Intimate relationships can be some of the most rewarding and some of the most challenging things in life. A healthy and loving relationship between romantic partners provides joy, companionship and emotional support for both people involved. Each person can trust the other to have their interests in mind and always try to do what’s best for their partner. However, intimate relationships can have a profoundly negative impact if one or both of the participants do not care what’s best for the other—if they are physically or emotionally violent or abusive.
Unfortunately, everyone runs the risk of getting into a relationship with an abusive partner, especially since abusers may hide their true behavior early in the relationship. However, young people are especially vulnerable since they may lack the experience to detect or identify dating violence. In fact, approximately one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is the victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Despite this fact, awareness of teen dating violence remains low: some research has found that only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse, and 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
This is why it’s crucial for young people and adults alike to understand the signs of an abusive relationship. To this end, the federal government has designated February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM). All month long, organizations like Break the Cycle and Love is Respect (a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline) work to inform the public about the risks of dating violence for teens and adolescents.
As February draws to a close, we here at Cummins Behavioral Health wanted to do our part to spread awareness and show support for this important initiative. In honor of TDVAM, this post explores what an abusive relationship looks like, what a healthy relationship looks like, and how to help prevent teen dating violence for yourself, your friends or your children.
How to Tell the Difference Between Love and Abuse
The trouble with violent relationship behavior is that it can build so gradually that it goes unnoticed. Sometimes, the feelings of infatuation that can be common early in a relationship may blind a person to their partner’s abusive behavior until it has escalated to a dangerous level. Knowing the warning signs of dating violence can help us identify an abusive relationship before it has become unmanageable.
In an unhealthy or abusive relationship, one person attempts to control the other. The abuser might pressure their partner into sexual activities or try to control who their partner speaks to and spends time with. The victim in the relationship might feel like they should only spend time with their partner, and they might feel unable or even afraid to tell others about how their partner is treating them. In extreme cases, the abuser may attempt to manipulate the victim, accuse them of wrongdoing, or even dictate what they should and shouldn’t believe.
According to LoveIsRespect.org, some common examples of abusive behavior include:
- Physical violence, such as hitting, choking, kicking, shoving, biting, and force-feeding
- Emotional and verbal violence, such as putting you down, threatening you, telling you what to do, and accusing you of being unfaithful
- Digital violence, such as sending threats via text or instant message, stalking you on social media, and logging onto your online accounts without your permission
- Financial violence, such as taking your paychecks, preventing you from working, controlling your spending, and refusing to pay bills
- Sexual violence, such as pressuring or forcing you into sexual acts, forcing you to watch pornography, or restricting access to birth control
By contrast, a healthy relationship is founded on mutual respect between both partners. People who are in a healthy relationship are honest with each other about their thoughts, feelings and desires, and they trust their partner to honor their confidentiality. Both people consent to any and all sexual activity, and they communicate their intentions and comfort at every step of a sexual encounter. Finally, a healthy relationship has clear boundaries, with both partners agreeing on how much time they spend together, how quickly or slowly they want to become intimate, and what details of their relationship can be shared with other people online or offline.
What You Can Do to Prevent Teen Dating Violence
Once you know how to identify an abusive relationship, it’s important that you also understand how to help a teen who may be in one. Starting a conversation about dating violence can be difficult, but it’s easier if you know what to say.
If you are a parent or adult authority figure, you should first know that you do have an influence on the decisions young people make. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 25% of people who visit their website LoveIsRespect.org say they do so because a teacher referred them to it.
When talking to a teen about their relationship, it’s important that you make your concern for them known, listen to what they tell you, and accept what they say at face value. Any skepticism or accusations on your part could damage the trust in your relationship and discourage them from speaking up again. Similarly, you should never punish or give ultimatums to a teen who is experiencing dating violence, as this will only make it harder for you to help them. You should also avoid speaking negatively about their romantic partner and choose instead to point out that their actions are disrespectful and harmful.
If you are a teen and you suspect one of your friends is in an abusive relationship, the best thing you can do is offer them emotional support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you think they need help, and listen to what they have to tell you. You should try to be respectful of their feelings and decisions while also pointing out the violent behavior you see and explaining that it is unacceptable. Last but not least, focus on building up your friend rather than tearing down their partner, as this might only serve to push them away from you.
Most importantly, whether it’s you, your friend, your child, or a teen you know who is suffering from dating violence, professional help is always available. Behavioral health therapists and counselors can provide advice, support and resources to help anyone get out of a relationship that’s damaging to their well-being.
Here at Cummins BHS, we believe that every person deserves to be treated with love, dignity and respect in all their relationships. We encourage you to spread this message by telling others about teen dating violence and sharing the signs and symptoms of abusive relationships.
And if you believe that professional counseling may be appropriate for yourself or your child, you can call us at (888) 714-1927 to discuss treatment options.
Looking for more information about dating violence, domestic abuse and toxic relationships? These articles may be helpful.