Advice to Help You Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship and Tips for How to Cope with Abuse
Dear April Masini,
All my friends tell me I’m in an unhealthy relationship because my boyfriend and I fight a lot – but I love him. How do I know if I'm in an abusive relationship, and whether I should get out or stay in? Please give me some advice to help me deal with this situation."
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Fight Club,
The way to tell if a relationship is unhealthy or not depends a lot on what your expectations are for a healthy relationship and what your partner's expectations are. There is also a big difference between an unhealthy relationship and a compatible relationship.
A healthy relationship is often determined by popular wisdom and this definition changes over time. At one time divorce was thought to be very unhealthy. Now, divorce is the norm and there are new "rules" for what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy relationship.
Long ago, keeping a problem to oneself was considered appropriate behavior, but now, therapy and counseling in doctor’s offices or on television in front of the whole world are considered appropriate. Fashion isn’t just about hemlines – there is also fashionable behavior, fashionable couple dynamics and fashionable manners.
Society determines what the fashion is. You determine what works for you. So don’t fall victim to peer pressure. A fashion victim isn’t just a person wearing a bad dress. Giving up a relationship that works for you because it isn’t what your friends are comfortable with may make you just as much a victim and more of a loser in love than anyone showing up on a worst dressed list!
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That said, many men and women do find themselves in unhealthy relationships that they can’t see. They rationalize and justify hurtful behavior over and over again and are not able to get themselves out of a bad situation because they don’t realize it’s bad to begin with. They think it’s normal.
While this may sound crazy to anyone in a good relationship, think about times you have gotten in a bad mood that with a little time becomes a very foul mood. Suddenly you eat a meal and feel amazingly better. The world seems bright and sunny again instead of gloomy and overcast. What happened? You were hungry and you didn’t know it. You ate and your mood changed. The same thing happens in relationships when you’re down and depressed and you don’t know why. You can’t see that the relationship you’re in is unhealthy, but if you adjust it or even get out of it, you’ll feel a million times better.
Don’t Give Up if You Don’t Fit the Mold:
If someone knew the secret to a great relationship that stayed great and never wavered, they’d be rich and famous. But that equation doesn’t exist. So if you do have a relationship that feels good to you and it doesn’t fit the mold of “normal” don’t be too quick to question it or give it up.
A compatible relationship may involve qualities that experts or friends and neighbors think is unhealthy, but both people in the relationship are happy, so the relationship is a compatible and can be long-lasting or life-long. For example, some people feel that if women stay home and have babies and raise children they are being denied their rights to be fully developed individuals, and are even sometimes labeled abused, yet the couple seems perfectly happy. This may be a couple that is considered unhealthy, but happens to be compatible.
How to Know if You’re in an Abusive Relationship:
I believe that any relationship where a person is being physically hit and hurt is an unhealthy and abusive relationship. In addition to that there is often mental and emotional abuse that leads up to this dynamic and needs to be included in the definition of an abusive relationship.
Signs of this abuse may be, obviously, black eyes, bruises, broken bones, limps, etc. When asked how the injury occurred, the abused very often lies to protect the abuser. If reasons for injuries don't add up, you may be looking at an abuse victim of an unhealthy relationship.
Depression is a sign of an unhealthy relationship, and this depression is often manifested in a lot of sleeping, trouble finding joy in everyday life, and a sudden weight loss or gain, or lack of appetite. Drinking heavily and increased use of medication -- over the counter, prescription, or illegal substance abuse all count as signs of poor health that may come from an unhealthy relationship.
Teen Partner Abuse:
Teen partner abuse is not a lot different than adult partner abuse -- except that finding the cause of the abuse is often a little easier because there is less history in a teen than in an adult who abuses . Many teens that abuse other teens do so because they need an outlet for some awful feelings that they have not processed. Acting out the feelings is a way of processing them. Many times the teen abuser is abused at home or in some other part of life. Other times, the teen abuser is under enormous pressure of some kind, and violence or other kinds of abuse are the way they cope with their own pressure.
The victims of abuse often have a sense that either they are not worthy of a non-abusive relationship -- even though this can be extremely subtle and difficult to spot -- or they feel that they can save this person or help them somehow, and allow themselves to be abused as part of their own process of saving their partner.
Regardless of the reasons for teen partner abuse, anyone who suspects a teen of being abused should immediately report their suspicious to the teen's parents or a school counselor who is better equipped to handle this type of situation. The bright side of teen partner abuse is that if it is spotted while the abuser and victim are in their teens, there is a chance to help both partners before they become adult abusers and victims.
If you're happy in your relationship, try out some of my date ideas in my book, Romantic Date Ideas.