Safety in Relationships

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guy yelling at girlDuring your teen years, you will have many kinds of relationships, both friendships and those that are dating relationships. Most of the time, these are fun, exciting, and healthy, and they make you feel good. Sometimes, however, these relationships can be unhealthy and can be harmful either to you or other people involved. Unhealthy relationships can be risky because someone can get hurt emotionally or physically.

What is a healthy relationship?

In healthy relationships, you and your friend or the person you’re dating feel good about yourselves and about each other. You do activities together such as going to movies, or hanging out with other friends, and you talk to one another about your feelings. These relationships can last a few weeks, a few months, or even many years. Healthy relationships should be fun for both people involved.

Communication is the most important thing in relationships. It forms the basis for respect and honesty and means that you listen to each others thoughts and opinions, and accept each others right to say no or to change your mind. In a healthy relationship, both partners are comfortable letting the other person know how they are feeling. You might disagree or argue sometimes, but in healthy relationships you should be able to talk things out together to reach a compromise that works for you both.

Here is an example of good communication in a healthy relationship:

“If a friend or the person I’m dating gets mad if I hang out with other people, what should I do?”

Be honest and stick to your decision. Tell your friend or partner that you like spending time with him or her, but that you also want to spend time with other friends and family. Whether you are in a close friendship or a dating relationship, it is important for both of you to stay involved with the activities and interests you enjoyed before you became close. In a healthy relationship, you both need time to hang out with other friends, as well as time for yourselves. In a healthy relationship, your friend or partner will respect your choice to spend time with other friends.

Sometimes a relationship can start out as healthy and become unhealthy over time. If you have a feeling that your relationship is unhealthy because you feel afraid, or pressured to do something that you don’t want to do, you are probably right!

Not all unhealthy relationships are physically abusive. For example, other types of unhealthy relationships may be verbally, or emotionally abusive they can Abuse can involve both people being violent or abusive toward each other, or can involve only one person doing this to the other. It’s important to understand that not all abuse is physical or violent. Take a look at this list of “warning signs” and see if these statements describe your relationship:

Your friend or the person you’re dating:

  • Is jealous or possessive of you-he or she gets angry when you talk or hang out with other friends, or people of the opposite sex and/or becomes jealous of the contacts you have with other people on social networks
  • Tries to boss or bully you, or tries to make all the decision or tells you what to do
  • Tells you what or what not to wear, who you can or can’t talk to, where you can or can’t go
  • Is violent with other people, gets in fights a lot, loses his/her temper a lot
  • Pressures you to have sex, or to do something sexual that you don’t want to do
  • Uses drugs and/or alcohol and tries to pressure you into doing the same thing
  • Swears at you, or uses mean language
  • Blames you for his or her problems, or tells you that it’s your fault that he or she hurt you
  • Insults you or tries to embarrass you in front of other people
  • Physically hurts you
  • Makes you feel scared of their reactions to things, feeling like you’re “walking on eggshells” and worrying that anything could set them off
  • Calls or texts to check up on you all the time and always wants to know where you’re going and who you’re with

These are just a few of the classic signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Sometimes there are only one or two “warning signs”, and sometimes there are many. If any of these statements are true for your relationship, you should talk to a trusted adult such as a parent, guardian, teacher, doctor, nurse, or counselor right away!

What are some types of abuse?

Some people think that their relationship isn’t abusive unless there is physical fighting, but an abusive relationship may include many other signs. There are also other types of abuse.

Below is a list of different types of abuse which can affect your friendships or dating relationships:

  • Physical Abuse is when a person touches your body in an unwanted or violent way. This may include hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair pulling, pushing, biting, choking, or using a weapon on you. The weapon could be a gun or knife, but also includes anything that can hurt you (such as a shoe or a stick).
  • Verbal/Emotional Abuse is when a person says something or does something that makes you afraid or feel bad about yourself. This may include: bullying, yelling, name-calling, saying mean things about your family and friends, embarrassing you on purpose, telling you what you can and can’t do, or threatening to hurt you or themselves. Blaming you for their problems, verbally pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol, or keeping you from spending time with your friends and family are all abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse is any sexual contact that you do not want. You may have said no or may be unable to say no because the abuser has threatened you or prevented you from saying no. This may include forcing you to have sex, or unwanted touching or kissing.

Why are some people abusive?

There are many reasons why someone could be violent or abusive. For example, a person who has grown up in a violent family may have learned that hitting or trying to control someone by telling them what to do was the way to solve a problem (which it is not!). They may be violent because they want to control the relationship, or because they feel bad about themselves and think they will feel better if they make someone else feel worse. Others may be pressured by their friends to prove how “strong” they are. Other times, people have trouble controlling their anger. No matter what their past experiences have been or what they have gone through, its never OK to abuse another person.

Drugs and alcohol can also play a part in abusive behavior. There are some people who lose control and act abusively after they have been drinking or taking drugs. This is no excuse! Just because someone is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or has a bad temper doesn’t mean that their abusive behavior is okay. No matter why a person is violent physically, verbally/emotionally, or sexually, it’s important for you to know that it is not your fault! You are NOT the reason for the violence, and violence is NEVER okay!

Here are some frequently asked questions about healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships:

Why do some people stay in unhealthy or abusive relationships?

If a relationship is so bad, then why would someone stay in it? Why don’t they just stop spending time with their friend, or stop seeing the person they’re dating? Sometimes it may be hard to get out of an abusive relationship. This is because violent relationships often go in cycles. After a person is violent, he or she may apologize and promise never to hurt you again, and even say that they will work on the relationship. It may be a while before that person acts violently again. These ups and downs can make it hard to leave a relationship. Sometimes people do not leave relationships because their partner has threatened them and made it clear that if they were to leave they would get hurt.

It’s hard to leave someone you care about. You may be scared or ashamed to admit that you are in an abusive relationship, or you may be simply scared to be alone. You may be afraid that no one will believe you, or that your friend or partner will hurt you more if you tell someone. Whatever the reasons, leaving an unhealthy relationship is hard but something you must do to take care of yourself. You will likely need help to do it.

Why should I leave an abusive relationship?

Abusive relationships are very unhealthy for you. You might have trouble sleeping, or have headaches or stomach aches. You might feel depressed, sad, anxious, or nervous. You may have difficulty focusing during school or when you’re with your friends. You may also blame yourself, feel guilty, and have trouble trusting other people in your life. You may feel nervous most of the time, worrying that something may set your friend or partner off. Staying in an abusive relationship can hurt your self-confidence and make it hard for you to believe in yourself. If you are being physically abused, you can be the victim of injuries that could cause permanent damage. You should definitely leave the relationship if you are getting hurt, if you have bruises or pain, or if you are being threatened with physical harm in any way.

Remember that the most important reason to leave an unhealthy relationship is because you deserve to be in a relationship that is healthy and fun. You deserve to feel good about yourself.

How do I get out of an unhealthy or abusive relationship?

First, if you think that you are in an unhealthy relationship, you should talk to a trusted adult. Tell them why you think the relationship is unhealthy and exactly what the other person has done (hit you, pressured you to have sex, tried to control you). You may want to look back at the list of “warning signs” to help you to explain the situation. If necessary, this trusted person can help you contact your parent(s)/guardian(s), counselors, school security, or even the police. With help, you can get out of an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous, so it’s very important for you to make a safety plan.

Here are some tips on making your safety plan:

  • Tell a trusted adult such as a parent/guardian, counselor, health care provider, teacher, or spiritual leader.
  • Tell the person who is abusing you that you do not want to see him or her, or break up with this person over the phone so they cannot touch you. Do this when your parent(s) or guardian(s) are at home so you know you will be safe in your house.
  • Go to your health care provider or hospital for treatment if you have been injured.
  • Keep track of any violence. A diary is a good way to keep track of the date the violence happened, where you were, exactly what the person did, and exactly what effects it caused (for example – bruises). This will be important if you need the police to issue a restraining order.
  • Avoid contact with the person.
  • Spend time with your other friends. Walk with them and not by yourself.
  • Think of safe places to go in case of an emergency, such as a police station, or even a public place such as a restaurant or mall.
  • Carry a cell phone, phone card, or money for a call in case you need to call for help. You should decide on the code words to use with your family so that they will know that you can’t talk easily and you need help.
  • Call 911 right away if you’re ever afraid that someone is person is following you or is going to hurt you.
  • Keep domestic violence hotline numbers in your wallet or another secure place, or store them into your cell phone.

What should I do if a friend tells me that he or she is in an abusive relationship?

If your friend tells you that he/she is in an abusive relationship, listen very carefully. It’s important that you listen without judging or blaming. Tell your friend that you believe what they are saying, and that you know that it is not their fault. Let them know that you are always there when they want to talk. Remind them of all their friends and family who care about them and want them to be safe. Let them know that you are worried about their safety, and that you want to help them tell a trusted adult right away. In fact, you can offer to go with them. Give them information on how to make a safety plan and phone numbers of counselors and domestic violence hotlines. You may even want to suggest that your friend take a self-defense class. Be sure not to take this on alone. Talk with a trusted adult about how to help your friend.

Should I have my friend talk to their parent(s)/guardian(s) or another adult?

Yes. The most important thing that you can do for your friend is to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult right away. This could be a parent, guardian, coach, teacher, school counselor, health care provider, or spiritual leader. Tell your friend that you will go with them to talk about their abusive relationship. Explain to them that talking to a trusted adult can help them get the assistance they need to get out of the unhealthy relationship.

If your friend is nervous about going to talk to an adult, here are some things you could remind him/her of:

  • An adult will listen and give advice on how to handle the situation.
  • An adult can help protect them if they feel that they are in danger.
  • An adult can help contact the right people, such as the police, the school principal, or a counselor.

What if my friend won’t listen to me and wants to keep the abuse a secret?

If you encourage your friend to talk to a trusted adult about the abuse, but they want to keep it a secret, you can also tell an adult. It’s too much for you to handle alone. Even though you want to keep your friend’s secret, it is important for you to tell a trusted adult especially if you’re afraid that your friend could get hurt, or if you are worried that they won’t tell anyone. Your friend will need help even if they say that they can handle it alone.

Don’t tell your friend to choose between you and the person they are dating. This could make your friend feel that they can’t talk to you if they decide to stay in the relationship. Also, don’t spread your friend’s secrets to others. Let him/her be the one to tell other trusted friends.

What else do I need to know?

At least 1 in 10 teens experience physical violence in their relationships. Even if you haven’t experienced physical, sexual, or verbal/emotional abuse, one of your friends may be in an unhealthy relationship with a friend or dating partner. If either you or your friend is in an unhealthy relationship, it’s important that you get help right away before someone gets hurt! Relationships are an important part of life and are supposed to be fun and special.

Who can I call for help?

There are hotlines that you can call 24 hours a day to get help and advice on how to leave an unhealthy relationship. There may be some local resources in your community (including battered women’s shelters) or through your church, school, or health care providers office that you can call.

Additional Resources