Summer is ending and it’s time for school to start again. It’s time for new backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils, and the inevitable teen romance.Teenage romance can cause a lot of issues, including immature behaviors like jealousy, infidelity, conflicts with friends, and messy breakups among others. In order to be mature enough to be in a dating relationship, you must be mature enough to end it well when the time comes. And you must be educated to recognize an unhealthy or abusive relationship and have the tools to get out of it without harm.
What’s the difference between an unhealthy relationship and an abusive relationship? Loveisrespect.org shares the following as a way of recognizing each and how to respond:
You may be in an unhealthy relationship if one or both partners is: not communicating; disrespectful; not trusting; dishonest; trying to take control; only spending time with your partner.
You may be in an abusive relationship if one or both partners:
• Communicates in a way that is hurtful, threatening, insulting or demeaning.
• Disrespects the feelings, thoughts, decisions, or opinions of the other.
• Physically hurts you by hitting, slapping, choking, pushing or shoving.
• Blames the other partner for their harmful actions
• Makes excuses for their abusive actions or minimizes the abusive behavior.
• Controls and isolates the other partner by telling them what to wear, who they can hang out with, where they can go and/or what they can do.
• Pressures or forces the other partner to do things they don’t want to do; threatens, hurts or blackmails their partner if they resist or say no.
A healthy relationship will look different. In a healthy relationship:
• There will be open communication. You will be able to talk about problems and listen to each other, even when you don’t agree.
• You will value each other and respect each other’s opinions.
• You will both respect the other’s boundaries and trust what your partner says.
• You will not feel a need to prove their love because it will be obvious in how they treat you.
• There will be honesty and will both hold to the same standards.
• And, very important, you can enjoy time with each other, alone, or with other friends and respect each other’s need to have friendships.
Do you think you might have a teen friend who might be in a troubled relationship? There may not be visible warning signs like black eyes or broken bones. Instead of looking for those dramatic signs, look for small red flags, such as missing a lot of days at school, suddenly quitting extracurricular activities, unexplained request to change classes, big changes in typical behaviors, falling grades, change in their weight or physical appearance, suddenly isolating themselves from former friends only having social contact with the person they are dating, unexplained bruises, overhearing name-calling or belittling from their partner, new disciplinary problems at school, or even making excuses for their partner or feeling the need to defend them.
If you feel strongly that your friend is involved in an abusive relationship, here’s what you can do:
• Tell them that you’re concerned for their safety.
• Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.
• Offer to help them find someone who they can talk to confidentially.
• Be supportive and understanding. Stress that you’re on their side.
• Provide non-judgmental support. Let them know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused.
• Believe them and take them seriously. They may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. As you validate their feelings and show your support, they can become more comfortable and trust you with more information.
• Ultimately they must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many reasons why victims stay in unhealthy relationships. Your support can make a difference in helping your friend find their own way to end an unhealthy relationship. If they refuse and you feel strongly they are in danger, speak with a school counselor or parent.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 for an appointment. Or you can speak with a trained crisis counselor at our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. Reach out.