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Warning signs of dating violence

Published in For the Health of It Author: Rena Sespene-Hinz, MSW, ACSW, LISW

Being able to tell the difference between healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships can be more difficult than you would think. No two relationships are the same, so what’s unhealthy in one relationship may be abusive in another. Although there are many signs to pay attention to in a relationship, look for these common warning signs of dating abuse:

  • Checking cell phones, emails or social networks without permission
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Constant belittling or put-downs
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Constant mood swings toward you
  • Physically inflicting pain or hurt in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling someone what he/she can and cannot do
  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex

How can you help?

If you think a friend is experiencing or perpetrating abusive behaviors, there are ways you can help.

First off, know that approaching a friend about an abusive relationship may be difficult. You might have already tried to talk to your friend and it may seem like he/she doesn’t listen or want to hear it. Know that while your friend is in the abusive relationship, he/she may not recognize the warning signs of abuse like you have. Even when your friend does recognize the signs of abuse certain obstacles like threats, fear, embarrassment or feeling like he/she has nowhere to go can make seeking help or getting out extremely dangerous.

Tips for helping a friend

  • Start the conversation. Say that you have noticed certain things that concern you. Help your friend identify the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and share information about healthy relationship signs.
  • Be supportive. Remember your friend may not recognize the abuse or even want to leave or stop. This is difficult when you clearly see the signs. When talking to your friend or if your friend approaches you with concerns, be supportive. Don’t judge. Keep an open mind and help them get the resources they need like creating a safety plan.
  • Keep your communication door open. Your friend needs you to listen and be supportive. What you see or hear may make you frustrated and upset. If this happens, try to stay calm. If you give your friend an ultimatum like “if you don’t leave, I won’t talk to you again” that closes the door of communication. Instead, let him/her know that you want to help and can connect your friend to resources when he/she is ready. Check out this graphic for great examples of supportive things to say during the conversation.
  • When in need, get support. If you feel that your friend is in immediate danger or that his/her life is at risk or has been threatened, you may want to get emergency support by calling 911. It may not be your first choice for help, but if things are serious, it’s important to call professionals for support. You also may consider talking to a counselor, trusted adult or legal aid if there is no immediate danger present.

Remember boundaries, warning signs and healthy relationships are not as clear when you are in an abusive relationship. That’s why it’s important to educate your friends and community about dating abuse and how to have a healthy relationship.

Take the Healthy Relationship Quiz.

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