Dating can be an important part of growing up. It can help us learn communication skills and can help us determine what we are looking for in a partner. However, dating can also be stressful, and communication with a girlfriend or boyfriend can be difficult. Some teens find themselves in relationships where violence/abuse (emotional, physical, or both) is present. This guide and the dating violence quizzes can help you recognize the signs of dating violence, what to do if you are a victim of violence or you’re behaving in a violent way, learn the differences between a healthy relationship and an abusive relationship, learn what might cause a person to be violent in a relationship, and what to do if you or a friend is experience dating violence.
What is dating violence?
Dating violence can be emotional, physical, or both. Some people believe that emotional abuse isn’t as serious as physical abuse, but this isn’t true. Emotional abuse and physical abuse are both very serious. Both types of abuse have very serious consequences for both the victim and the abuser.
It’s important to know that both guys and girls can commit dating violence. In addition, girls aren’t always the victims of dating violence. Guys can be victims too. In fact, sometimes both partners commit physical and emotional abuse.
What is physical abuse?
Physical abuse is when a person touches your body in an unwanted or violent way. Physical abuse also includes sexual abuse, which is any sexual contact that you don’t want.
Some examples of physical abuse include:
- Forcing sexual acts
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional (or verbal) abuse is when a person says something or does something that makes you afraid or feel bad about yourself.
Some examples of emotional abuse include:
- Using words to control someone
Why would a person hurt someone they’re dating?
There are many reasons which might help to explain, but never excuse, why a person might abuse someone they have an intimate relationship with.
A person may be abusive to someone they are dating because:
- The person may experience or have experienced violence at home
- They may have low self-esteem or lack of self confidence
- They may have poor communication skills
- They may want to control the relationship, or they may feel bad about themselves and think they’ll feel better if they make someone else feel worse
- They may struggle with knowing how to properly express anger, sadness, powerlessness, and other difficult emotions
Drugs and alcohol can also play a part in abusive behavior. There are some people who lose control and act abusively after they have been drinking or taking drugs. This is no excuse. Just because someone is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or has a bad temper doesn’t mean that their abusive behavior is okay.
Even though there are reasons why a person may be violent, there is no excuse for dating violence. A person who is violent (emotionally or physically) should address the issue with a trained professional such as a counselor or therapist.
Healthy Relationships vs. Abusive Relationships
What makes a healthy relationship?
- You and the person you are dating feel good about each other and yourselves.
- You do activities together, such as going to movies, playing sports, or hanging out with other friends.
- There is respect and honesty. You both listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings. Even if you argue or disagree sometimes, you can talk things out and reach a compromise that works for both of you.
- You accept each other’s right to say “no” or change your mind, without giving each other a hard time.
- You understand that it’s important for both of you to stay involved with the activities and interests you enjoyed before you became close, because you both need time to hang out with other friends, as well as time for yourselves.
Why do some people stay in unhealthy or violent relationships?
It can be hard to get out of a violent relationship – you can’t just turn off your feelings for someone you care about. Also, violent relationships often go in cycles. After a person is abusive, they may be extra nice and apologetic, and promise never to do it again. It may be a while before they act violently again.
Other reasons it can be hard to get out of an abusive relationship include:
- You may be ashamed to admit you are in an abusive relationship
- You may be scared to be without that person
- You may be scared that your friend or partner will hurt you or hurt themselves if you tell someone
People who are abused often believe that if they are nice enough, or behave well enough, their girlfriend or boyfriend will stop being violent – NOT TRUE. Abuse is not your fault, so changing your behavior won’t stop it. Whatever the reasons, leaving an unhealthy relationship is hard, and you will likely need help to do it.
Reasons to leave an abusive relationship:
- Abusive relationships are unhealthy emotionally. You may lose your self confidence and find it harder to have other relationships.
- Abusive relationships are physically unhealthy. You can have trouble sleeping, headaches, or stomachaches. You might feel depressed, sad, anxious, or nervous.
- If you’re being physically abused, it’s possible that you may receive injuries that cause permanent damage.
- You deserve to be in a relationship that is healthy and fun!
How to stop being abusive in a relationship
It can be very hard to recognize or admit that you’re having trouble behaving well in a relationship.
Some things you might feel if you’re having problems include:
- Feeling out of control
- Wanting to hurt your partner
- Something your partner does makes you feel violent
- You feel like you need to control your partner
If you’re experiencing these feelings or acting abusive towards your partner, it’s a sign that you’re having a problem, and you need help.
I’m behaving in an abusive or unhealthy way in a relationship – what should I do?
First of all, it’s excellent that you recognize that you are having trouble behaving well in a relationship. This can cause problems in your relationship, or even cause your partner to end the relationship. If your partner chooses to leave the relationship, it’s important to respect their decision. It’s also very important that you seek help so that these behaviors won’t become a lifelong pattern. You need to talk with someone who can understand you and help you gain control over your emotions and your behavior. Speak with a trusted adult such as your health care provider, a school guidance counselor, or a therapist. Check out the resources below for more information.
How to leave a relationship if your partner is abusive
How do I get out of an unhealthy or abusive relationship?
Some people need help getting out of an unhealthy relationship. They might be afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings or making them angry. Talk to a parent, friend, counselor, health care provider, teacher, coach or other trusted person about your relationship. They can help you contact other people (your parents, school security, or even the police) if necessary.
Sometimes leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous, because your partner may try to stop you from leaving. It will be a lot easier and safer if you make and stick to a safety plan.
Here are some tips on making your safety plan:
- Tell a trusted adult.
- Tell the person who is abusing you that you don’t want to see them. Do this over the phone so they can’t touch you, or with your parents/guardians at home so you know you’ll be safe in your house.
- Keep track of any violence. This will be important if you need the court to issue a restraining order against the person. It will also be a useful reminder to you of why you are leaving the relationship.
- Avoid any contact with the person.
- Call 911 right away if you’re ever afraid that the person is following you or is going to hurt you.
- Keep domestic violence hotline numbers (see the resources below) in your wallet or store them in your cell phone.
If you’re concerned for your safety and worried that your boyfriend/girlfriend may hurt you, there are many ways to get help.
- Call 911
- Talk to a parent/guardian, health care provider, teacher, guidance counselor, or other trusted adult
- Call a dating violence hotline
How to Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship
What do I do if a friend tells me that he or she is in an abusive relationship?
- Listen very carefully to what your friend has to say.
- Do not blame or judge your friend. People who are abused have a tendency to blame themselves already.
- Tell your friend you believe what they are saying, and that you know it’s not their fault.
- Remind your friend about all the friends and family who care and want them to be safe.
- Tell your friend to tell a parent or other trusted adult right away – offer to help.
- Give your friend information on how to make a safety plan and give them phone numbers of counselors and domestic violence hotlines (see the resources below).
- Be sure not to take this on alone. Talk with a trusted adult about how to help your friend.
Even if your friend doesn’t listen to your advice, don’t tell him or her to choose between the abusive partner and you. This will make your friend feel that they can’t talk to you. Remember that leaving an abusive relationship is hard and may take several tries.
What else do I need to know?
- At least 1 in 10 teens experience physical violence in their relationships
- Even if abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional) does not affect you, it could be affecting one of your friends
- If you or your friend is in an unhealthy relationship, get help right away before someone gets hurt
Take this quiz to help figure out if you’re behaving violently in your relationship.
Read statements 1-8 and think about your answers.
- I get very angry when I see my girlfriend/boyfriend talking to, spending time with, hugging, texting, or social networking with another person.
- I need to know where my girlfriend/boyfriend is most (or all) of the time.
- Calling and texting my girlfriend/boyfriend all day long shows them how much I care about them.
- I feel guilty or ashamed about how I angry I become with my girlfriend/boyfriend.
- I’ve pushed, slapped, or hit my girlfriend/boyfriend when we were fighting.
- I have strong preferences about what my girlfriend/boyfriend wears.
- My girlfriend/boyfriend gets me so angry that I sometimes feel out of control.
- I’m concerned about the way I treat my girlfriend/boyfriend.
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions it’s possible that you’ve been behaving abusively towards your partner. It’s important to get help now to stop the cycle of dating violence.
Take this quiz to help figure out if you’re experiencing abuse in your relationship.
Read statements 1-8 and think about your answers.
- I’m scared of talking to/spending time with, or hugging other people because my girlfriend/boyfriend may get angry.
- I have to check in with my girlfriend/boyfriend about where I’m going or they will get angry.
- My girlfriend/boyfriend calls and texts me all day long and gets angry if I don’t respond.
- I feel embarrassed about how my girlfriend/boyfriend treats me.
- My girlfriend/boyfriend has pushed, slapped, or hit me when we were fighting.
- My girlfriend/boyfriend likes to choose what I wear.
- My girlfriend/boyfriend has said things such as, “Why do you make me so angry” or “Why do you make me treat you this way” when we’re fighting.
- I’m fearful of my girlfriend/boyfriend and worry about ending the relationship.