Everyone is deserving of a healthy and safe relationship, but the reality is that abuse in relationships is still extremely prevalent, especially among teens and young adults. The statistics show that one in three teens in the U.S. is a victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from a relationship. That makes it very likely that someone you know, whether that’s your child, sibling, student, or friend- has been affected by dating violence. Everyone has a part to play in preventing dating violence, and encouraging open conversations surrounding relationships is a great place to start.
At its core: healthy relationships involve respect and equality, unhealthy and abusive relationships involve power dynamics and control. Dating abuse consists of a series of these unhealthy behaviors to manifest control over a partner over time.
When guiding conversations about relationships, it’s essential to understand the characteristics that separate a healthy relationship from something more problematic.
A Closer Look- Unhealthy and Abusive Relationships
At the beginning of a relationship, it can be easy to minimize unhealthy behaviors and give your partner the benefit of the doubt. But often, people have an intuitive sense of knowing if something is wrong in a relationship. Whether it’s a red flag in your relationship, or someone else’s, a gut feeling usually signals for a reason. Learning the warning signs of unhealthy and abusive relationships will help distinguish what your instincts are telling you about your relationship, or someone else’s.
Warning Signs in an Unhealthy or Abusive Relationship:
- Always putting their partner down
- Very jealous, insecure, or possessive
- Isolating their partner from their friends or family
- Mood swings, and explosive temper
- Dictating their partner’s attire
- Looking at the information on their partner’s phone without permission
- Physical harm
If you suspect someone is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, they might demonstrate the following behaviors:
- Lack of interest in former activities or passions, lack of attendance in school or other responsibilities
- Isolation from a friend group, only spending time with their dating partner
- Changes in physical appearance, including unexplained injuries
- Apologizing for their partner’s behaviors
How to Help
There are many reasons it is difficult to talk about being in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Teens might fear retribution from their parents, teachers, or their partners. If you suspect someone you know is an abusive relationship, it’s necessary to create a supportive and safe environment for them when they are ready to share.
If someone discloses they are in an abusive relationship:
- Be Supportive: Thank them for sharing. It isn’t very comfortable to disclose that information and believe them in their experiences. Ask what their goals are and how you can support them. Listen to what they are saying. As a parent, significant punishments like grounding or ultimatums might eliminate the trust that you are a safe person to discuss this with.
- Re-frame Statements: You can’t speak to someone else’s experiences, but you can share how you are feeling in a way to let this person know you care about them. Using “I” statements will re-frame this conversation to seem less accusatory. An example: Instead of saying, “Your partner is so controlling, and it’s really messed up, he tells you not to hang out with me,” try saying, “It makes me concerned and sad that your partner asks you to not spend time with me as much. How do you feel when he tells you that?”
- Prioritize Safety: Sometimes, the most dangerous part of an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave. Help to create a plan to maintain safety, understand the resources and professionals available to help keep them safe.
- Be an Advocate: Stay educated on teen dating violence and what healthy relationships should look like. Having open conversations with your children or peers about healthy relationships will maintain trust in discussing these topics. Modeling healthy relationships will show others what is normal and what is not.
- Be Understanding: It is ultimately the victim’s choice in the next steps towards their relationship. People’s decisions towards unhealthy or abusive relationships are often complex and can be difficult to rationalize, but you can still be supportive by making sure they are safe. Help this person find additional support, like an advocate or counselor in navigating their decision-making.
Relationship abuse is complicated to navigate as a victim or loved one of someone suffering from dating violence. There is no excuse for abuse; no one deserves to be abused no matter what.
For additional support and resources relevant to specific topics of dating violence please visit
For individual support, talk to a loveisrespect peer advocate, 24/7/365
- Call 1-866-331-9474
- Chat at loveisrespect.org
- Text loveis to 22522