Dating Violence | Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Dating Violence

It is a sad truth that about 1/3 of teens experience some form of abuse in dating relationships and more than ½ of the teens surveyed know of someone who has been abused. Given this reality, it is very important to recognize the danger signs of an abusive relationship so that you can make sure you get help or get out, as soon as possible.

What is an unhealthy relationship?

Unhealthy relationships are those that make you feel bad about yourself, like you have to do what the other person says or make you feel afraid or in danger. A healthy relationship NEVER includes teasing or bullying, power struggles, angry outbursts, withholding love, coercion or peer pressure, unreasonable demands, or humiliation.

The “danger signs” of an unhealthy relationship should be easily recognizable- lack of talking and no communication, inability to listen, no trust, jealousy, no balance, and no respect.

Specifically, if you experience any of these things, you may be involved in an unhealthy relationship

Does the other person…

  • Put you down?
  • Get extremely jealous or possessive?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Tell you how to dress?
  • Try to control what you do and who you see?
  • Have big mood swings - being angry and yelling one minute, and the next minute being sweet and apologetic?
  • Make you feel nervous or like you’re "walking on eggshells"?
  • Put you down or criticize you and make you feel like you can't do anything right or that no one else would want you?
  • Threaten to hurt you?

Knowing these warning signs can help act as red lights in your relationship. You can stop and figure out if your relationship is abusive- before things get out of control.

Not all of these signs will be in every abusive relationship. If one or more of these warning signs exist in your relationship, it doesn't necessarily mean that your relationship is abusive, but your relationship may not be as healthy as you deserve it to be.

A very unhealthy relationship might include relationship violence. It is a pattern of abuse that happens between people in any type of relationship and may include unwanted sexual contact, physical, verbal and/or emotional abuse. No one deserves abuse. It doesn’t matter what the person’s appearance, attitude, or actions are. There is no excuse for abuse. In addition, being in unhealthy relationships means that things are more likely to “just happen” and become out of control.

The cycle of violence starts with three phases:

  • Tension: Criticism, yelling, swearing, angry gestures, coercion or threats
  • Violence: Physical and sexual attacks or threats, or raging and emotional abuse
  • Seduction/honeymoon: Apologies, promises to change or gifts

After people have lived in abusive relationships for a while, the seduction (or honeymoon) phase will disappear – and the reason for the abuse will always be “if you would only …” and the apologies stop.

Many people in abusive relationships are in denial. They cling to the myth…

  • That their partner will never do it again. Saying he or she will never do it again is futile because violence is a pattern of behaviors. Rarely does someone abuse their partner only once.
  • That they are not being abused. Dating abuse does include physical and sexual violence. But it also can include emotional and verbal abuse, which includes put-downs, insults, and threats.
  • That they will leave when the time is right. People stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons. These include fear of being alone, emotional dependence, confusion, low self-esteem, not realizing that it’s abuse, or a belief that the abuser will change.
  • That it only happens to girls. Males can also be victims in controlling and abusive relationships. They can be embarrassed to confess that they are being abused because they, the abuser, and other people sometimes have a bias that “only females are abused…"

If you are not being abused, but worry about a friend, ask yourself if your friend:

  • Constantly cancels plans for reasons that don’t sound true
  • Always worries about making their boy/girlfriend angry
  • Gives up things that are important
  • Show signs of physical abuse, like bruises or cuts
  • Tell you that they get pressured into having sex, or talk about feeling like a sex object
  • Have a boy/girlfriend that wants them to be available all the time
  • Has become isolated from friends or family

If the answer is “yes” to a significant number of these questions, that friend could be in an abusive relationship. If a friend is in an unhealthy relationship, talk to him/her, explain why you think it is harmful, and offer to help him/her get help. There are also hotlines, Internet sites and counselors dedicated to offering teens advice and support.

Here are some suggestions for helping a friend deal with an unhealthy or violent relationship.

  • Help them to recognize that feeling bad about themselves is not "normal" and that they deserve a healthy, non-violent relationship.
  • Encourage their strength and courage.
  • Not make them feel bad for their choices - even if you think these choices are wrong.
  • Offer to go with them to find a counselor or support group, or to talk to their family, friends or teachers.
  • Remember that you cannot "rescue" them.

Break the Cycle
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

Photo credit: salonexpress

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.