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Relationships exist on a spectrum, from healthy to unhealthy to abusive -- and everywhere in between. It can be hard to determine where your relationship falls, especially if you haven’t dated a lot. Explore this section to learn the basics of dating, healthy relationships and drawing the line before abuse starts.
Is My Relationship Healthy?
In a healthy relationship:
•Your partner respects you and your individuality.
•You are both open and honest.
•Your partner supports you and your choices even when they disagree with you.
•Both of you have equal say and respected boundaries.
•Your partner understands that you need to study or hang out with friends or family.
•You can communicate your feelings without being afraid of negative consequences.
•Both of you feel safe being open and honest.
A good partner is not excessively jealous and does not make you feel guilty when you spend time with family and friends. A good partner also compliments you, encourages you to achieve your goals and does not resent your accomplishments.
My Partner Doesn’t Physically Hurt Me
Just because there is no physical abuse in your relationship doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s not healthy if your partner:
•Is inconsiderate, disrespectful or distrustful.
•Doesn't communicate their feelings.
•Tries to emotionally or financially control you by placing your money in their banking account.
•Keeps you from getting a job or gets you fired.
•Humiliates you on Facebook or in front of your friends.
•Threatens to out you to your family.
So, Is My Relationship Unhealthy?
Everybody deserves to be in a healthy relationship free from violence. Drawing the line between unhealthy and abusive can be hard. If you think your relationship is going in the wrong direction, check out the warning signs of abuse.
Remember, there are many types of abuse and while you may think some of them are normal -- they are not. Even though teen and 20-something relationships may be different from adult ones, young people do experience the same types of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse that adults do. You should take violence in your relationship seriously.
If you think are in an abusive relationship, you're probably feeling confused about what to do. You may fear what your partner will do if you leave or how your friends and family will react when you tell them. If you are financially or physically dependent on your partner, leaving may feel impossible. You may also think that the police and other adults won't take you seriously.
These are all understandable reasons to feel nervous about leaving your partner, but staying in the abusive relationship isn't your only option.
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How Can I Communicate Better?
Part of being in a healthy relationship is having good communication. Use the guidelines below to open up the channels of communication between you and your partner. If you're in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, be careful using these tips. You know your relationship best. If any of these tips would put you in danger, don't try them.
For healthier communication, try to:
◦Find the Right Time. If something is bothering you and you would like to have a serious conversation about it, make sure you pick the right time to talk. Don’t interrupt your partner when they’re watching a sports game, TV show, about to go to sleep or stressed about an upcoming test. Tell your partner you would like to talk later and find a time when you’re in the same room and not doing anything important. Don’t start serious conversations in public places unless you don’t feel safe.
◦Talk Face to Face. Avoid talking about serious matters or issues in writing. Text messages, letters and emails can be misinterpreted. Talk in person so there aren’t any unnecessary miscommunications.
◦Do Not Attack. Even when we mean well, we can sometimes come across as harsh because of our word choice. Using "you" can sound like you're attacking, which will make your partner defensive and less receptive to your message. Instead, try using "I" or "we." For example, say “I feel like we haven't been as close lately” instead of “You have been distant with me.”
◦Be Honest. Agree to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s the key to a healthy relationship. Admit that you aren’t always perfect and apologize when you make a mistake instead of making excuses. You will feel better and it will help strengthen your relationship.
Check Your Body Language.
Make eye contact when speaking. Sit up and face your partner. Let your partner know you’re listening. Show them you realy care. Don’t take a phone call, text or play a video game when you’re talking. Listen and respond. •Use the 48 Hour Rule. If your partner does something that makes you angry, you need to tell them about it. But you don’t have to do so right away. If you’re still hurt 48 hours later, say something. If not, consider forgetting about it. But remember your partner can’t read your mind. If you don’t speak up when you’re upset, there is no way for them to apologize or change. Once you do mention your hurt feelings and your partner sincerely apologies, let it go. Don’t bring up past issues if they're not relevant.
How to Communicate if You Are Angry
•Stop. If you get really angry about something, stop, take a step back and breathe. Give yourself time to calm down by watching TV, talking to a friend, playing a video game, taking a walk, listening to some music or whatever helps you relax. Taking a break can keep the situation from getting worse.
•Think. After you’re no longer upset, think about the situation and why you got so angry. Was it how your partner spoke or something they did? Figure out the real problem then think about how to explain your feelings.
•Talk. Finally, talk to your partner and when you do, follow the tips above.
•Listen. After you tell your partner how you feel, remember to stop talking and listen to what they have to say. You both deserve the opportunity to express how you feel in a safe and healthy environment.
Communicating isn’t always easy. At first, some of these tips may feel unnatural or awkward, but they will help you communicate better and build a healthy relationship.
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What is Dating Violence?
Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner.
A Pattern of Behavior
Calling dating violence a pattern doesn't mean the first instance of abuse is not dating violence. It just recognizes that dating violence usually involves a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time.
Every relationships is different, but the one thing that is common to most abusive dating relationships is that the violence escalates over time and becomes more and more dangerous for the young victim.
Who Experiences Dating Violence?
Any teen or young adult can experience violence, abuse or unhealthy behaviors in their dating relationships. A relationship may be serious or casual, monogamous or not, short-term or long-term. Dating abuse does not discriminate – it does not see gender, sexual identity, economic status, ethnicity or religious preference.
What Does Dating Violence Look Like?
Teens and young adults experience the same types of abuse in relationships as adults. This can include:
•Physical Abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
•Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
•Sexual Abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.
•Digital Abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass or threaten a current or ex-dating partner. This could include demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyber bullying, sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on Facebook or other social media.
If you or a loved one is in a violent relationship, please get help. Visit loveisrespect for more information, chat with a peer advocate online, call 866.331.9474 or text "loveis" to 77054.
Ten Warning Signs of Abuse
While there are many warning signs of abuse, here are ten common abusive behaviors:
•Checking your cell phone or email without permission
•Constantly putting you down
•Extreme jealousy or insecurity
•Isolating you from family or friends
•Making false accusations
•Physically hurting you in any way
•Telling you what to do
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Why It Matters
Each of the partners supporting Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month believe that every young person deserves a safe and healthy relationship, no matter who they are or who they love.
A Silent Epidemic
We are living in a world where one in three students report experiencing some form of abuse, and more than 2/3 never report that abuse to a caring adult. A world where young people in more than 35 states still lack unfettered access to legal protection or other assistance to end an abusive relationship. A world where over 80% of school counselors report being unprepared to address incidents of abuse. This tells us – dating abuse isn't just a big issue. It's a growing epidemic.
The Effect of Dating Violence
Less attention to academics. Increased exposure to drugs and alcohol. A greater likelihood of teen pregnancy. Growing isolation. Sexual assault. Even one of these things can have a profound impact on the physical, social and emotional growth of a young person. Together, they create a perfect storm that not only affects the victim of abuse, but their friends, families, schools and surrounding communities.
And it goes beyond preventing the actual violence. Parents need to feel comfortable talking to their kids about these issues. Schools need to take steps to become better prepared to address incidents on campus. Communities need to rise up and say NO MORE.
Thankfully, there are so many examples of where we’re getting it right, where we’re really making an impact. With your help, we can all work together to ensure that everyone knows this is a big issue.
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Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?
People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave. They don't understand that breaking up can be more complicated than it seems.
There are many reasons why both men and women stay in abusive relationships. If you have a friend in an unhealthy relationship, support them by understanding why they may choose to not leave immediately.
• Fear: Your friend may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. If your friend has been threatened by their partner, family or friends, they may not feel safe leaving.
• Believing Abuse is Normal: If your friend doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
• Fear of Being Outed: If your friend is in same-sex relationship and has not yet come out to everyone, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret. Being outed may feel especially scary for young people who are just beginning to explore their sexuality.
• Embarrassment: It’s probably hard for your friend to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.
• Low Self-esteem: If your friend’s partner constantly puts them down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for your friend to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
• Love: Your friend may stay in an abusive relationship hoping that their abuser will change. Think about it -- if a person you love tells you they’ll change, you want to believe them. Your friend may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
• Social/Peer Pressure: If the abuser is popular, it can be hard for a person to tell their friends for fear that no one will believe them or that everyone will take the abuser's side.
• Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit to being sexually active and for young men to admit to being abused. Also, your friend’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
• Pregnancy/Parenting: Your friend may feel pressure to raise their children with both parents together, even if that means staying in an abusive relationship. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the children if your friend leaves.
Distrust of Adults or Authority
• Puppy-love Phenomena Adults often don’t believe that teens really experience love. So if something goes wrong in the relationship, your friend may feel like they have no adults to turn to or that no one will take them seriously.
• Distrust of Police: Many teens and young adults do not feel that the police can or will help them, so they don’t report the abuse.
• Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If your friend is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others.
Reliance on the Abusive Partner
• Lack of Money: Your friend may have become financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.
• Nowhere to Go: Even if they could leave, your friend may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they’ve ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.
• Disability: If your friend is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence his or her decision to stay in an abusive relationship.
What Can I Do?
If you have friends or family members who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, the most important thing you can do is be supportive and listen to them. Please don't judge! Understand that leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship is never easy.
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Texting and Sexting
Next to talking one-on-one, texting is currently one of the most instant forms of communication. While texting might be the perfect platform to say a quick "hi," there are some things to watch out for in a textual relationship with your partner.
Texting Too Much
If your partner texts too much, it's not only irritating, but unnecessary. Keeping in touch with your significant other throughout the day can be thoughtful, but constant contact is probably over-doing it. Consider talking to your partner about giving you a little bit of space. Remember, if they’re using texting messaging to monitor everywhere you go, that is a warning sign of abuse.
Does your partner ask for inappropriate pictures of you? Or send them to you? Even if you trust that your partner will be the only one to ever see the pictures, you can never guarantee that they won’t end up on someone else’s phone or online. Seriously consider playing it safe and making a policy of not sending and instantly deleting inappropriate photos. The same goes for webcams and instant messaging, too. Remember you never have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with, no matter how much your partner pressures you.
Sexting can also have legal consequences. Any nude photos or video of someone under 18 could be considered child pornography, which is always illegal. Even if whoever sent the image did so willingly, the recipient can still get in a lot of trouble.
Reading Someone Else’s Texts
Does your partner ask to read your texts? Or read them behind your back? Healthy relationships are built on trust, not jealousy. You have the right to privacy and the ability to talk to whomever you like. You may want to explain to your partner that you have nothing to hide, but don’t like them going through your phone or deciding who your friends are. If your partner refuses to change, you could be in an unhealthy relationship. Take our quiz to find out if there are other warning signs in your relationships.
Threats over Text
Threats over text should be taken seriously -- try not to write them off as angry venting. Keep track of threatening texts and think about talking to someone you trust about what is happening. Being in a violent relationship is dangerous -- don't going through it alone.
What Can I Do?
Whether you feel like your partner is already using their cell phone in an abusive way or you're trying to prevent it, here are tips to keep you safe and healthy:
•Remember, it’s ok to turn off your phone. Just be sure your parent or guardian knows how to contact you in an emergency.
•Don’t answer calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Your abuser can easily call you from another line if they suspect you are avoiding them.
•Don’t respond to hostile, harassing, abusive or inappropriate texts or messages. Responding can encourage the person who sent the message and won’t get them to stop. Your messages might also get you in trouble and make it harder to get a restraining order or file a criminal report.
•Save or document troublesome texts as you may need them later for evidence in case you file a criminal report or ask for a restraining order.
•Many phone companies can block up to ten numbers from texting or calling you. Contact your phone company or check their website to see if you can do this on your phone.
•If you are in or coming out of a dangerous relationship, avoid using any form of technology to contact your abuser. It can be dangerous and may be used against you in the future.
•It may seem extreme, but if the abuse and harassment don't stop, changing your phone number may be your best option
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Should We Break Up?
If you're in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, figuring out the next step can be very difficult. You have feelings for this person and have developed a history with them. However, it's the future, not the past, that you should consider. Will you be happy with them? Will you be able to achieve your goals? Will you feel safe? Whatever decision you make, we can help you plan for your safety.
You may not be ready or it may not be possible to leave your abusive relationship, but you can still increase your safety. Try following these tips:
•If you go to a party or event with your partner, plan a way home with someone you trust.
•Avoid being alone with your partner. Make sure that other people are around when you're together.
•If you're alone with your partner, make sure that someone knows where you are and when you'll return.
How to Prepare for a Break Up
You may feel pressure from your friends and family to just break up and move on, but we know it's never that simple. Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking about breaking up:
•The person you’re dating has probably become a huge part of your life. You might see more of them now than you do your friends or family. So being scared about feeling lonely after the break up is normal. Talking to friends or finding new activities may make filling your new free time easier.
•You'll probably miss your partner after you break up, maybe a lot. Even if they’ve been abusive and controlling, it's normal to miss them. Try writing down the reasons you want to end your relationship and keep them as a reminder for later on.
•If your partner is controlling and jealous, they may make a lot of decisions for you. It can take time to adjust to making your own decisions again. If you start to feel helpless or overwhelmed, tap into your support system.
•You may be scared to end your relationship. If you are, take that fear seriously. Use our safety plan workbooks below to think through the dangerous situations you may encounter.
Ending an unhealthy or abusive relationship is not like ending a healthy one. Your abusive partner may not accept the break up or respect your boundaries. They may try to control you through guilt trips, threats or insults. It may be very difficult to have a peaceful or mutual breakup with an abusive partner. Just know that as long as YOU are ok with the decision, it’s ok if your partner is not. If you're thinking of ending your relationship, consider these tips:
•If you don’t feel safe, don’t break up in person. It may seem cruel to break up over the phone or by email but it may be the safest way.
•If you break up in person, do it in a public place. Have friends or your parents wait nearby. Try to take a cell phone with you.
•Don’t try to explain your reasons for ending the relationship more than once. There is nothing you can say that will make your ex happy.
•Let your friends and parents know you are ending your relationship, especially if you think your ex will come to your house or confront you when you're alone.
•If your ex does come to your house when you’re alone, don’t go to the door.
•Trust yourself. If you feel afraid, you probably have a good reason.
•Ask for help. Chat with a peer advocate who is trained and ready to answer your questions.
After Breaking Up
Just because an unhealthy or abusive relationship is over, doesn’t mean the risk of violence is too. Use these tips to stay safe after ending your relationship:
•Talk with your friends and family so they can support you.
•If you can, tell your parents what’s going on, especially if your ex may come by your home.
•Talk to a school counselor or teacher you trust. Together, you can alert security, adjust your class schedule or find other ways to help you feel safer.
•Avoid isolated areas at school and local hangouts. Don’t walk alone or wear earphones.
•Keep friends or family close when attending parties or events you think your ex might attend.
•Save any threatening or harassing messages your ex sends. Set your profile to private on social networking sites and ask friends to do the same.
•If you ever feel you're in immediate danger, call 911.
•Memorize important numbers in case you don’t have access to your cell phone
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A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that can help you avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react when you’re in danger.
If you’re experiencing abuse or are in an unhealthy relationship, you should create a safety plan. Whether you decide to end the relationship or stay, it’s a good idea to empower yourself with the knowledge of how to act in different scenarios. Create a safety plan using our interactive tool below.
Prefer pen and paper? Then download our College or High School Safety Planning Guide.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2007-TA-AX-K024 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
Safety Planning for Family and Friends
As friends and family members, you can help someone in an abusive relationship make a safety plan using the tools above. Try to remember:
•Listen and be supportive. Even when you don’t understand or agree with their decision -- don't judge. It can make them feel worse.
•Connect them to resources and information in their area. Chat with a peer advocate to find information to share.
•Don’t post information about your loved one on social networking sites. Never use sites like Facebook or Foursquare to reveal their current location or where they hang out. It's possible their partner will use your post to find them. Brush up on your knowledge of digital safety.
•Allow the person you're trying to help to make up their own mind. Leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship may be difficult and even dangerous. Avoid blaming or belittling comments. Abusive partners usually put down their victims regularly, so your loved one's self-esteem may already be low.
•Don't give up even though helping is frustrating