No one wants to believe someone they know is capable of dating violence. We tend to think of violence as something that happens to other people in other situations. If you aren't aware of and alert to its signs, you might be putting your well-being or even your life in danger. What's more, knowing how to recognize violent behavior isn't enough to save you; You also need to respond to violence in safe and effective ways.
What Is Dating Violence?
Dating violence, also called dating abuse, consists of violence, the threat of violence, or attempts to control the other person in a dating relationship. Dating violence is rarely an isolated incident but is almost always a part of an overall pattern of violence and abuse. Such patterns of violence can create a cycle of violence in the relationship. Dating violence has no place in healthy relationships.
Types Of Dating Abuse
Dating abuse can take many forms. It can be physical, emotional, or sexual violence. It can also manifest as attempts to gain control over the dating partner.
Physical violence in a dating relationship is perhaps the easiest kind of abuse to recognize. When someone you're dating abuses you, they might hit, punch, shove, kick, slap, pinch, pull your hair, throw objects, push, bite, or shake you. In extreme cases, they might strangle you or use a weapon to frighten you. Even if they pass it off as a form of play, you need to recognize it as a sign of dating violence. There are other ways to be playful and abusive, and healthy relationships do not involve these dynamics.
Emotional violence is more subtle than physical violence, so it's important to stay alert to these signs. When someone abuses you emotionally, they might call you names, be overly jealous, or cruelly make fun of your beliefs, values, or feelings. Abusers tend to isolate their dates from others who might help them. They might lie to you constantly. They might block your way or threaten to harm themselves if you try to leave.
Sexual abuse is much more common in dating relationships than between strangers or any other type of relationship. In fact, acquaintance rape counts for 60% of all rapes. How do you know if you're sexually abused by your date? If they force you to have sex when you don't want to, it's dating violence. Making you kiss them or touch them is also abuse and may be a prelude to more severe abuse. They might force you to have sex without birth control, and this is dating violence, too. Consent is a part of all healthy relationships, and any sexual behavior without consent is a form of violence against women or violence against men.
Control is a major feature of dating violence and keeps the cycle of violence going. When your dating partner is trying to control you, they might not allow you to spend time with your friends. They might call or text you constantly. They might insist on being by your side 100% of the time. They might even go so far as telling you what to wear, how to do your hair, and how to make other everyday choices.
Can You Recognize An Abuser Before Dating Violence Begins?
It can be very hard to recognize an abuser before the abuse begins. Yet, there are a few telltale signs to watch out for whenever you're dating someone to discern healthy relationships from unhealthy ones.
It's tempting to ignore these signs if someone you like asks you out. You might decide it's worth the risk if you feel extremely attracted to them. However, if you do go out with someone like this, it's more important than ever to recognize signs of dating violence as soon as possible.
Recognize Early Signs Of Dating Violence
By recognizing the early signs of dating violence, you can get out of the relationship before something bad happens or at least protect yourself within the relationship. Be aware of your date's problem behaviors and be aware of how you feel about them and behave with them.
In Your Partner's Behavior
Certainly, if your partner displays any signs of dating violence listed above under 'Types of Abuse,' your relationship may be a troubled one; abuse never has a place in healthy relationships. You can also watch for other early signs, such as:
In Your Feelings And Behavior
Your feelings can provide valuable clues to what kind of relationship you have with a dating partner. You might feel:
Ironically, you might also feel very protective of your boyfriend or girlfriend. Your feelings may seem like an unmanageable mess, but if you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend, they will likely blame your feelings on you, call you weak or emotional, or use your feelings to control you more.
You might not even be aware that your behavior has changed. You might find yourself checking in with your partner often to appease him/her. You might apologize for their behavior even when you know it was wrong. Your academic or work performance may suffer. You might spend far less time with your friends. You may become extremely upset whenever your boyfriend/girlfriend calls or texts. You may begin to avoid friends who have expressed their disapproval of your dating partner.
Why It's Hard To Get Out Of A Violent Relationship
Being aware of dating violence is the first step to ending it. However, just because you recognize your relationship problems doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to get out of them. It's all too easy to make excuses for your partner's behavior, discount your feelings and intuition, and explain away your need to make a major change. If the following phrases come to your mind whenever you consider leaving, you might need to rethink your relationship.
"It Isn't That Bad."
When is abuse bad enough to call it dating violence? It seems that the answer for each person often depends more on how much they want to keep the relationship than the level of abuse they're suffering.
Is it okay with you if your partner slaps you? Would you stay in the relationship if they kicked you? What about if they held a gun to your head? Where do you draw the line?
If your partner abuses you in any way, you need to be ready to protect yourself, not only to stay safe at the moment but also to prevent getting locked into a long-term cycle of violence.
"He/She Can Change."
Abusive partners sometimes do apologize and beg forgiveness. They may even promise to change the way they behave and start treating you better. It all sounds very appealing if you want to keep dating them. However, what do you do when time after time, the changes don't come?
The truth is that change isn't easy. If someone has abused you, you don't need to give them another chance. If you feel you want to stay with them, you can at least take a break from the relationship until they do something to change actively, such as seeing a therapist resolve the problems that led them to abuse you.
"He/She Needs Me."
If you're a compassionate person, you may be drawn to someone because you feel they need you. That feeling can multiply when you realize that they have problems you weren't aware of before. Even if you are suffering abuse, you may feel bad that they are so damaged they cannot have good relationships. You don't need to become a martyr for the cause of helping your partner get over their problems. Instead, a better answer may be suggesting therapy and then stepping back to let them work out their issues.
"It Isn't His/Her Fault" Or "It's My Fault."
Don't put too much emphasis on laying blame when you're being abused. In the end, it doesn't matter whether it's your fault, your partner's fault, or someone else's fault. The fact is that you're being hurt emotionally, physically, or sexually. Your dating partner is taking control of your life. Your first responsibility is to yourself and your safety and happiness.
"He'll/She'll be Angry If I Leave."
Leaving a violent partner may be one of the hardest things you'll ever do. You might fear they'll be angry and not want to be with you anymore. Even worse, you might fear for your physical safety or even your life. You may feel that there's no way out.
There is help, though. What you need are allies who can help you leave without endangering yourself. You will likely want help building a new life without your partner. He/she may be very angry if you leave or even if you demand to be treated well, and there's probably nothing you can do about that. What you can do is concentrate on taking care of yourself.
How to Respond To Dating Violence
Once you understand that your partner is abusing you, the next step to freedom is developing a plan of action. What will you do to stop the abuse? What specific knowledge and behaviors will make your life safer, happier, and more manageable? Know your options and understand the possibilities for making your life better. When you do, you can be prepared for whatever comes next.
Know Your Rights
Before you can wholeheartedly engage in overcoming an abusive relationship, you need to fully understand that you deserve better. That will only happen if you are aware of your rights as an individual in a relationship. Within your romantic relationship, you have the following rights:
Think Out Your Options
There is no one right answer about what to do if you're in an abusive relationship. Perhaps the best answer is to end the relationship as soon as possible. However, you might not feel right about doing that if no severe violence has happened yet. Even if you want to leave, your dating partner might make you feel afraid of leaving too abruptly.
Whether you stay or leave, you do need to be prepared for dating violence. Think about who you can call if you need help. Consider where you might go if your date leaves you stranded or if you feel you have to get away suddenly. Imagine what would happen if a violent situation started. What would you do, and where would you go?
Talk To Someone You Trust
Talking to a trusted friend or family member can make you feel safe and supported, at least while you're with them. Someone who loves you isn't going to want you to be abused, and they might express their disapproval of anyone who would harm you in any way. You may feel defensive about your partner or your relationship, but someone needs to know what's happening with you.
Tell this trusted person about specific incidents of abuse. Express your feelings about your partner, whether they're positive or negative. Tell the person you've chosen to talk to what you're afraid will happen and what plans you've made in case it does happen. Then, keep in contact with them.
Build Your Support System
Along with one or more trusted people, you need a larger network of support. Reach out to friends and extended family members. Spend time with people who care about you as an individual apart from the dating relationship. Get involved with hobbies or activity groups. A support group may also help you on your quest for freedom from abuse.
Be Prepared To Leave
Take practical steps so you'll be ready if you have to leave suddenly. Here are some of the things you can do to hold open the option to leave:
Know If Your Date Is Armed
Be aware of whether your boyfriend or girlfriend has a gun, knife, or another weapon on them or in their home. This is not something you want to be surprised about. Plus, if you know your partner has violent tendencies and is armed, you'll know the danger you're facing just by staying in the relationship.
Don't Go On Long Trips Alone With Them
Going on a long trip with a partner who's proven to be abusive is a recipe for disaster. You may find yourself at their mercy, unable to get help from your friends or family. Avoid the danger and tell them you're staying home. They may get angry, but at least that won't happen when you have no outside help.
Try Double Dating
If you don't want to or aren't ready to give up the relationship, at least try to spend as little time alone with them as possible. One way to do this is to set up double dates with other couples you trust. Group dating is a good option, too. When you do an activity date with a group, you can enjoy the company of many friends and possibly even meet people who will become new friends. Your abusive partner might become very jealous, but since you're with a group, you'll also have a great deal of protection.
Talk To A Counselor
It doesn't matter whether you want to stay with your partner or leave them to start a new life. In either case, a counselor can help you stay safe. They can help you understand what is happening and how it can affect you in the long run. They can teach you techniques for coping with a bad relationship or, better yet, they can help you make the changes you'll need to make to have more self-compassion. They can teach you skills for independent living, so you can manage on your own even if your partner has told you that you can't. If you find yourself drawn to abusers over and over, a counselor can help you change that and learn better ways of choosing healthy relationships.
Licensed counselors are available right now at ReGain.Us for online therapy. Talking to one of our counselors may be just what you need to break away from dating violence and find your way to healthy relationships and a better life!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What are the three types of dating violence?
There are three recognized types of dating violence (also called dating abuse): physical violence, sexual violence, and verbal/emotional violence. These different types of violence and abuse are often interwoven, though they can be inflicted in isolation. To understand the different ways these types of violence can present themselves, a closer evaluation of each different type is in order. It is important to note that, although domestic violence often is seen as synonymous with violence against women, men can and do experience violence in their relationships, including intimate partner violence.
Physical abuse is the most oft-recognized form of dating abuse and relationship violence, though not all forms of physical violence are readily recognized. Physical violence can include punching, slapping, kicking, and choking and includes hair pulling, shoving, using a weapon, biting, holding down, and far more. Physical violence is any physical attempt to restrain, harm, or control another individual and can escalate. For this reason, it is important to take careful note of even seemingly small physical misbehavior and to take steps to make sure you are safe. Again, physical violence is often attributed to men committing violence against women. Still, women can just as readily commit violence against women and men, and men can commit violence against men.
Verbal/emotional violence is any violence that involves the desire to control or isolate a romantic partner. Verbal and emotional violence and abuse can be easy to spot and involves the use of name-calling, cursing, and threatening. It can also be virtually impossible to suss out—particularly if you are experiencing it—in the form of gaslighting and other forms of manipulation. Threatening, insulting, yelling, and demeaning are all forms of verbal and emotional violence, as are emotional neglect and using guilt or other emotional responses as a means to manipulate guide, or influence behavior.
Intimate partner and sexual violence is any unwanted sexual advance perpetrated by one party in the relationship. Intimate partner and sexual violence include rape and assault. Still, they can also include other sexual behavior such as pressuring and initiating violence, sexual contact while one party is asleep, intoxicated, or otherwise incapable of consenting. While sexual violence is often treated as though it is primarily violence against women, it is a false notion that men cannot be raped. Sexual violence can be compounded with gaslighting and neglect in these instances.
Why does dating violence happen?
Dating violence often occurs as a perfect storm of grooming (intentional or unintentional), emotional or mental instability, and manipulation of one party to control the other. The precise reason for teen dating violence or adult dating abuse remains muddled, much in how violence as a whole is impossible to determine with any definitive reasoning. People who inflict dating violence often possess unhealthy attitudes stemming from childhood and may feel as though they are uniquely exempt from appropriate behaviors or may inaccurately believe that they are owed emotional, sexual, or physical compliance. Dating violence—including teen dating violence—is not relegated to a single “type” of person, though it may be more common among certain socioeconomic backgrounds and ages. Teen dating violence does have more risk factors, including gender and partner age differences; violence against women is particularly pronounced in teen dating violence, especially when a male partner is substantially older.
Dating violence often prompts the question: “Why don’t they just leave?” While it might seem like a reasonable question to ask, it is actually a form of victim-blaming and is one of the reasons people in abusive relationships do not leave: they are often made to feel weak, foolish, or in some way responsible for being abused, which makes it difficult to reach out for help or let anyone know what is going on. Dating violence or dating abuse may not be pinpointed perfectly as to why it occurs. Still, the constant lack of support, compassion, and understanding is given to violence. Abuse victims are one of the reasons it persists. Mental health professionals can play a large role in alleviating some of these issues for both family members of violence and abuse victims and the abuse victims themselves.
What does dating violence feel like?
For some, dating violence feels like a sudden onslaught of pain and misery and comes at the very beginning of a relationship. For others, dating violence has been likened to the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. The water heats up gradually, and it is only one the frog is on the brink of death that it realizes there is an issue with its placement. Dating violence is often perpetrated in sneaky, underhanded, and covert ways, making it difficult for others to notice and can even make it difficult for violent and abuse victims to recognize exactly what is going on. For some, low self-worth and codependence continue for most of their lives, and they never truly understand that they are not responsible for their abusers’ behavior. These people often feel like they are worthless or deserve to be harmed.
Dating violence does not feel the same for everyone. For some, there is a persistent nudge that something is not quite right in their relationship. For others, it feels as though they are deserving of every last bit of violence and abuse they experience, and for still others, abuse is all they have ever known. They are not aware that a relationship can be anything but abusive and damaging. Violence against women often feels like a standard experience; dating can be cruel and involve plenty of subtle and immediate forms of abusive or simply problematic behavior. Men in violent relationships often have a similar experience: dating that feels normal but is riddled with abusive behaviors.
Who is at risk for dating violence?
According to sexual violence surveys, women are at greater risk of experiencing dating violence, though teenage males may be at greater risk of experiencing physical violence. , people involved in some form of delinquent behavior, whether that includes violent crime, drug use, or other behaviors, are also at greater risk of experiencing relationship violence of all types, according to a standard sexual violence survey. Those who have a family of origin involving violence and abuse, neglect, or instability may also be more likely to be in relationships involving violent or abusive behaviors in a sexual violence survey. A history of relationship abuse has also been linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing dating violence or intimate partner violence. It suggests that there may be some patterns found in relationships involving violent behaviors.
Violence prevention has been the focus of countless organizations campaigning to end violence against women. While many of these organizations are doing incredible work to raise awareness of and prevent violence against women, violence prevention efforts have also often been weaponized by shaming the victims of violence, suggesting that prevention begins with the abused rather than the abuser. Effective violence prevention requires understanding both abuse victims' and abusers' risks to put resources and programs in place that identify risk factors and address them.
Which type of abuse is the hardest to detect?
Emotional abuse (also called mental or psychological abuse) is the most difficult type of violence and abuse to detect. This is due to several factors, including the lack of physical evidence in those who experience dating violence, the covert nature of emotional and psychological abuse, and the emotional/mental state this type of violence and abuse places its victims in. Emotional abuse is violence against women and men, despite being downplayed and absolutely a form of violence and abuse.
Physical abuse is the easiest type of abuse to detect—though it is not always easy to do so—largely because it leaves physical marks in the form of bruises, wounds, and scars. Emotional abuse does not leave a physical mark on a victim's body, which can make it difficult to recognize the presence of emotional abuse and help an individual who has suffered this type of abuse. If a child, for instance, experiences emotional abuse from their parents, it is far more difficult to prove to a court that the child is being harmed than it would be if the child were to bear physical evidence of violent treatment.
Sexual abuse lies somewhere in between intimate partner violence that is easy or difficult to detect. Although there are physical symptoms associated with sexual abuse—especially intimate partner and sexual violence against women—many of these symptoms are easily hidden or explained away. Intimate partner violence and sexual violence often result in biting, bruising, and damage to the genitals. Still, unless a physical examination is requested and subsequently conducted, many intimate partner violence victims do not experience a reprieve or demonstrate visible symptoms of abuse.
Emotional/psychological abuse is covert, which means that it is easily and readily hidden or tucked away. Emotional abuse can be masked by an affable, considerate persona when out and about or in contact with other people, making it feel as though abuse victims are claiming abuse in a bid for attention or an attempt to discredit a person. Abusers are often charming and well-liked in their day-to-day lives, making it easy for abusers to discrediting their victims when they come forward.
Emotional and psychological abuse destroys its victims' mental health and can make them appear to be unstable or untrustworthy. The nature of trauma is such that recollection is difficult and fractured. When victims of psychological and emotional abuse are questioned, they may offer different accounts of precisely what happened because trauma frequently renders memories objective and fragmented, requiring some degree of interpretation. Victims of intimate partner violence might be manipulated and gaslighted into believing that they are too dramatic, too sensitive, or too flawed. They are somehow responsible for the abusive behavior rather than their partners.
How does dating violence affect health?
Dating violence damages physical and mental health, regardless of the type of abuse being inflicted, because emotional/mental health and physical health are inextricably twined. Physical violence can affect your physical health because it can lead to bone damage, internal bruising, and internal bleeding. Physical abuse can also negatively impact fertility, hearing, and vision. People who have experienced abuse can experience pain and damage well into the future, even after leaving the relationship. Chronic physical ailments have been linked to depression and anxiety, making physical abuse a risk factor for physical maladies and mental disorders and conditions.
In a similar vein, mental/psychological abuse can have a negative effect on mental and physical health. Although most symptoms are initially mental health-related, ongoing mental disorders and conditions have been linked to chronic illnesses, ranging from high blood pressure and chronically high heart rates to chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia and inflammation. Because mental health issues can lead to sympathetic nervous system dominance, people with mental disorders and conditions may be more likely to experience hypertension, sleep disorders, and chronically low energy.
Intimate partner violence has an immensely detrimental effect on human health. Although domestic violence often goes ignored, it wreaks absolute havoc on the lives of the victim and the victim’s loved ones. Domestic violence affects men, women, and children and can lead to countless mental health issues and physical health concerns. Infertility, hypertension, and chronic illness can all result from domestic violence, and treatment can further deplete often small or underwhelming resources, perpetuating the cycle of abuse and violence.