- Can you be yourself in this relationship? A healthy relationship nvolves two people who love and accept one another. If you feel like you have to play a role or change your hobbies, interests, or dreams to keep your partner happy, it may not be the right relationship for you. Life is too short to spend walking on egg shells.
- Does your partner lift you up or hold you down? A healthy relationship is empowering. It makes you feel safe, respected, and heard. And while every relationship has rocky days, your partner should never make you feel like less than you are. Someone who truly loves you will help you become the very best version of yourself. If your partner is trying to control you or limit your growth or happiness, it may be time to move on.
- Do you want to be with your partner as he is today – not what you hope he may become? Too often, we become infatuated with an ideal. As women, we are especially bad at falling in love with someone’s potential. We play the “yes, but he could be such a great guy” game. And while that may be true, you have no control over whether he ever actually will be. We can never change another person, and trying to will only leave you
disappointed and exhausted. The only person who can choose to change his behavior is your partner. Take an honest look at who your partner is today, and decide if that is someone you want to spend your life with.
- What boundaries are important to you? It’s important to clearly articulate to your partner what you want and need. For example, if you want 15 minutes a day to talk to each other, with no distractions – tell him. If you want some time alone each day to decompress – tell him. Rather than being resentful that someone is not meeting your needs, be clear about what those needs are, and then give your partner a chance to meet them. If he gets upset when you try to talk with him, or blames you for being too demanding, he is not being respectful of your needs. It may be time to re-consider the above questions.
- What can you do to love yourself more? Relationships are opportunities for growth. So, it’s always healthy to examine what you are doing to lift yourself up, even if you’re not getting that from your partner. Instead of waiting for your partner to say or do nice things for you – do them for yourself. This may help reduce your feelings or exhaustion and resentment, and may help clear your perspective, to help you see your relationship more clearly. If you are doing work on yourself, and your partner’s behavior is not changing, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship. Remember, you only have control over your own behavior.
- What do you want? Ultimately, you have to focus on you. Think about what you want, what you need, and who you want to be. Focus on your strengths, your accomplishments, and your abilities. Think about how you see your life, and decide if your partner fits into that picture. Remember that you are completely deserving of love and respect – and then decide if that’s what you are receiving from your partner. Stay focused on the big picture: Are you being treated with respect? Is your partner willing to work on issues together? Do you feel safe and supported?
- Does your partner hurt or scare you? If you are with someone who hurts, degrades, punishes, or threatens you: Please talk to someone. Talk with a trusted friend or relative, or call the confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You deserve to be safe. No one has a right to hurt you. And you don’t have to go through this alone.
Remember, you deserve to be loved and respected – all the time.
If you have recently started dating someone new, you are probably focused on romantic dates and enjoying new experiences together. Thinking about red flags and watching out for abuse is probably the furthest thing from your mind. In fact, we rarely pay close attention to our partners’ behavior in the beginning of a relationship. We are so swept up in sweet words and the hope of new love that we will even overlook things that may otherwise concern us. And we rarely ever identify something our new love may do or say as even potentially abusive.
While we certainly want to be hopeful and optimistic in the beginning of any new relationship, it is also important to keep our eyes open and stay alert to potential warning signs. When we think of abuse, we often picture black eyes and other physical injuries. We think of the person who is being beaten by their partner and cowering in a corner. But, while abuse often does escalate to this level, it does not start out that way. In fact, abusive partners – in particular men – are often very charming, charismatic, and kind in the beginning of a relationship. An abuser will work to make you feel so appreciated and loved, you won’t even notice he is controlling you – sometimes, until it is too difficult to get away.
An abusive partner will often be overly romantic in the early stages of a relationship. He’s the guy who shows up with flowers and gushes about how beautiful you look. He may even be the most romantic man you have ever met. He will pay attention to you and make you feel special and wanted. He may ask lots of questions about you, and seem genuinely interested in your passions, hobbies, and friends. You may find yourself thinking that he is too good to be true – and that may be because he is. An abuser needs you to trust him and develop feelings for him, because it’s much easier to control someone who cares about you. He will make you feel like you are his entire world – because his goal is to make your world to revolve around him.
Of course, not all romantic men are abusive, and romance by itself is not a warning sign. But, when his romantic gestures are being used to cover up or distract you from more concerning behavior, it is definitely a red flag of more dangerous behavior to come. Some of the concerning behavior he may be trying to cover up includes his attempts to control you, which often starts off as jealousy. He may glare at other men for looking at you and ask a lot of questions about your male friends. You may see his jealousy as cute, or even a sign that he truly cares about you. But eventually, he may start to make you feel guilty for spending time with, or even talking about, anyone other than him. He may accuse you or flirting or cheating, and make you constantly explain where and with whom you have been. He will say he doesn’t want to lose you, because he has been cheated on in the past, or because he simply loves you so much, he can’t stand the thought of anyone else being near you. And soon, no one else will be.
An abusive partner will use romance and charm to get close to you, and then gradually push everyone else away. He will want to be your entire world. And soon, he will ask you to commit, so that he has even more control over you.
If these warning signs are happening in your relationship, even if he hasn’t hit you yet, please pay attention. Control, jealousy, and isolation are not love. And abusive behavior will not change – no matter how hard you try, or how much you love him. Eventually, the person who seems like your dream come true may become your worst nightmare.
You deserve to be safe and free. And you deserve real love, not manipulation and abuse. If you or someone you know is being abused, people are available to help, anytime, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Most women were taught that they should never let a man hit them. Even when we received this
lesson from confusing sources (such as an abusive parent), the message was clear: Physical
violence is never acceptable.
Yet unfortunately, physical violence is still far too common. Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is beaten by a current or former boyfriend or husband. And even more tragic, at least three women are murdered every day by a man who claims to love them. Physical violence is still a very real and lethal epidemic. But, the ways in which women are abused go much further than physical wounds.
Abuse is not only about violence; it is about power and control. Abuse is about being dominated by your partner. It is about someone who loves you making you feel small, guilty, unappreciated, disrespected, and unseen. Being able to recognize an abusive partner early on requires an understanding of these dynamics , and the knowledge that you have a right to set boundaries and demand respect. This is the conversation we
should be having, but rarely are.
Growing up, you were probably never taught to watch out for a partner who tries to control you, tells you who to talk to, belittle you, or makes you feel guilty about putting yourself first. You were probably not taught that jealousy is a sign of control, not of love. And you also probably were never told that you have a right to set boundaries and stand up for your own well-being.
These messages are especially rare for women and young girls. We live in a society that teaches men they are only worthy if they are powerful – a message which often has dangerous repercussions for women – and which teaches women we are only worthy if we are likeable. So, we often spend our entire teenage and adult life walking on eggshells, trying to fit in, trying not to upset anyone, and trying desperately to be accepted by friends, family, and especially by men. And when an abusive partner catches on that we are trying desperately to be liked and accepted,
they are able to gain and maintain even more power over us.
Also, because we are often caretakers and “fixers,” we often put everyone else’s wellbeing above our own. This is why so many women feel guilty leaving an abusive partner, who has likely convinced her that he had a traumatic childhood or struggled throughout his life. The thought process is often: “So, maybe he doesn’t always treat me well, but he loves me, and how can I leave someone who has been through so much?” We have been taught to accept love, even when it comes with disrespect, control, and pain. And we have been taught to always take care of people, especially the man we choose to spend our life with. The problem is that we don’t realize how much trauma we put ourselves through while trying to save someone else.
Here are the messages we each should have received growing up: You matter. Your voice, your choices, your interests, and your dreams matter. You have a right – no, an obligation – to put yourself first. Being “selfish” is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, sometimes it’s a necessity.
No one has a right to tell you what to do, whom to talk to, what hobbies to enjoy, what career to pursue, what dreams to follow, or what life to create. And absolutely no one has a right to make you feel like less than you are.
We may never have had these conversations, but we can absolutely start having them now. It’s time to reclaim our power and make decisions based on what’s best for us. And it’s time to teach our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and all women and girls that they have a right to their own lives – they have a right to their own happiness.
Let’s create a new generation of women who not only demand physical safety, but also demand respect, support, autonomy, and equality. We may not have been taught it, but we absolutely deserve it.
This is the time of year when we’re all busy scrambling to find the perfect gifts for our friends and family. We all want to help people feel good, but what if we could also do good this year?
Violence against women is an epidemic that affects us all. At least one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime, which means we all know someone who has been impacted. But, the good news is, we also have incredible power to stop these crimes. We can start by giving gifts this year that truly make a difference.
1. Gifts that promote equality. One of the main causes of violence against women is rigid gender roles, which teach boys they are only worthy if they are powerful, and teach girls they are only worthy if they are likeable. This creates inequality and leads to abuse and control.
This year, give children toys that challenge these stereotypes, and encourage boys and girls to explore their true passions and talents. Give girls gifts that encourage creativity and ingenuity, such as building block and science kits. Give boys gifts that encourage nurturing, such as dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, which will help them grow to be more compassionate partners and fathers. Most of all, encourage children to explore their interests, without labels. Children who feel loved and respected for who they are will be much less likely to become victims or abusers someday.
2. Gifts that promote compassion. One of the most valuable lessons we can give our children, especially young boys, is the ability to express a full range of emotions, and to feel empathy for others. Many boys who grow up to abuse their partners have been taught that anger is the only acceptable emotion. Teaching children that it is alright to feel fear or sadness encourages them to express and process these emotions, rather than lashing out against others.
Of course, we can teach these lessons simply by talking with our children, and modeling compassionate behavior. But, we can also give books that illustrate empathy, such as Bully, Ramona the Pest, The Giving Tree, and Charlotte’s Web. We can also help children choose gifts to donate to local homeless or domestic violence shelters, and teach them the importance of helping others.
3. Gifts that empower. Women spend so much of our time caring for others, and we often neglect ourselves. Give the women in your life books that will empower and inspire them, such as Thrive by Arianna Huffington and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Give books that teach about ending violence against women, such as Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof.
There are also many great gifts available that are made by, and which help support, survivors. Organizations such as Made by Survivors, Fair Trade Designs, and Cotton Dahlia offer beautiful clothing, jewelry, and accessories that benefit worthy causes and empower women worldwide.
4. Gifts that promote healing. If you have people in your life who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence – and we all do – give a gift that will help them on their healing journey. Yoga can provide immense healing for survivors, especially those who have been sexually assaulted, because of its ability to reintegrate body, mind, and emotions. Giving a survivor yoga gear or a gift certificate for yoga classes can start her on the path toward healing. Painting supplies, journals, and other gifts that encourage creative expression are also healing.
Most of all, let survivors in your life know that what they experienced is not their fault, that you believe them, and that you will always support them. Friendship and compassion are the most healing gifts of all.
5. Gifts that provide safety. There are hundreds of wonderful domestic violence and sexual assault programs across this country. You can give a donation in someone’s honor, which will provide safety and comfort for women and children in crisis. You can also donate your time and talents. Volunteers answer crisis calls, accompany survivors at the hospital, and work with children in shelter. There are many ways to get involved and make a difference – all it takes is a little time and a lot of heart.
There is so much we each can do to end the epidemic of violence against women. This year, give gifts that truly make a difference. Together, we can create a world that is safer for all women, children, and men. Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift of all?
If you or someone you know has been abused or assaulted, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). To get involved in the work to end sexual assault and domestic violence in the Midlands, contact Sistercare at 803-926-0505 or Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands at 803-790-8208.
If you are starting to wonder whether the relationship you are in is right for you, you have probably
researched articles, talk d with trusted friends and family, and wavered between being optimistic and
completely fed up.
There are probably days when you feel connected to your partner, and hopeful that the relationship will
work out. You may start to believe that your partner will change, and everything will go back to how it was in the beginning – or, at least, not be as bad as it is now. And you probably have other days when you feel ignored, disrespected, unappreciated, and frustrated. You have probably debated this decision for a while, and you still just
don’t know what you should do.
Relationship decisions are never easy. Deciding whether to leave or stay is one of the biggest decisions of your life. There is a lot at stake, and often years of memories and shared lives to consider. Ending a relationship – especially
a long one – is a difficult journey, and often involves untangling layers of combined lives and
experiences. The process of leaving may take time, and will undoubtedly have difficult moments. You
may also be worried about whether you can afford to leave. Your partner may have the primary income source, or may have control over the finances. There are truly legitimate things to consider in making this decision.
But, often, the hardest part is not weighing the pros and cons, figuring out the property division, or
planning your next step – it’s just deciding what you truly want and deserve. That sounds easy enough, but it is often what causes the most confusion. Thankfully, there is a simple and easy question to help you decide whether to leave or stay in a relationship: What would you tell your best friend?
Imagine your best friend comes to you and shares details about her relationship, which is exactly like
yours. If you can do so safely, take a few minutes to write each of these facts down. Write about how
her partner treats her, talks to her, and whether he respects and supports her. Write about if he hurts
her emotionally or physically, and if he supports her goals and dreams. Write about how he makes her
feel. Write about her frustration, her pain, her anger, and her sadness. Pretend she is sharing all of this
with you, and asking for advice.
Now, as her friend, decide what you would tell her to do. As someone who cares about her, how would
you view this relationship? Do you have any concerns about her safety or well-being? What would you
like her to know? Does it sound like she is being valued, respected, and treated in a way that she
The fact is that we are often much better at loving and supporting our friends than we are at loving and
supporting ourselves. Think about how often you’ve thought that a friend was settling for less than she
deserved, or times you noticed red flags about a friend’s boyfriend before she did. Unfortunately, it’s often much easier to see the big warning signs and concerning behavior from the outside, rather than when from the middle of the relationship, living it each and every day. So, step outside of your relationship for a moment and ask yourself: What would I tell my best friend?
This simple question, when considered thoughtfully and answered honestly, can help you see things
more objectively. And it can help you make a decision based on love and compassion for yourself, which
you absolutely deserve.
Remember, everyone deserves to be treated with love and respect – including you.