Ah, February: The month of love. Sadly, though, all love isn’t loving. February has been designated Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month to help educate teens how to recognize and stop dating abuse. If you are a teen or in your early 20s and are at all uncomfortable in your relationship, you should probably trust your gut. Here are the most important signs that you aren’t loving or being loved right.
Your boyfriend or girlfriend:
- is your everything. I know this goes against the popular idea that romance means being totally wrapped up in each other. But it simply isn’t healthy. People who become too dependent on each other can easily start to suffocate each other. By all means, spend time together. Chat online and on the phone. But also make room for each of you to have other friends and other interests. It will ultimately make you more interesting to each other and will make the time you do spend together all the more special.
- gets unhinged if you talk to, text or hang out with other people. He or she gets angry, sulks or has a temper tantrum if you text a friend or want to have a girls’ or boys’ night out. He or she accuses you of cheating if all you are doing is staying friendly with your friends. It isn’t loving to emotionally manipulate or frighten a partner into making a life that is exclusively together.
- refuses to introduce you to his or her friends and family. Sure, sometimes people are embarrassed by their family or are actively trying to change their friend group. But sometimes it’s a sign that a person is worried that their partner will learn things about him or her that are less than stellar. Sometimes it’s a sign that the person is worried their partner will like one of their friends more. Don’t accept a refusal to talk about it. Understand what it’s about and then decide if it’s a red flag.
- goes through your email, your text messages, or your phone record. This is absolutely not okay, ever. Even if you think your partner may be cheating, it’s not okay to become an amateur detective. People have a right to privacy. If you are concerned about cheating, talk about it. Don’t accuse. That only makes people defensive. Instead, talk about your own anxieties and whether the two of you really are on the same page about where your relationship is going.
- is jealous or tries to make you jealous. Jealousy isn’t a sign of love. It’s a sign of insecurity. When a partner tries to tell the other person who they can talk to or look at, what they can wear, or where they can go, it’s a sign of control. When a partner is constantly upset that the other person is attractive to other people, it’s a sign of possessiveness. When a partner constantly flirts with other people and is secretive about phone calls and texts in order to get you upset, they are purposely keeping you anxious to keep themselves in control of the relationship.
- doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Whether the topic is where to go out tonight or whether or how to have sex, a loving relationship doesn’t force another person into doing things they don’t want to do. Negotiate, yes. Manipulate, pressure or force, no.
- threatens to commit suicide if you leave. This isn’t love. This is emotional blackmail. It speaks to a kind of dependency that is dangerous for you both. Your partner is playing with his or her life. You are being burdened with the responsibility for whether he or she lives or dies. When someone threatens suicide, the rules of confidentiality don’t apply. Notify your partner’s parents or a school counselor or someone else who has the ability to call in professional help. Get the person the help they need.
- are regularly arguing, accusing, fending off accusations, putting each other down, defending against put-downs, and fighting. Although there is passion in fighting, it’s the wrong kind. Love is about communication, negotiation and compromises. It’s not about winning by who can be loudest or most threatening. Verbal abuse is abusive.
- physically hurts you in any way. There is never a reason to shove, hit or slap a person you love. People don’t lose control. They throw it away. It’s a way people try to control others. If your partner gets violent in any way, make it clear that it’s never okay. Take a huge step back from the relationship. Talk it through if it was minor and you think it was a one-time slip. But if you discover that threatening or committing violence is a characteristic way for your partner to get his or her way, get out.
If you are worried that your relationship has become abusive, the National Dating Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 to teens and young adults. Peer advocates offer support and advocacy to young people in abusive relationships and to the people who care about them. Text “loveis” to 22522 or call 866-331-9474. You can learn more about the organization here.