A closer look at abusive relationships, how to identify if you or someone you love is in one, and where to get help
When you’re in a healthy relationship, both individuals support each other by sharing the good times and helping each other through the tough ones. When someone matters deeply to you, and those feelings of trust and respect are returned, it enables you to face the world with confidence.
Building and maintaining a healthy relationship takes a commitment from both sides. But it’s worth it, because in a good relationship, you feel good about your boyfriend or girlfriend and good about yourself.
Not all relationships work out, no matter how much we might want them to. When a relationship becomes violent or destructive, it can be both physically and emotionally dangerous for the people involved.
Key signs of an abusive relationship
While everyone’s experience of an unhealthy or abusive relationship will be different, there are some common patterns of controlling behavior and abuse that can surface before the relationship becomes physically violent. These include:
Possessiveness. This could mean that your partner is checking on you all the time to see where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re with; or trying to control where you can go and who you can see.
Jealousy. This includes accusing you—without good reason—of being unfaithful or flirting, or isolating you from your family and friends, often by exhibiting rude behavior.
Put-downs. These can happen either privately or publicly by attacking how smart you are, your looks or capabilities. In an abusive situation, your boyfriend or girlfriend might also constantly compare you unfavorably to other people, or blame you for all the problems in the relationship.
Gaslighting. This is a common tactic used by abusers to manipulate you and to make you question your reality. They are confident liars and slowly start showing this side of themselves to you, isolating you from loved ones and tearing into your sense of identity and all you care about. If you’ve ever been made to feel like you were losing your mind, it’s likely you were with a gaslighter.
Threats. An abuser might use threats against you, for example, that he or she will use violence against you, your family or friends, or even a pet. He or she might tell you that no one else will ever want to date you. Yelling, sulking, and breaking things are also signs of abuse.
What to do if you are being abused
It’s not OK to be physically threatened or scared into things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy just because you are in a relationship.
It’s not OK to be put down and pushed around—shoved, hit, slapped, kicked or punched. No one deserves to be treated this way. No one should use violence—or the threat of violence—to make you do what you don’t want to do.
It’s not OK for someone to use the excuse that they are tired, stressed, overworked or under financial pressure as a reason for their violent behavior.
If you’re living with your boyfriend or girlfriend and are feeling unsafe, find other accommodations with friends or family, or if that’s not possible, an emergency shelter.
Breaking the cycle of violence
A violent relationship may not be violent all the time. Sometimes, violent people treat their boyfriends or girlfriends very well. They can be loving and sorry for their violent behavior. This can make it hard to see what’s really happening. There is a strong chance that the violence will get worse, and the relationship more abusive over time.
After a violent event, it’s common for both of you to try and make things better by making excuses, apologizing, or promising to change. But there is no excuse for this behavior, and just saying sorry is not good enough. Sometimes the violent person will blame the victim by saying things like “it wouldn’t happen if you did what I said.” Things might settle down for a while, but usually it’s only a matter of time before the build-up to violence starts again.
If you’re experiencing violence in a relationship, things can feel very confusing, especially if it’s your first relationship. You might try to make excuses, think of the violence as a one-time incident, or blame the abuse on the fact that the abuser was drunk or stressed. You might not be sure what behavior to expect from him or her. It’s possible to begin thinking that the violence is your fault, or perhaps you start to try to fit in with whatever the abuser wants, even if it makes you uncomfortable. You could also be feeling scared that he or she will hurt you if you try to leave.
Ending any kind of relationship is hard to do, but it can be particularly difficult to leave a violent relationship. When you’re frightened and your self-esteem is low, it can be hard to find the strength to leave or break-up. Sometimes it’s easier to hope that things will change for the better, but too often they don’t.
The first step in changing things is to understand that what’s been happening to you is wrong. Even if your boyfriend or girlfriend says they care about you, it’s not OK to be treated like this and you deserve better.
Where to get help
Listen to your feelings and trust them. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Talk to someone who cares about you. Talk to your mom or dad, a family member, a friend or someone in your community like your doctor, your teacher or your local religious leader. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. You are not responsible for somebody else’s violent behavior. Your first responsibility is to yourself. To develop a safe plan to leave, check out loveisrespect.org’s comprehensive safety planning guide. The sources listed below can also help you get safe.
Many free helplines are available if you think you’re being abused, or are worried for a friend you suspect could be being abused. Check out our Crisis Helpline article to find crisis helplines and services offered both nationally and within the state of Oregon.
Some national helplines you can reach out to:
Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)
Text 273TALK to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)
Call 1-800-448-3000 (24/7/365)
Both hotlines are confidential and staffed 24-hours a day by trained volunteers who are ready to talk to you about whatever you’re feeling.
Loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline - Available 24/7/365
For hearing-impaired, call 1-866-331-8453 (TTY)
Text loveis to 22522
Chat online here
Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
For hearing-impaired, call 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Call 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)
You can also reach out to an abuse coalition in your state, which can help connect you to more local resources. Check out the Domestic Violence Coalitions website for more information on state coalitions.
Womenslaw.org has information regarding legal matters and abuse per state that might be helpful looking at before leaving the abusive relationship.
Information for this article was provided by:
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com