Dating Violence: How To Recognize It And Respond To It

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated May 2, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

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

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

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

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

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.

  • Do they abuse drugs or alcohol?
  • Are they or have they been in trouble with the law?
  • Do they fail to do anything productive with their time, such as working or going to school?
  • Do they blame you when things go wrong?
  • Have you seen them abuse others?
  • Do they get angry often?
  • Do they have lots of sexual partners?
  • Do they like to 'play rough' with you?
  • Are they constantly asking you for money?
  • Do they accuse you of flirting or cheating?
  • Do they always insist on doing things their way?
  • Do they fail to listen to you, even when you have something important to say?
  • Do they lie to you even when their lying would serve no purpose for them?
  • Do they fail to show up for dates?
  • Do they compare you with former dates they've had?

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:

  • They get violent when they're angry.
  • They brag to others that they have total control over you.
  • They date other people but don't let you do the same.
  • They seemed obsessed with everything you do.
  • They try to control family members.
  • They talk about violent behavior as if it's normal.
  • They get into a lot of fights.
  • They hurt pets.
  • They talk about how they're going to get even with someone.
  • They always blamed their problems on someone else and never admit responsibility for their contribution to any bad situation.
  • They think being jealous is a sign of love.

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:

  • Anxious
  • Sad or depressed
  • Afraid of making your dating partner angry
  • Angry but afraid to express it
  • Threatened
  • Afraid of talking about the relationship between friends and family
  • Humiliated
  • Lonely
  • Confused
  • Isolated
  • Helpless
  • Afraid to break up with them
  • Tied down
  • Afraid to make your own decisions
  • Afraid to bring up subjects that might make your girlfriend/boyfriend angry
  • Worried about how to please your partner
  • Afraid you'll be hurt worse

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:

  • To express yourself freely.
  • To change your mind.
  • To be respected.
  • To take responsibility for only your behavior.
  • To make your own
  • To spend time with friends.
  • To grow and change as you wish.
  • To not be abused.
  • To fall out of love.
  • To break up.
  • To not be threatened.

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:

  • Set aside money.
    • Open a savings account of your own, and don't let your partner know it exists.
    • Leave the money with a friend for a quick getaway.
    • Keep enough cash on you for a taxi.
  • Keep others informed.
    • Let people know when and where you're going with your partner.
    • Tell others about incidents of dating violence as soon as possible.
  • Have some personal items ready to go.
    • Put your important papers, such as your birth certificate, etc., in a safe deposit box.
    • Leave extra clothes with a friend or family member if you have to leave and can't go back.
    • Keep what you need for work or school somewhere to get to it if you leave your partner unexpectedly.

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!

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