By: JM Oran
Valentine’s Day is here. It’s that one special day of the year when romantic love is celebrated, and yet very few people truly understand what it feels like to be in a healthy, non-abusive relationship. Many survivors of domestic violence grew up in dysfunctional families where they witnessed a parent (often their mother) being abused physically, verbally and emotionally; others had parents or caregivers who weren’t openly abusive but who never showed any affection for each other.
With poor role models like these, it’s no wonder that some teenagers’ only experience of love comes from movies and television where a handsome “prince charming” sweeps a beautiful woman off of her feet. As a result, many women, especially teenagers, are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting their partners’ incipiently abusive behavior (jealousy, controlling who they see and what they wear etc.) as passionate love.
By the time the verbal and emotional abuse escalates into violence, these women are often too afraid or too worn-down psychologically to leave the relationship. This is why it pays to have a clear idea of what love does and doesn’t look like before you enter into a serious romantic relationship.
For the sake of convenience, the following list assumes the abuser is a man and the survivor a woman. However, the same tips apply to same-sex relationships, and to relationships where the abuser is female.
|Love IS NOT …||Love IS …|
|rushing you into emotional and physical intimacy. It can be very flattering when your new partner lavishes attention on you, tells you all his deepest secrets and wants to spend hours having intense sex. However, be careful that you are not being “love-bombed.” This is when your partner uses extreme affection and flattery to win your confidence in an attempt to break down your defenses and manipulate you. Once they have you “hooked” on the relationship, their behavior usually changes dramatically and becomes overtly abusive.||when your partner allows you to dictate the pace of a relationship, and respects your emotional and physical boundaries; when you’re given the time and space in the initial stages of a relationship to judge your partner’s behavior dispassionately so emotion and lust don’t distort the picture.|
|isolating you from your friends and family or preventing you from going to school or work. Some women think that their partner’s jealousy and excessive demands on their time is “proof” of their love for them. However, this is just another way for abusers to gain control over their partners and to prevent their loved ones from seeing the abuse.||when your partner recognizes that you are a separate individual who needs time away from the relationship to see friends and family, attend school or work and have hobbies – or even just to have some “me time.”|
|constantly judging and criticizing you, name-calling, mocking your appearance, intellect, opinions or interests, undermining everything you say, trivializing your thoughts and feelings, or ignoring you.||when the words that your partner uses make you feel that you’re the most beautiful, intelligent, funny and interesting woman on the planet. It’s when he takes an interest in your dreams and ambitions, encourages you and offers emotional support to help you achieve them or a shoulder to cry on when things don’t work out as planned. It’s when he listens carefully to what you say, and takes it seriously. It’s when he can disagree with you in a calm and respectful manner.|
|denying or minimizing abuse, blaming you for everything and taking no responsibility. Many abusers will claim that their partner’s behavior “provoked” them and caused the abuse. Others will try to deflect attention away from themselves by focusing on their partner’s supposed flaws. Some abusers will apologize and appear repentant just so that the woman doesn’t leave them or presses charges, but they rarely make a concerted effort to change, so the abuse will start again a few days or weeks.||when your partner knows there is never an excuse for abusing you or anybody else. It’s when he is able to admit when he is wrong and offers a sincere apology. It’s when he makes a genuine effort to change when you point out any objectionable behavior (reading self-help books, attending 12-Step groups, seeking therapy, attending couple’s counseling with you, etc.).|
|constantly accusing you of being unfaithful, requiring you to “check in” with him whenever you leave the house, bombarding you with phone calls and texts when he doesn’t know where you are or when you don’t respond immediately. It’s not violating your privacy by reading your emails and text messages.||when your partner trusts you implicitly. He doesn’t always need to know where you are all the time or find out who you’re communicating with because he has faith that you will never do or say anything to hurt him. There is a mutual trust involved.|
|controlling all of the finances in the relationship, taking all of your wages, making you ask for money or giving you an allowance (often one that is not enough to meet your needs), not paying bills in your name, and running up large amounts of debt on your credit cards so that your credit is ruined.||when both you and your partner discuss your financial needs and expectations openly and honestly. It’s when your partner doesn’t mind that you have your own bank account and spend your money as you see fit.|
|biting, slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, pinching, hair pulling, arm twisting, tying you up, burning or threatening you with a knife, gun or any other weapon.||when you don’t live in constant fear of being hurt or killed. It’s when you feel safe being around your partner, when they hug you, snuggle up next to you in bed, gently caresses your face and body, tenderly kisses you on the lips, massages your shoulders when you’ve had a stressful day, and holds your hand when you’re in public or even when you’re just watching TV together on the couch.|
Most importantly, though, love is loving yourself first. When you eliminate negative self-talk from your life and begin to appreciate your many wonderful talents and amazing qualities, you will no longer look to a relationship to increase your self-worth because your life will already be full. When you love yourself, you will also be more likely to avoid abusive people because you will recognize their bad behavior more quickly, and won’t put up with it. Best of all, women who love themselves unconditionally attract emotionally healthy men who are capable of having loving, committed relationships.