This is Part 2 in a series on interpersonal violence in relationships. Read Part 1 here.

Risk Factors — People Who May Be Vulnerable to Dating Abuse

It can be hard to imagine why any person would allow a partner to hurt them and frighten them, while remaining in the relationship. A number of common risk factors may make some individuals more vulnerable to the risk of relationship abuse:

A trauma history – Adverse experiences, especially in childhood, can impair a person’s ability to function well psychologically, emotionally, and in relationships. Especially when the trauma is not recognized and treated, the survivor may have a confused understanding of trust, and have difficulty setting healthy boundaries

Depression or anxiety – Research shows that depression or anxiety may be linked to increased risk for sexual dating violence. Depression is also an outcome or a result of experiencing abuse, which enables an abusive relationship to become ongoing. It also contributes to suicidal thinking that is found in association with dating violence victimization, reports the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women.

Emotional dependence, also called co-dependency – happens when a person has difficulty trusting his or her own feelings, and looks to others for self-validation. Emotionally dependent individuals may rely on reactions from others for a sense of worth and adequacy. They may seem quick to agree with others, to please, or try to be perfect for another person, because they fear rejection.

Drug or alcohol abuse – Teens who use drugs or alcohol increase their risk of becoming victims of dating violence, in several ways. Each person’s behavior is harder to regulate while under the influence. Drinking or using can lower the point at which a person loses their self-control over their own aggression, or loses judgment and power to protect themselves.

A family history of abuse – Relationship violence is often a multi-generational occurrence. The inspiration for Saving Promise (a movement to break the cycle of intimate partner violence, where I consult) was sparked when founder L.Y. Marlow saw her daughter become the next in four generations of women whose partners tried to kill them and harm their children. Individuals from abusive and coercive family systems may have formed a belief that violence is the norm for intimate relationships.

Regardless of your background, if you experience abuse, it is not your fault. It is never okay for a partner to control you, scare or intimidate you, hurt or isolate you, or keep you from ending the relationship freely.

Healthy Relationships

Recognizing signs of healthy relationships is another way we can help ourselves notice warning signs of unhealthy developments. Know that healing in relationships is possible for survivors of abuse and violence. With recovery, survivors of abuse can even find healing in relationships after trauma.

Behaviors between couples with emotional freedom and mental health reflect safety, trust, respect and equality. A healthy intimate relationship is supportive. Partners feel safe. They communicate openly about what they think and feel. A couple may argue or fight but they’re not disrespectful or habitually negative about each other:

  • There’s no name-calling
  • There’s no throwing things
  • There’s no physical violence
  • No one is trying to exert power or control over the other

Unhealthy intimacy and dating violence are marked by coercion, isolation, blame and one-sided power. The abused partner feels there isn’t any room for who they are. There is no mutual sharing of emotions, wishes and needs. The abused partner may feel they have to go to extremes to escape.

Steps Friends or Adults Can Take to Help Victims of Abuse

As a parent or friend, you may feel intense dislike for a loved one’s controlling partner. You may be tempted to force the situation: “You can’t come here if he (or she) is with you.”

You may mean well. But anger or a backlash toward your loved one’s abusive partner is more likely to make things worse. Your best way to help the victim is to offer open support.

Here are some positive steps friends and family can take to help:

  • Offer encouragement and support. Explain that you are always there to talk to.
  • If your loved one wants to bring their partner to your home, allow this if you can. You may well object to the abuser, but negativity may add reasons for the partner to keep your loved one away.
  • Avoid fighting with your loved one about the relationship — you want to do what you can to keep your loved one connected and in touch with you.
  • Plan phrases that can help you keep a non-judgmental dialogue open with your loved one:
    • “I miss you”
    • “I care about you”
    • “I’m always here for you”
    • “I’m here to listen”
    • “There is no judgment here”

We do not need to stand idly by while others suffer abuse. If you are a parent or someone close to a person in a violent relationship, you will need your own support system to address this dangerous crisis.   See More Resources at the end of this article for trained, professional help.

Getting Help

No one deserves to be treated badly. You are not at fault for becoming part of this type of relationship. It has nothing to do with intelligence or your worth. You have a right to feel safe with the partner of your choice.

Some people may need a safety plan to leave an abuser. Adolescents especially need support to recognize when they are in an abusive relationship. Trauma-informed therapy is essential to help victims process the deep psychological wounds of such a relationship, uncover what may have allowed it to happen, and learn how to build healthier relationships in time.

With greater awareness, more of us can support others in finding the help they need, and fewer people need to suffer the trauma of dating violence. Each of us deserves to feel safe, and be treated with respect and fairness in an intimate relationship.

More resources:

National Hotline

National Domestic Violence Hotline:
800-799-7233

Resources for Teens

  • Break The CycleA national organization to empower youth to end dating abuse and manage emotions.
  • Love is Respect – A website, hotline, chat line and text-based support to get help for yourself or someone else. A partnership between Break the Cycle and the National Dating Abuse Helpline.
  • One Love – Education and programs for college students to raise awareness about the warning signs of abuse and to lower relationship violence statistics.

Smartphone Applications

  • Circle of 6 – iPhone and Android app designed to give college students a fast private way to reach six friends they choose.
  • Love Is Not Abuse – iPhone app designed for parents, to help them recognize signs of relationship abuse through technology, cell phone messages, and social networking. It helps parents understand the nature and impact of digital dating abuse, and links parents and teens to resources for help, and the Love Is Not Abuse curriculum for teens.
  • My Plan App – Offered by the One Love Foundation, this app helps a person determine if a relationship is unsafe and create an action plan to leave safely.

For Family and Friends of Abuse Victims

  • Love Is Respect Safety Planning – An interactive guide for family, friends and someone experiencing abuse, to help them find safety and know how to act in different scenarios.

In Alexandria, Virginia: Alexandria Domestic Violence Program – Excellent resources for family and victims of abuse: 703-746-4911