Am I in an Abusive Relationship?

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 partner and good about yourself.

However, 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.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is abuse that takes place between two people who have a romantic relationship—spouses, partners, boyfriends and girlfriends. Many people also use the word “domestic violence.” IPV can occur in many forms and can affect people of any age. 

You might assume that IPV only happens between adults or in relationships where two people are living together, but this isn’t the case. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are more likely to report violence in their romantic relationships than any other age group. According to a recent national survey, 8% of high school students reported physical violence and 7% reported that they had experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner within the last year. 

To learn more about what the CDC has to say about intimate partner violence, check out their resource on preventing teen dating violence.

If someone is hurting you, it can be frightening, and you might not know how to make the abuse stop—especially if you live with the person who is abusing you. It’s important to remember that no one has the right to be violent toward you and there are people who can help you.

abusive Red Flags in Relationships

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:

Controlling You

Abusers often like feeling in control of those around them. This could look like:

  • Taking control of your finances so you can’t leave or spend money how you want
  • Telling you who you can and can’t hang out with or talk to
  • Taking away your phone or the ability to use your car so you can’t leave or get help
  • Pressuring you into things you don’t want to do
  • Preventing you from having your own opinions

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. Gaslighting can look like: 

  • Being made to question our own judgment
  • Them denying things you have proof of
  • Them telling lies about really small things they didn’t have to lie about 
  • You feeling like you’re questioning your sanity, not sure what is real and what isn’t

Jealousy

Jealousy is a normal emotion to experience. However, if this emotion goes unchecked, they could wield it unfairly against you. This could look like:

  • Accusing you—without good reason—of being unfaithful or flirting with someone else
  • Isolating you from your family and friends, often by exhibiting rude or dramatic behavior that damages the relationships you have with your loved ones
  • Going through your private messages on your phone or constantly looks through your social media to keep tabs on what you’re doing and who you’re talking to
  • Reading your diary or other private writings with the intent of finding things to use against you

Physical Violence

There is never an excuse for laying hands on someone and hurting them. A safe and healthy person does not punch, hit, kick, or otherwise use violence to hurt the person they say they love. Someone who is physically abusive could:

  • Force you to do drugs or substances you don’t want to, especially if you’ve struggled with substance use disorder
  • Physically attack you (strangling, punching, hitting, using a weapon against you)
  • Throw things at you or near you
  • Keep you from getting medical attention or calling the police
  • Force you to not eat or sleep
  • Keep you from leaving the house or a room 
  • Damaging your property
  • Hurting or killing your pets

If someone is being physically violent to you, seek safety as soon as possible. Leave the situation as quickly and safely as possible, and call 911 or your local police.

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. Seeing you as something to be owned versus a person who can do what they want.

Put-Downs

These can happen either privately or publicly by attacking how smart you are, your looks, or your capabilities. In an abusive situation, the abuser might also constantly compare you unfavorably to other people, or unfairly blame you for things outside of your control.

Sexual/Reproductive Abuse

Your body is yours alone, and you are allowed to do what you want with it and what is right for you. Sexual abuse can look like:

  • Guilting you or forcing you into have sex with them, or not listening to you when you said no
  • Lying about birth control
  • Removing birth control methods (condoms during sex, Nuvaring, IUD, etc.)
  • Ignoring your feelings around sex and what you’re comfortable doing
  • Doing things to you sexually you didn’t consent to
  • Using drugs or alcohol to get you to sleep with them
  • Making you feel afraid if you were to say no 
  • Forcing pregnancy and/or preventing you from getting an abortion
  • Forcing an abortion or threatening you if you don’t get one

Threats

Verbal abuse in the form of threats could sound like: 

  • They will use violence against you, your family, or even a pet to get their way or to punish you
  • Them saying that no one else will ever want to date you or love you
  • Yelling, sulking, or breaking things 
  • Threats to kill or hurt themselves to manipulate you
  • Uses “If you…, then I’ll…” statements

Threatening behavior could look like:

  • Holding or cleaning a weapon while looking at you in a menacing way
  • Blocking you from leaving, or trapping you in a room or corner with their body
  • Yelling at you while in your face
  • Making gestures that make you fear for your safety
  • Texting or speaking to you in a way that makes you feel frightened

The Bottom Line

These experiences in a relationship are NOT okay:

  • Being physically threatened or scared into things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy just because you are in a relationship
  • Being 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.
  • Being forced to do anything you don’t want to
  • 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 partner and are feeling unsafe, find other accommodations with friends or family, or if that’s not possible, an emergency shelter. Timing can be crucial in how and when you leave to make sure there’s less risk of further harm. Please make a safety plan before leaving to ensure you can leave safely.

According to the CDC,

26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime

first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18

Processing After the Violence

A violent relationship may not be violent all the time. Sometimes, violent people treat their partners 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

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 for their behavior
  • Think of the violence as a one-time incident
  • Blame the abuse on the fact that the abuser was drunk or stressed
  • Not be sure what behavior to expect from them
  • Believe that the violence is your fault
  • Try to fit in with whatever the abuser wants, even if it makes you uncomfortable
  • Be feeling scared that they will hurt you if you try to leave

Putting Yourself First

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 partner says they care about you, it’s not OK to be treated like this and you deserve better.

Get Outside Help

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police. If you have to be discreet about needing help, talking to a friend or loved one beforehand about a “code word” you can use that signals them to call the police for you.

Create an Escape Plan

It can be incredibly hard to end a relationship, especially if you’re sharing a home with the person who’s hurting you. Because the person who is abusing you might be manipulating you or isolating you from your friends and family, you might feel like you can’t leave, or that you have nowhere to go. But there is support for you when you feel like you should leave a place where you feel threatened or unsafe.

If you need to leave, make sure to take important items. These could include:

  • Your ID, passport, and birth certificate
  • Credit cards
  • Cash
  • Cell phone
  • Change of clothes
  • A list of important numbers 

You’ll want to have these ready to go, along with anything else of importance to you. It could also be important to have your car or some other form of transportation lined up when the time comes.

For a helpful guide on leaving an abusive relationship, especially when you may feel financially stuck, please check out this informative article on CreditCards.com by Anastasiia Staples. There is always a solution to get you the help you need so you can feel safe again.

To develop a safe plan to leave, check out loveisrespect.org’s comprehensive safety planning guide

Deciding to Leave

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.

For a helpful guide on leaving an abusive relationship, especially when you may feel financially stuck, please check out this informative article on CreditCards.com by Anastasiia Staples. There is always a solution to get you the help you need so you can feel safe again.

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.

Get Support

Making a decision to leave an unsafe relationship can be difficult. You don’t have to do it alone. Talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member, counselor or social worker.

You might also want to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453. Hotline volunteers can direct you to local resources and shelters in your area where you can find additional help and support.

Our crisis helpline directory also offer links to other services and resources in your county in Oregon, as well as national helplines. Some great helplines you can access right now are listed below:

Loveisrespect  Available 24/7/365

    • Call 1-866-331-9474
    • For hearing-impaired, call 1-866-331-8453 (TTY)
    • Text loveis to 22522
    • Chat online here

National Domestic Violence HotlineAdvocates available 24/7

    • Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
    • For hearing-impaired, call 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

RAINN –  If you’re struggling with sexual violence, like rape, abuse and incest

  • Call 1-800-656-HOPE

Lines for Life is an Oregon-based organization working in the prevention, intervention, and advocacy for suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness. They also host a helpline that is open 24/7/365 where you can speak to highly-trained crisis intervention specialists. Lines for Life Suicide Lifeline and YouthLine after hours is answered by the same adult volunteers and staff that take calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • SUICIDE LIFELINE – For those going through a crisis and those concerned for them

    • Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)

    • Text 273TALK to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • ALCOHOL & DRUG HELPLINE – For individuals and family members seeking crisis intervention, treatment referral, and chemical-dependency information

    • Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7/365)

    • Text RecoveryNow to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • MILITARY HELPLINE – Support for service members, veterans, and their families

    • Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7/365) 

    • Text MIL1 to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • YOUTHLINE – Support for youth in crisis or when needing help

    • Call 1-877-968-8491

    • Text teen2teen to 839863

    • Email at YouthL@LinesforLife.org

    • Chat online here

    • Teens are available to chat with you from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. PST daily, all other times are with adults It’s free and it’s confidential. If there are concerns that you or someone else is in imminent danger, they’ll let you know they’re concerned and ask for your name and address. They will continue to support you but will contact local police and EMS if they believe you won’t be able to keep yourself safe. That being said, Lines for Life aims to be as least invasive as possible and works to support you first and foremost.

Boys Town Your Life Your Voice offers crisis support and resources for handling tough situations.

  • CRISIS LINE – For immediate support

    • Call 1-800-448-3000 (24/7 support)

    • For hearing-impaired: TDD 1-800-448-1833

    • Text VOICE to 20121 (Sunday-Thursday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. CST)

    • Email (Response in 48 hrs)

    • My Life My Voice app

The Crisis Text Line offers free, confidential crisis support via text 24/7. Whether you’re feeling suicidal or having a hard time managing strong emotions, a trained volunteer will connect with you and provide support.

  • TEXT LINE

    • Text HOME to 741741 (24/7/365)

Teen Line allows you to speak with another teen for support and offers resources online that are relevant to teens.

  • CRISIS LINE

    • Call 1-800-852-8336

    • Text TEEN to 839863

State Resources

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.

 

For more help, check out:

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

About Youth Era

Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.

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