There's no doubt that relationships can be difficult. However, they don’t have to be toxic or violent, regardless of what we’ve seen in our homes, on television screens and displayed throughout all corners of culture. Directly or indirectly, we’ve been taught that violence is a part of love.
Some of us have been lied to: abuse of any kind has no place in a relationship. Physical abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, pet abuse, technological abuse, isolation, extreme jealously, using children, minimizing, denying or blaming should never be accepted in the name of love. A person can experience all of those or just one, and people exhibiting these unhealthy patterns of behavior are after one thing — control. It’s important for us to believe patterns of behavior, not words.
In the past few years during this #MeToo era, we’ve learned a lot about the people closes to us, at least I have. This movement is dominating our conversations, and rightfully so. Pay attention to how your partner reacts to the news of people in positions of power that are abusive (i.e., Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Stephen Collins, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly). If their instinct is to look for fault in the victim/survivor, it’s important to ask yourself why.
We’ve all heard the conversations of, “They’re trying to bring a brother down,” “They’re trying to mess up his legacy" and "They knew what they were getting themselves into.” Oh, but did they? If this is you, save your conspiracy theories for a Reddit forum. It doesn’t matter the race of the perpetrator of harm — women, men and children are being attacked. Stop blaming them. It’s not the victim's fault. The issue lies with the abuser. Patterns of behavior are important. In love we lead with our heart instead of our head. You'd be surprised at how many of us rationalize abuse because we so desperately want a person to be good.
Relationships are going to naturally have conflict and we will not always see eye to eye with our partner. Whatever that conflict may be, notice how your partner reacts to it. Let’s say the two of you have agreed to meet for a date and you show up 15 minutes late. If during the whole experience they don’t let you live this down by continuously making passive aggressive comments, that could be a sign that person may not be it. Chances are they will continue that behavior for things in the future. Nothing will ever be good enough if it’s not perfect. We can dismiss those little things and write them off as them being upset, caring, particular or alpha, but take it from me, there’s absolutely no reason to throw a mantrum because you couldn’t eat poached eggs.
Warning signs tell us to be cautious and allow us to clue in to specific patterns of behavior. Think of a warning sign like a traffic light — it’s not a red light, it is yellow. This yellow light should make us slow down, take a moment and pause. These behaviors can, and do, blend into each other in the form of someone who is being controlling or someone that simply cares. It’s all about intention and impact. Ask yourself what is your partner's intention: Is this behavior controlling, or does this person genuinely care? Ask yourself what your intention is: Is it to control my partner, or do you care?
While thinking in pause mode, we should take note of the impact this behavior has on our feelings. Don’t ignore your intuition. Yellow lights can look anything like from a partner suggesting you wear something else, constantly contacting you or telling you to stop hanging out with a certain friend.
Someone playing your personal stylist when you didn’t ask may seem small, but it is not to be overlooked. Don’t let someone tell you what you can and cannot wear. Ladies, if you want to look like Beyoncé in the “Partition” video, that is your birthright. Guys, if you want to throw on those gray sweatpants in the crisp autumn weather, that is your business. When a partner says, “You have to change,” “It’s not that type of party” or “We don’t need people looking at you,” this person is trying to subtly let you know they’re here to control. They’re here to let you know they want to be your parent, and not your partner.
Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. Wear whatever makes you feel confident. Find someone else to match your fly. If you let your partner control this area of your life, they may attempt to control other areas of your life, too. Partners that are abusive start small.
Are you constantly checking in on your spouse? Every hour or so, do you find yourself asking them what they’re doing, who they’re with and what time will they be in? Are you asking for proof that your partner is doing the activity they say they are, FaceTiming them just to make sure? If so, remember that your partner is just that: your partner. They are your equal, not your child. It’s 24 hours in a day; your partner should not be obligated to hear from you 24 hours of that day.
The red flags and warning signs are often there as early as day one or week three. Go with your gut, it will never steer you wrong. If you get bad vibes from a person, trust that. Several years ago, an ex-partner of mine asked me what I thought about a relationship and if we should enter one. That night my intuition literally said “no.” Unfortunately, I went the other way.
Do not ignore the signs and trust yourself. Trusting yourself is essential because not following your gut can cost you a lot of time, or even your life. Feeling unsafe to share your opinion and express yourself due to actions or reactions from a partner is a real thing.
Knowing you’re in an abusive relationship is one thing, but making the decision to leave that relationship is another. On average, it takes someone seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. If it was easy to leave, that number wouldn’t be so high.
Depending on the severity of your situation, it is important to document the abuse and keep a journal of what’s happening in the relationship. Screenshot text messages, emails, threats and take photos of bruises on you, your pet and/or broken items. Most importantly, tell someone. Tell your best friend, mom, sibling, cousin — whomever you feel you can trust, go to them and let them know what’s happening. And remember, no matter what they may say, if you’re experiencing abuse, it’s never your fault. You’re not being crazy, you’re not being emotional, you’re not thinking too much — your intuition has confirmed your suspicions. No one can tell us our truth.
When you’re ready to leave a relationship, you will know. Should your decision be now, in a few months or in a few years, help is always available. There are a multitude of resources for survivors of intimate partner violence. The National Domestic Violence hotline is a 24 hour service operating seven days a week. For further assistance and direction, call them at 1-800-799-7233.
No one deserves treatment that makes them feel unsafe, unwanted and unloved. In the words of Lauryn Hill, “respect is just the minimum.”