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Fact Sheet

Abusive relationships


ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

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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 boyfriend or girlfriend and good about yourself.

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.

Key signs of an abusive relationship

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:

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.

Jealousy. This includes accusing you—without good reason—of being unfaithful or flirting, or isolating you from your family and friends, often by exhibiting rude behavior.

Put-downs. These can happen either privately or publicly by attacking how smart you are, your looks or capabilities. In an abusive situation, your boyfriend or girlfriend might also constantly compare you unfavorably to other people, or blame you for all the problems in the relationship.

Threats. An abuser might use threats against you, for example, that he or she will use violence against you, your family or friends, or even a pet. He or she might tell you that no one else will ever want to date you. Yelling, sulking, and breaking things are also signs of abuse.

What to do if you are being abused

It’s not OK to be physically threatened or scared into things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy just because you are in a relationship.

It’s not OK to be 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.

It’s not OK for someone to use the excuse that they are tired, stressed, over-worked or under financial pressure as a reason for their violent behavior.

If you’re living with your boyfriend or girlfriend and are feeling unsafe, find other accommodations with friends or family, or if that’s not possible, an emergency shelter.

Breaking the cycle of violence

A violent relationship may not be violent all the time. Sometimes, violent people treat their boyfriends or girlfriends 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, 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, think of the violence as a one-time incident, or blame the abuse on the fact that the abuser was drunk or stressed. You might not be sure what behavior to expect from him or her.

You might begin to think that the violence is your fault. You might start to try to fit in with whatever the abuser wants, even if it makes you uncomfortable. You might also feel scared that he or she will hurt you if you try to leave.

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 boyfriend or girlfriend says they care about you, it’s not OK to be treated like this.

Where to get help

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. The sources listed below can help you get safe.

Hotlines

Many free help hotlines are available if you think you’re being abused, or are worried for a friend you suspect could be being abused. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800 448-3000, run by Boys Town for everyone. Both hotlines are confidential and staffed 24-hours a day by trained volunteers who are ready to talk to you about whatever you’re feeling.

You can also call the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474, or visit their website at http://www.loveisrespect.org. This site also has a free live web chat that’s staffed by young people who can offer you support.

State resource

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 in your state.

The following sources provided information for this fact sheet:

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

U.S. Department of Justice, State Domestic Abuse

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Boys Town National Hotline

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