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Student Health Services

Relationship Violence and You

Warning signs someone might become abusive

It's important to remember that abuse usually starts once a relationship gets going, not on the first date. Here are some warning signs that a person may become abusive:

Unrealistic expectations. Pressuring commitment to the relationship from early on.

Extreme jealousy. Trying to pass jealousy off as love, when it's really possessiveness and lack of trust.

Unpredictable mood swings. Sometimes charming and loveable, but that can switch dramatically into explosions of anger.

Isolation. Pressuring to restrict contact with friends and family or participation in activities.

Control. Making all the decisions for the couple.

Previous abuse. A history of violence such as having abused previous partners.

Substance abuse. Abusing alcohol and/or other drugs and claiming intoxication as an excuse for behavior.

Is My Boyfriend or Girlfriend Abusive?

Does your boyfriend or girlfriend…
· make you feel scared of him or her?
· always check up on you?
· make all the decisions?
· get extremely jealous?
· control what you do and where you go?
· criticize, embarrass or humiliate you in front of others?
· make you feel stupid or inadequate?
· stop you from seeing friends or family?
· prevent you from doing things you want to do?
· pressure you into sexual activity?
· become violent when he or she drinks or uses drugs?
· threaten to hurt you, loved ones, property or pets?
· hit, push, grab, slap or otherwise try to hurt you?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be experiencing emotional, verbal, sexual and/or physical violence by your partner. This violence is not your fault.

If you are being abused

Be aware of the cycle of violence. Violent relationships usually follow a pattern of abuse known as the cycle of violence. This cycle has three phases. The first is the tension-building phase, when anger, blaming, and arguing intensify. The second is the explosion phase, when violence (physical, sexual, emotional, and/or psychological) is used. The third is the honeymoon phase, which immediately follows the violence and includes the abuser apologizing and promising the violence will never happen again. Nothing changes. The cycle starts again.

You cannot change your partner. Changing abusive behavior requires professional counseling and even with professional counseling, violent patterns are extremely difficult to break.

If a Friend is Being Abused

If you have a friend you think may be in an abusive relationship, talk with her or him about it. Below are guidelines for what you can say to your friend. Whatever you do, don't ignore the problem; it will not go away. Don't let your friend become isolated -- that just feeds into the power and control of the abuser. You can make a difference by talking with your friend about the situation. You don't have to be an expert to talk about abuse, you just need to be a friend.

Approach your friend and say, "I'm worried about you because…" or "Nobody deserves to be treated like this."

Listen and believe what your friend tells you. Don't judge or blame. Avoid "why" questions. Say, "This isn't your fault."

Focus on safety. Say, "This is not going to get any better and it could get much worse. I am afraid for your safety." Ask, "What can you do to keep yourself safe?"

Show concern. Ask, "How is the behavior affecting you?"

Offer practical support. If you are willing and able, ask, "What can I do to help?"

Am I Abusive to My Girlfriend or Boyfriend?

Do you. . .

· make your girlfriend/boyfriend feel scared of you?
· always check up on your girlfriend/boyfriend?
· make all the decisions?
· get extremely jealous?
· control what your girlfriend/boyfriend does and where she/he goes?
· criticize, embarrass or humiliate your girlfriend/boyfriend in front of others?
· make your girlfriend/boyfriend feel stupid or inadequate?
· stop your girlfriend/boyfriend from seeing friends or family?
· prevent your girlfriend/boyfriend from doing things she/he wants to do?
· pressure your girlfriend/boyfriend into sexual activity?
· become violent when you drink or use drugs?
· threaten to hurt your girlfriend/boyfriend, her/his loved ones, property or pets?
· hit, push, grab, slap or otherwise try to hurt your girlfriend/boyfriend?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be engaging in emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or physical abuse against your partner. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to ending violent behavior, but wanting to change abusive behavior isn't enough. Most people need professional help to stop being abusive. Unless you do something about it, your abusive behavior is likely to get worse.

If a Friend is Being Abusive

If your friend has said or done things that make you think he/she may be hurting his/her partner, it's important to take a stand. It may be one of the hardest things you've ever done, but it could make a real difference for your friend and his/her partner. If you feel safe doing so, talk with your friend privately. Remember, confronting an abusive person can be dangerous, so think carefully about your own safety concerns before confronting an abuser.

Bring it up. Be specific about what you saw and how it made you feel. For example, "I didn't like it when you told your girlfriend she was stupid in front of all of us, and I can only imagine how it made her feel."

Call him/her on it. Say, "I'm not going to sit here as your friend, watch this happen, and not say anything about it."

Give him/her a reality check. "This isn't right. That's not how you treat someone you love." or "This is a crime, and you could be arrested."

Urge him/her to seek help. He/she can get help from a counselor. Express support for your friend if he/she is willing to change.

Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?

Outsiders often struggle with this question. They have a hard time understanding why someone would stay with an abusive partner. It is important to remember that even asking this question focuses attention on the victim's behavior, when the problem is the abuser's behavior.

Why people stay in abusive relationships:

· Fear of what an abuser may do if she/he tries to leave or end the relationship, often because the abuser has made these threats.
· Lowered self-esteem due to verbal and emotional abuse. Sometimes victims of abuse begin to believe that they do not deserve a better relationship, that the abuse is their fault, or that things will get better.
· Reluctance to let others know they've been living in an abusive situation: thinking that others will express disbelief or blame.
· If they are co-habitating, belief that she/he shouldn't have to leave because they haven't done anything wrong.