I imagine that when most teens today think of dating, they think of warm and fuzzy feelings. Someone special to to send them cute Good Morning texts. With the kissing face emoji, obvs. Someone to tag them in funny Instagram memes. Someone to hang out with. To walk hand in hand with. Someone to be their (hot!) best friend.
Full disclosure: As a professional matchmaker and dating & relationship coach, I’ve done a lot of thinking about dating and relationships for the past thirteen years. But it has been a while since I’ve been a teenager. So I don’t know exactly how you feel-or if the kissing face emoji is even cool anymore-but I am confident of this:
Most of you don’t go into dating relationships thinking that your partner will physically, psychologically, or verbally abuse you. While you may be intellectually aware that dating violence can happen to anyone, in any relationship, in any town, on any day, you probably don’t think it will happen to you. You might have an idea of some behaviors that would definitely be considered dating violence, but you may be unsure if others would qualify. If you experience dating violence, you may minimize the impact of what your boyfriend or girlfriend has done. You may know that what is happening to you or a friend isn’t right, but you may think it isn’t that bad. You might believe the “abuser” could change. You might not fully understand how severe the impact can be. You might let it continue, because you don’t know how to make it stop. Oh, and if you are the abuser? You might not even know it! If you’ve experienced any type of abuse yourself, you might think that your behavior is normal.
In the spirit of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I am writing to you, because I feel called to spread a message. My message is: Dating violence can happen to you and it can have a very negative, long-term impact on your life and ability to experience love in a healthy relationship; the good news is that you can prevent it from happening by knowing what to look out for and making some changes.
Trust me, throughout my career, I have worked with all types of adult men and women who have been emotionally messed up for years because of dating abuse. They have been incapable of having healthy relationships, because they haven’t healed from what they experienced in their childhood and teenage years. They’ve needed therapy, coaching, and matchmaking to either choose the right person who would not be abusive toward them or stop being abusive to others. They have suffered, because dating abuse became familiar and normal to them. They got stuck in a cycle of abusive relationships–attracting one abusive relationship after the next. When I met most of them, they were well into adulthood and have never been in a healthy relationship. You can be different….
Do you know what a healthy relationship looks like?
A lot of people don’t. Our parents aren’t perfect. Neither were theirs. After all, this is real life–not a fairy tale. While everyone’s definition of a healthy relationship looks different, there is one thing that all healthy relationships have in common. In a healthy relationship, you feel safe and comfortable being your true self. You feel that your partner cares about you and your well-being; you care about him or her in that same way. You do not feel afraid to speak up and share your truth. Your physical, mental, and emotional health is not at risk. While you may have disagreements and go through difficult times, you do not feel that your partner is repeatedly hurting you or manipulating you. The energy is generally very positive.
An unhealthy relationship is the opposite of that. It is filled with negative energy and violence. The violence doesn’t have to just be physical to be considered dating violence. If you mistakenly sexted a guy (please don’t do this, girls) and he threatens to show your photo to his friends, that is dating violence. Speaking of which, if your partner pressures you to do anything-sexually or otherwise-that is dating violence too. But the thing is, dating violence can be even more subtle than that. It can be your girlfriend making you feel guilty for liking another girl’s Facebook post or your boyfriend accusing you of cheating, because you don’t respond to his texts quickly enough. In a nutshell, dating violence is about one person in the relationship gaining power and control.
Here are many examples of behaviors that are considered dating violence. If any of these behaviors look even vaguely familiar, you may either be in-or will soon be in-a relationship that ranges from unhealthy to very abusive. You might think that things will change for the better, but I promise you that they will not truly change unless you do something to deal with this issue.
If you feel that you are victim of dating violence: Do not keep it to yourself. Tell a teacher, a parent, a counselor, or a friend who can help you. Realize that there are many different forms of dating violence, and you may not be objective about how serious the form you are experiencing is, because you have romantic feelings for the person who is abusing you. You need to get help to make sure that you are safe and get support in ending the relationship. Yes, in most cases, you should end the relationship and only get back together if you partner has completed therapy or a program that has helped him or her learn how to stop the abuse. Don’t be afraid to seek therapy yourself. You do not want to take the “baggage” that comes with teenage dating abuse into your adult relationships.
If you have been abusive and want to change: You can break the cycle! The fact that you are admitting that you have a problem and want to change is progress in itself, but it is only the beginning. You, too, should not go at this alone. You will need support from your friends and family, as well as a counseling program. Change is possible with awareness and commitment to hard work. You are not a horrible person, but what you are doing is not okay, and you need to learn how to put a stop to it now.
For more information on dating abuse and to spread awareness this February, check out http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/teendvmonth/
For more of my advice on dating and relationships, check out my Q&A articles by following the Read More link below.
If you have a dating or relationship question, please ask HERE.
About the Expert: Rachel RUSSO, MS, MFT is one of Your Monthly Mentors, a Matchmaker, Dating & Relationship Coach, Author & Speaker. She has a master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Iona College, a BA in Psychology from Rutgers University, and a certification as an Intentional Relationship Coach. Rachel is the founder of Rachel Russo Relationships-a NYC-based dating and relationship consultancy-and has worked as a matchmaker for twelve years. She currently acts as the resident relationship expert on Brooklyn Savvy Tv, is a matchmaker with Lisa Clampitt Matchmaking, and trains entrepreneurs at Matchmaking Institute. Her drive, credentials, and unique experience make her the ultimate dating and relationship expert. Read More…