embarrassment: It’s probably hard for your friend to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.
- Low Self-esteem: If your friend’s partner constantly puts them down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for your friend to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
- Love: Your friend may stay in an abusive relationship hoping that their abuser will change. Think about it -- if a person you love tells you they’ll change, you want to believe them. Your friend may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
- Social/Peer Pressure: If the abuser is popular, it can be hard for a person to tell their friends for fear that no one will believe them or that everyone will take the abuser's side.
- Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit to being sexually active and for young men to admit to being abused. Also, your friend’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
- Pregnancy/Parenting: Your friend may feel pressure to raise their children with both parents together, even if that means staying in an abusive relationship. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the children if your friend leaves.
Distrust of Adults or Authority
- Puppy-love Phenomena Adults often don’t believe that teens really experience love. So if something goes wrong in the relationship, your friend may feel like they have no adults to turn to or that no one will take them seriously.
- Distrust of Police: Many teens and young adults do not feel that the police can or will help them, so they don’t report the abuse.
- Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If your friend is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others.
Reliance on the Abusive Partner
- Lack of Money: Your friend may have become financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.
- Nowhere to Go: Even if they could leave, your friend may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they’ve ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.
- Disability: If your friend is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence his or her decision to stay in an abusive relationship.
What Can I Do?
If you have friends or family members who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, the most important thing you can do is be supportive and listen to them. Please don't judge! Understand that leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship is never easy. Try to let your friend know that they have options. Invite them to check out resources like loveisrespect.org, even if they stay in the abusive relationship. To learn more, check out our other tips on helping a friend.