An estimated 33% of high school and college-aged young people experience relationship abuse.
We've discussed what makes a healthy relationship and some potential warning signs HERE, but we want to talk more in depth about relationship abuse, examples, red-flag behaviors, and some resources on how to get help. Parts of this article may be triggering for abuse survivors: reader discretion is advised.
Relationship abuse is a pattern of assaultive and controlling behaviors used by one person against another in order to gain or maintain power in the relationship.
Relationship violence is not a one-time incident. The abuse generally occurs in a cycle that will repeat itself. This cycle can look something like this:
Things get tense between partners. The abuser becomes more irritable and may pick fights with the other person or yell for no reason. The victim may feel like they can't do anything right and that things could blow up at any moment. They are especially careful not to "set them off."
The abuser "explodes" in an outburst of anger or violence that can include emotional, verbal, sexual and/or physical abuse.
The abuser apologizes and promises that it will never happen again. They may try to make up by telling the victim they love them or buying them flowers or other gifts. The abuser may shift the blame for the explosion to someone or something else, possibly saying that the victim did something to cause the abuse or saying they were drunk or stressed out. The victim may see this phase as the "real" personality of the abuser.
These episodes are rarely a one-time event. The pattern of abuse usually continues, with abusive incidents increasing in frequency and severity over time.
Different types of abuse can typically be broken down into either Emotional and/or Verbal Abuse or Sexual and/or Physical Abuse. Below are examples of each; for examples of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, click HERE.
Examples of Emotional/Verbal Abuse can include:
Isolating their partner from friends, family, and outside activities that don't include the abuser.
Calling the victim insulting names or using degrading terminology to describe them.
Showing jealousy and possessiveness about their dating partner.
Controlling how their dating partner dresses, how much makeup they use, with whom they talk, along with giving unsolicited advice and excessive text-messaging and otherwise checking up on the victim.
"Crazy-making" and rule-changing behaviors; threats to self-harm if the victim should leave the relationship.
Having different standards for the victim than the abuser has for themselves
Examples of Sexual/Physical Abuse can include:
Roughhousing or unwanted play wrestling.
Holding the victims hand too tightly or putting an arm around their shoulders or waist too tightly.
Pushing, shoving, hair-pulling, grabbing, restraining, and other violent and painful behaviors that are unwanted, even if they do not leave marks or bruises.
Touching the victim's body in ways that are not consensual or making them feel uncomfortable; making threats (implied or direct) to leave the relationship if the victim doesn't consent to sexual activity.
It is normal for these topics to be uncomfortable to discuss, let alone talk with your children about. For tips on how to talk to your child about these kinds of topics, click HERE.
Breaking up with an abusive partner is often very difficult. Abused young people need to be reassured and know that they deserve better treatment, that they are not alone, and that the abuse is not their fault. If you, your child, or someone you know is being abused, here are ways to stay safe and end an abusive relationship, along with important things to remember.
What to do to stay safe and end an abusive relationship:
Take the abuse seriously--tell the abuser to stop and possibly help them to get counseling.
Avoid being alone with the abuser or being alone in situations where they might unexpectedly appear and threaten you.
Do no meet the abuser alone. Do not let the abuser in your home or car when you are alone.
Tell others about the abuse--the more isolated you are from friends and family, the more power they have over you and the more opportunity they have to control and abuse you.
Always tell others where you are going and when you expect to return.
If the abuse happens in school, report it to a school counselor or security officer.
Keep a log of the abuse. You may need it for evidence if you have to take legal action.
Develop a safety plan and rehearse it.
Get help from professionals. Click HERE for local resources and scroll down for other resources to get help.
Things to remember or remind the victim of:
You deserve better. Do not put up with abuse.
You are not alone. People from all different backgrounds and all across the country are in or have been in abusive relationships.
It is not your fault that your partner abused you. It is a choice they made.
The longer you stay in the abusive relationship, the more intense the violence will become. It does not get better over time.
Being drunk or high is not an excuse for being abusive.
No one is justified in hurting you just because they are angry.
No one has to be alone in this process. Click HERE for a list of local resources that can help with domestic violence, counseling, and abusive relationships. Below is a list of hotlines you can call along with online resources.
If you want to talk to someone call:
National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline
800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224
National Organization for Victim Assistance
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
800-656-4673 or chat online HERE.
Helpful online resources:
Break the Cycle: Youth empowerment
This information was adapted from the Human Relations Media (HRM), Top Ten Signs of Relationship Abuse.