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Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Relationships, Part 1

As a therapist, I want to help survivors of dating violence, domestic violence, and abusive relationships recover their sense of safety and self-fulfillment in life.

And I want to do more. I want more people to know how grave the damage is to survivors of abuse and sexual assault. I want to see more action and education to stop dating and interpersonal violence and prevent it.

Artists and performers can be powerful allies for awareness. In a song “The Whole Damn Year,” singer songwriter Mary J. Blige explains the harrowing experience of a person living with relationship trauma:

Bad, how deep the pain is
Oh, you just couldn’t believe
And yes, I’m good on the surface
But I’m a mess, I’m a mess underneath.

See Winter took most of my heart
And Spring punched me right in the stomach
Summer came looking for blood
And by Autumn, I was left with nothing

It took a whole damn year to repair my body…

(Lyrics from “The Whole Damn Year” by Mary J. Blige)

Intimate Partner Abuse

Intimate partner abuse is so devastating and dangerous, we would hope it is extremely rare. Unfortunately, it is alarming to discover how prevalent and pervasive relationship violence actually is:

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  • During Adolescence: “Nearly one in five women and one in seven men have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual violence in a relationship during their adolescent years, ” says the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • During a Lifetime: one in three women and one in four men will experience relationship violence in their lifetime, according to the One Love Foundation, created to end relationship violence through education, in memory of Yeardly Love, a college senior, who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend.

Because it touches so many lives, now is the time to become better informed about dating violence. It might well occur within the reach of caring adults who are unable to see signs of problems or know how to help.

That is something we can change. By recognizing signs of possible trouble, and knowing how to find support for yourself or someone you care about, more of us can respond appropriately to this serious public health epidemic.

What Is Dating Violence?

Dating violence is also known as intimate partner violence, relationship violence, or dating abuse. It’s about control — it’s a pattern of actions, words, threats, and behaviors, says, that a person uses to gain control and power over a partner.

Dating violence occurs when a person uses intimacy to frighten, intimidate, and ultimately control a partner’s whereabouts, communications or actions.

People who experience intimate partner violence come from all walks of life. They can be male, female, gay, straight, affluent, educated, young or adult, and from any ethnic group or religion.

More women report violent intimate partner behavior (76%) than males (24%). It is most common among teens and young adults. Girls between the ages of 16 and 24 have the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost three times the national average, reports This organization also reports a special need to focus on high school aged populations:

  • Five million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
  • One in three adolescents experiences physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner — far exceeding other types of violence that youth experience.
  • The severity of violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.

Limited Knowledge and Awareness Are Part of the Problem

As stunning as these facts are, it is also hard to fathom the documented lack of awareness among adults — including parents. The need for proactive awareness is vital, because the vast majority of abuse victims do not tell anyone; and if they were to inform a nearby adult, most likely this person would not know what to do. It is our responsibility as friends, family, and caring adults to be informed and aware. According to surveys:

  • 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue (
  • Over 80% of high school counselors report they feel unprepared to address incidents of abuse on their school campus (
  • Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship told someone about it (

Signs of Dating Violence

One of the reasons dating violence is so prevalent, is that many who are experiencing it do not understand they are victims. One benefit of the #MeToo campaign is to help more people recognize the need to get help for the trauma of abuse in relationships. We need to know and be able to talk about what kind of behaviors may help us tell the difference between healthy relationships, troubled ones, and those that constitute abuse.

Relationship violence may include any one or combination of these experiences:

Physical abuse – the use of force to cause injury or fear — slapping, hitting, slamming doors, throwing things, or using a weapon; violent acts.

Emotional abuse, sometimes called verbal abuse – name-calling and put-downs are some of the most common forms. This includes stalking, and attempts to isolate, monitor, intimidate, or humiliate. Perpetrators may threaten to hurt themselves or their partner if there’s a breakup.

Sexual abuse – one partner tries to control a partner’s sexual activity, without that partner’s free consent. Rape is one extreme example, but other sexual abuse includes comments that make a partner uncomfortable, demands to watch masturbation, to watch or take videos or pictures, unwanted touching, or impeding a partner’s access to birth control. It includes sexual activity perpetrated after drugs or alcohol have impaired the abused partner’s judgment.

Digital or cyber abuse – the abuser insists on knowing the passwords to the partner’s social accounts, email, and devices for the purpose of tracking and monitoring a partner’s activities. Constant texting about who the partner is with, or threatening messages are important to take seriously.

In general, the appearance of unequal power and control are warning signs of relationship abuse. Abusers want compliance and secrecy and work to get and keep them through intimidation and fear.

Awareness is the key to self-preservation, and the ability to help others avoid or escape relationship violence.

Signs a Teen’s Partner May Be at Risk of Becoming Abusive

Here are signs that a teenage partner may have tendencies toward abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens. Such a partner may:

  • Have difficulty controlling anger and frustration
  • Show limited social skills
  • Use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Act on jealous, insecure, or possessive feelings
  • Constantly put his or her partner down
  • Check the partner’s email or phone without asking permission
  • Throw things, destroy personal property
  • Isolate a partner from that person’s family, friends or loved ones

Abuse may happen during a partner’s mood swings, when tempers flare, or when you hear about the couple fighting. The abused person may try to minimize the situation, working “not to upset the apple cart.” A young person experiencing abuse may say they only want to be with their partner, giving up ties to family and friends, and other activities the partner enjoys.

Read More in the upcoming post: Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Relationships, Part 2

Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Relationships, Part 1

Robyn Brickel, MA, LMFT

Robyn E. Brickel, MA, LMFT, is the founder and director of Brickel and Associates, LLC in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, which she established in 1999. Her insights for parent and teens appear in interviews in The Washington Post, and Washington Parent magazine, and she presents educational workshops for clinicians on the treatment of adolescent substance abuse and trauma. Her counseling and psychoeducational services provide treatment for recovery from trauma and/or abuse, including dissociation; addictions; adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) issues; body image issues and eating disorders; self-harming behaviors, including emotional intensity and instability; anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; challenged family systems; chronic illness; co-dependency; dysfunctional relationships; life transitions; loss and bereavement; relationship distress; self esteem; GLBTQ and sexual identity issues/struggles; and stress reduction. She is a trained trauma and addictions therapist who has helped countless clients make and maintain positive changes in their lives. To learn more about Robyn E. Brickel, visit her website.

APA Reference
Brickel, R. (2018). Preventing Interpersonal Violence in Relationships, Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 25 Mar 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.