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April 17, 2009

Love Shouldn't Hurt

This Extra Ink was written by Betsy C.

Let's get one thing straight: love shouldn't hurt. I don't mean "I miss her so much" pain, or "he's so cute, he'll never notice me" pain.

I mean the pain you feel when your significant other insults you, mocks you, or puts you down. It's the claustrophobic feeling you get when you can't even go to a movie without checking with your partner first. It's the dull, throbbing pain of a bruise that shouldn't be there.

None of us want to be victims. We don't want our partners to be abusers, either. We go to amazing lengths just trying to hold on to the belief that our relationships are okay. But according to ChooseRespect.org, one in five teenagers report experiencing dating abuse every year. Abuse often goes unreported, so the number of teens dealing with abusive relationships is probably even higher than that. It's worthwhile for all of us to take a good look at our own relationships, and those of our friends.

But how do you know if your significant other has crossed the line? Abuse in real life is often less dramatic than the popular media would have us believe. Unfortunately, human beings can hurt each other in an infinite number of ways, so it's hard to come up with a good definition of abuse that includes every possible situation. I've listed some general warning signs below, but remember that abusive relationships can exist without these 'symptoms.' If your instinct tells you something's wrong, you're probably right.

Signs of an Abusive Relationship:

Does your partner get upset if she or he doesn't know where you are or whom you're with?

Do you have to check in with your partner very frequently just to keep him or her calm?

Are your partner's interactions with you very up-and-down, like a cruel insult one day followed by over-the-top sweetness the next? This is an important issue: many abusers go through 'cycles,' where every episode of abuse is followed by an idyllic 'honeymoon period.' This cycle keeps many people in denial about their partner's abuse.

Does your partner control your schedule, or tell you who you can and can't be friends with?

Does your partner call you names, criticize you, or put you down?

Has your partner ever pressured you into any activity (sexual or otherwise) you weren't comfortable with?

Has your partner ever hurt you physically? Remember that physical abuse doesn't always leave bruises or scars. Hair-pulling, pinching, slapping, tripping, and restraint (holding someone down) can all be types of physical abuse.

Even if you're in a healthy relationship, it might be a good idea to talk about dating abuse with your partner. It will help you set boundaries and expectations for your relationships, and you'll probably learn a lot about each other. Talk to your friends, too. One and three teens knows a friend or peer who's been physically abused by a partner, according to ChooseRespect.org. If you have a friend who you think might be a victim, approach them gently. Don't judge them for their partner's abuse; remember that the blame always lies with the abuser, not the victim. And understand if they don't agree with you, or if they get angry. Abusive relationships are confusing and complex, and they take a long time to recover from.

Dating should be a healthy, fun part of your life. If you're feeling the effects of an abusive relationship, check out these resources:

-ChooseRespect.org: Information and statistics on dating abuse

-LoveIsRespect.org: National teen dating abuse hotline

Remember that you can always talk to a relative, teacher, or other adult you trust to get help. Talk to your friends, too, and support each other through what can be a very difficult time.

Love shouldn't hurt--make sure it doesn't hurt you.

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