It doesn’t matter how careful you are—someone you love might hurt you on purpose. One in three romantic relationships turns abusive, and no one ever thinks it will happen to them. When you’re young and dating, it’s easy to think of abuse as something confined to bad marriages and Lifetime TV movies. But, intimate violence is the number one reason why women between the ages of 15 and 44 end up injured or in the ER, and the cause of one out of three murders of women. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are at the highest risk for experiencing intimate violence. Men can get abused in their relationships too, with some studies putting the frequency of physical abuse experienced by men equal to women, although women experience more injurious abuse. One of the biggest contributing problems is that even after separating from abusive partners, many are still in danger.
Pay attention to your gut—if you get that sick-to-your-stomach-something-isn’t-right-here feeling, you should listen to it. Even better, ask around. What’s his history? Who else has she dated? If the nice-guy (or girl!) behavior seems a little contrived and phony, it might really be too good to be true. And if there is that dangerous but exciting edge to him or her, just remember you might find yourself cut by that razor. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a partner’s potential for abusive behavior.
1. Swears at you. Both women and men can sometimes let those four-letter words fly. If your partner lets a few choice words slip out when a car cuts him or her off in traffic, a friend gets in his or her face or he/she realizes a screw-up, it might be typical behavior. But if your partner has consistent anger-management issues, be aware that, at some point, you’re likely to be at the receiving end of those choice words. This is the best time to reevaluate the relationship.
2. Deliberately hurts your feelings. A well-intentioned person may accidentally do or say something that hurts your feelings and makes you cry. A well-intentioned partner will recognize his slip-up, apologize and try to avoid that particular sore spot in the future. A person with cruel intentions will deliberately use your sore spots against you to win a fight. If you find someone using your past, your family or your fears to control you, it’s time to have a long hard think. Over time, those sore spots will turn into painful scars.
3. Puts you down. He makes a snide remark about your weight when you reach for dessert. She tells you not to waste your time on homework because you won’t get an A anyway. He criticizes your fashion, your friends, whatever. First time it happens, calmly explain what hurt and why. Sometimes, people have bad days, and they’ll apologize and won’t do it again. If it keeps happening, it’s because the smaller he or she can make you feel, the stronger his or her control over you will be.
4. Is jealous and possessive. If you find yourself spending less and less time with male friends, female friends, even family, because your partner’s jealous of their love and possessive of your time, then he/she is already controlling you. Emotional control is the first stage in a pattern of abuse, and you must strive to keep control of your identity, friends, family and your life.
5. Is brilliant at making up. When a nice person hurts your feelings, they’ll apologize. If it’s a big screw up, they might take you on a special night out or bring flowers in order to make up for the mistake. When a potential abuser realizes what he or she has done, an all-out-wooing spree to throw you off track ensues. Over-the-top flowers, gifts, chocolates, compliments, special nights—you’ll feel like the center of the universe. The purpose is to make you so attached that you’ll stick around long enough for him/her to gain the upper hand. This behavior is all-too typical of the “honeymoon cycle,” a familiar pattern in abusive situations. Pay attention to how your partner handles make-ups and how soon he/she reverts to behaviors one through four.
1. Touches you in any way but a loving way. Shoving, pushing, grabbing, pulling, biting, pinching—there are a lot of ways to hurt without hitting, and most of them eventually lead to hitting. Even abusive men don’t usually start with punches or broken bones. They start small, and the more you tolerate, the more they push. Your tolerance level should be zero.
2. Tries to convince you that painful is sexy. Nibbling your neck may be fine, but biting your lip to the point of blood and bruises isn’t. Patting your bottom softly may be cute, but a spanking might cross your line. It doesn’t matter what he/she says his/her ex-partners enjoyed, what the Internet or magazines say or what you should think—if you say you’re uncomfortable or it hurts, it should stop. If not, you should leave. If you say not tonight, your partner must stop. If not, he’s a candidate for rape charges.
3. Gets violent. If your partner starts a bar brawl because someone looked at you wrong, throws or destroys property, purposefully kicks an animal, puts a fist through a wall or in any other way loses their cool to the point of hurting someone or something, it’s a violent streak. If you stick around, he may eventually turn on you.
If you’re beginning to see a pattern, it’s time to assess your attraction to this kind of partner while preserving your self respect. Take a deep, hard look at what might draw you to partners who might be selfish, narcissistic, aggressive or power hungry. Are these behaviors modeled in your parents? Are you looking for love in all the wrong places? And if it’s an issue, make serious time to confront your own anger-management—in words and in actions. If you and your friends recognize a pattern, perhaps its time to put off dating for a while, seek out some help from your school counseling center and work on yourself. You are never to blame for violence or abuse against you, but professionals can help make sure you can better detect the red flags in advance.