When Brian and Sarah began dating, her friends were envious. Brian was smart, sensitive, funny, athletic, and good-looking. Even her mom loved him.
For the first couple of months, Sarah seemed happy. She started to miss her friends and family, though, because she was spending more time with Brian and less time with everyone else. That seemed easier than dealing with Brian's endless questions. He worried about what she was doing at every moment of the day.
But Sarah's friends became concerned when her behavior started to change. She lost interest in the things she once enjoyed, like swim meets and going to the mall. She became secretive and moody. When her friends asked if she was having trouble with Brian, she told them nothing was wrong.
Healthy relationships involve respect, trust, and consideration for the other person. Sadly, some relationships can turn bad. In fact, 1 in 11 high school students report being physically hurt by a date.
People in these relationships sometimes mistake the abuse for intense feelings of caring or concern. It can even seem flattering. Think of a friend whose boyfriend or girlfriend is very jealous: Maybe it seems like your friend's partner really cares. But actually, excessive jealousy and controlling behavior are not signs of affection at all.
Love involves respect and trust; it doesn't mean constantly worrying about the possible end of the relationship. If you feel nervous or insecure about your relationship, it's important to talk it through with your boyfriend or girlfriend, rather than try to control your partner's behavior.
What Is Abuse?
Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Physical abuse means any form of violence, such as hitting, punching, pulling hair, and kicking. Abuse can happen in both dating relationships and friendships.
Emotional abuse (stuff like teasing, bullying, and humiliating others) can be difficult to recognize because it doesn't leave any visible scars. Threats, intimidation, putdowns, and betrayal are all harmful forms of emotional abuse that can really hurt — not just during the time it's happening, but long afterward, too.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, guy or girl. It's never right to be forced into any type of sexual experience that you don't want.
The first step in getting out of an abusive relationship is to realize that you have the right to be treated with respect and not be physically or emotionally harmed by another person.
Important warning signs that you may be involved in an abusive relationship include when someone:
harms you physically in any way, including slapping, pushing, grabbing, shaking, smacking, kicking, and punching
tries to control different aspects of your life, such as how you dress, who you hang out with, and what you say
frequently humiliates you or makes you feel unworthy (for example, if a partner puts you down but tells you that he or she loves you)
threatens to harm you, or self-harm, if you leave the relationship
twists the truth to make you feel you are to blame for your partner's actions
demands to know where you are at all times
constantly becomes jealous or angry when you want to spend time with your friends
Unwanted sexual advances that make you uncomfortable are also red flags that the relationship needs to focus more on respect. When someone says stuff like "If you loved me, you would . . . " that's also a warning of possible abuse, and is a sign that your partner is trying to manipulate you. A statement like this is controlling and is used by people who are only concerned about getting what they want — not caring about what you want. Trust your intuition. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Signs That a Friend Is Being Abused
In addition to the signs listed above, here are some signs a friend might be being abused by a partner:
unexplained bruises, broken bones, sprains, or marks
excessive guilt or shame for no apparent reason
secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don't seem to make any sense
A person who is being abused needs someone to hear and believe him or her. Maybe your friend is afraid to tell a parent because that will bring pressure to end the relationship. People who are abused often feel like it's their fault — that they "asked for it" or that they don't deserve any better. But abuse is never deserved. Help your friend understand that it is not his or her fault. Your friend is not a bad person. The person who is being abusive has a serious problem and needs professional help.
A friend who is being abused needs your patience, love, and understanding. Your friend also needs your encouragement to get help immediately from an adult, such as a parent, family member, or guidance counselor. Most of all, your friend needs you to listen without judging. It takes a lot of courage to admit being abused; let your friend know that you're offering your full support.
What should you do if you think someone might be abusing you? If you feel that you love someone but often feel afraid, it's time to get out of the relationship — fast. You're worth being treated with respect and you can get help.
First, make sure you're safe. A trusted adult or friend can help. If the person has physically attacked you, don't wait to get medical attention or to call the police. Assault is illegal, and so is rape — even if it's done by someone you are dating.
Avoid the tendency to isolate yourself from your friends and family. You might feel like you have nowhere to turn, or you might be embarrassed about what's been going on, but this is when you need support most. People like counselors, doctors, teachers, coaches, and friends will want to help you, so let them.
Don't rely on yourself alone to get out of the situation. Friends and family who love and care about you can help you break away. It's important to know that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It actually shows that you have a lot of courage and are willing to stand up for yourself. It’s also likely you will need help to break out of a cycle of abuse, especially if you still love the person who has hurt you, or feel guilty about leaving.
Where to Get Help
Ending abuse and violence in teen relationships is a community effort with plenty of people ready to help. Your local phone book or the internet will list crisis centers, teen help lines, and abuse hotlines. These organizations have professionally trained staff to listen, understand, and help. In addition, religious leaders, school nurses, teachers, school counselors, doctors, and other health professionals can be sources of support and information.
You can also get involved at a school or community level as an advocate to help prevent future dating abuse. One example of a school-based program is Safe Dates. Talk to your school guidance counselor about starting a group or other ways to get involved in making sure dating abuse doesn’t happen to people in your school.