October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence is defined by “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” It is also known as intimate partner violence, so I will be using both terms interchangeably. It is estimated that 29.1% of Black women are victimized by intimate partner violence in their lifetime. According to the Women of Color Network Facts & Stats Collection, Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate of 35% more than white women, and about 2.5 times the rate of women in other races. Yet they are less likely to use social services, battered women programs or go to the hospital due to domestic violence.
When you read these facts, it may come as a surprise. Despite the definition, the term domestic violence is often assumed to only mean physical abuse. It’s most likely because physical abuse is the easiest to see. However, there are so many other forms of abuse, such as verbal, emotional, sexual and even financial. If you have been in a relationship where your partner has cursed you out, called you names, talked down on you, said really hurtful things, or yelled at you often, those would be examples of verbal abuse. Emotional abuse involves manipulation, isolation, and controlling behaviors. Examples can include your partner threatening to kill themselves if you leave the relationship, isolating you from family and friends, blaming you for their behavior, or controlling what you do or wear. Sexual abuse does not just consist of rape, but also preventing access to contraception, refusing to use it or damaging it. Putting you in harm to force a miscarriage, coercing you into unwanted sexual activity, or unwanted sexual comments or touching are also examples of sexual abuse as well. Financial abuse is not often discussed, but can be just as controlling. It happens when a partner is using money as a tool to manipulate and control the other. Stealing money, not giving your partner money for necessities, or preventing your partner from making money, can all be examples.
In most abusive partnerships, the relationship did not begin that way. Oftentimes, it may feel as if the abuser flipped a switch and became a completely different person. If abusive behavior was present in the first few encounters, the relationship probably wouldn’t have gotten this far. It is common for abusers to treat their partner great in the beginning, to reel them in. So here are a few warning signs of an unhealthy relationship to look for.
Warning Signs of Unhealthy Relationships
- You feel like you have to walk on eggshells.
When everything you say can easily become an argument, you may begin to feel anxious or start watching your every move so as not to upset your partner. If you feel like you can’t communicate your emotions or needs without it becoming an issue, then it could be time to rethink the relationship.
- You feel isolated from your other loved ones.
In a relationship there should be a balance of togetherness and autonomy. Meaning it is just as important to spend some time with your partner as it is to spend time alone or with your own support system. It can be natural to spend all your free time with your partner when the romance is new. However, if you notice your partner getting upset when you’re out with friends or trying to keep you all to themselves, that can be a red flag.
- You feel your partner is trying to control you.
If they’re telling you what you can or cannot do, who you can or cannot hang out with or where you can or cannot go, then that can be a red flag. There’s nothing wrong with a partner being protective or concerned about behaviors, but they should not feel like your parent.
- You feel your partner cannot control their emotions.
Everyone is entitled to their own emotions. However, it is how they behave during those emotions that is important to notice. If all respect and compassion goes out of the window when your partner is upset, then it may be hard for the relationship to last. Controlling your emotions does not mean suppressing them, it means not allowing them to control you.
- You feel your partner never takes accountability for their actions. When you are made to feel as if everything is your fault, that can be unfair and cause you to second guess yourself. If your partner is constantly blaming you for the problems in the relationship, but not seeing how their actions affect or trigger you then that can also be a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship.
Oftentimes we may see red flags, and ignore them. Not to mention there is often an expectation that women, especially Black women, have to suffer first to attain the love they desire. Infidelity and manipulation have become so normalized. We are expected to “hold our men down” and it is not always seen as a positive thing when we let go of a relationship that is no longer serving us. But why? Well for one, Black women have historically been seen as the protectors of the Black community. So telling on an abuser could feel as if you are putting your family in more danger by getting police involved. Two, it doesn’t help that our culture continues to reinforce this narrative as well. Think of how many movies we see where the Black woman experiences heartbreak and abuse (physical or emotional), as their man grows and at the end, they end up happily ever after. How many songs can you recall about staying in a relationship that is rough, but sticking it out because you’re in love? Even TV shows that aim to portray the beauty of Black love, such as Black Love Doc, give us some examples of sticking through rough times and having victory at the end. No relationship is perfect. There will always be ups and downs, and areas for each partner to grow in. But the downs shouldn’t consist of you being abused or hurt intentionally.
Why it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship:
- You are afraid of what the person will do if you leave.
- You are afraid of being single and having to start all over again.
- You are hoping the relationship will change, or go back to how it was.
- You feel you’ve already put so much time and effort into the relationship, so you don’t want to give up on it.
- You have children with the person and don’t want to break your family up. Kids > What do you want your kids to learn?
Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Well let me offer you some gentle reminders. While leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous, staying in one is as well. If you have any family or friends that you trust, it may be better to stay with them and not tell your partner your location to protect your safety. If that is not feasible or you feel you don’t have anyone you can rely on for support, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has resources and can help you to create a safety plan. If you’re staying in an abusive relationship because you think without them you would be lonely, there is much more peace to be found within yourself, than staying with an abuser. Starting over can feel like a daunting task, but it can also lead you to finding a new person to love you the way you deserve, and most importantly it can lead to you finding yourself. If time is what is keeping you in the relationship, the longer you stay the harder it can be to leave. If your concern is your children, I can completely understand not wanting to break your family up. However by staying, what do you think you may be teaching them? How do you want them to see you treated? What is the definition of love that you want your children to learn?
If any of these scenarios describe your relationship, or the relationship of someone you know, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or Find a Therapist in our directory today!