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When a family member abuses their partner: photo of two young women, standing near a window; one has her hand on her head and the other is comforting the first woman by placing a hand on her arm

“My Family Member is Abusing Their Partner! What Do I Do?”

By Anitra, loveisrespect youth organizer

At loveisrespect, we talk a lot about how to support someone you care about if they are being abused. But what if the person you care about is the one who is being abusive toward their partner? What if they’re a member of your own family?

This can be such a difficult situation to deal with. You might love your family member, but you know that what they’re doing is harmful. You may not want to admit that it’s happening, or you may just feel like cutting them out of your life. These are totally normal reactions! Relationships with family members can be complicated, and if someone is behaving abusively, that makes things even more complicated.

It’s important to remember that you have the power to be an active bystander. Ultimately, your family member is the only person who can choose to stop the abuse, but there are a few things you can do to encourage them to behave in healthier ways.

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Friends hugging and giving consolation

“Why Do They Keep Going Back?”

It can be so tough to watch someone you care about deal with an abusive relationship. Even more difficult is watching that person leave and return to their partner, time and time again. You might feel frustrated, angry or you may even feel like giving up on your friend or family member. These are all totally normal and understandable feelings to have.

But it’s important to remember that dating abuse is extremely complex. Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy, and it isn’t always the safest option. In fact, some studies say that survivors of abuse return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before they leave for good. That may sound unbelievable or unreasonable to a person who has never experienced abuse. But there are many reasons why a person might stay or return to their abusive partner. As frustrating as this may be, someone in a position to support a survivor can play a crucial role in the survivor’s ability to stay safe or even leave for good.

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Playing Their Part: How the “Good” Behavior is Part of the Act

By Bri, an advocate. Adapted from the original post at thehotline.org.

“He’s really a great guy, though.”
“I know this isn’t okay, but she’s made me feel so special, and I just love her so much.”
“They were so loving and sweet, and the good times are the best I’ve ever had.”

We often hear people say these kinds of things. Many of them struggle to understand why their partners, who were once so kind and loving, now treat them in hurtful and abusive ways. It can be so confusing because the abuse isn’t happening constantly. Most partners aren’t abusive all the time, so it makes sense to think they could go back to being that “kind and loving” person and stay there. In most of these relationships, though, when a partner acts nice, it’s really just that: an act. Thinking about their behavior in this way can be helpful by allowing you the space to prioritize your safety and well-being.

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is your sexual past used against you: young person sitting on a bed with a book looking sad; another person with glasses sits on the floor at the foot of the bed

Is Your Partner Using Your Sexual History Against You?

By Nicole H., a loveisrespect advocate

If you’re reading this post, you might be feeling like you have to change or be someone you’re not with your current partner because of things that happened in your past. Maybe you’ve had a number of partners before, or maybe you’ve experienced some kind of sexual trauma, and your current partner is using those experiences to control, blame or shame you. This can be incredibly painful; after all, why would someone who is supposed to love you make you feel so bad? It’s important to understand that if you are struggling in this way, you are not alone. You cannot change the past. You deserve someone who is willing to understand, respect and care for you, no matter what happened before.

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dating after abuse: two young men sitting on a rock; one wears a hat and is smiling, the other has his arm around him and one hand on his shoulder

Dating After Abuse

Dating after being in an abusive relationship can be nerve-wracking and complicated. If you’ve experienced abuse, you might have more trouble connecting emotionally with potential partners, you might have a hard time trusting people or you might feel like your ideas about what is healthy/unhealthy in a relationship were warped by your abusive partner. These are all totally normal feelings to have, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself moving forward. Healing is a process. There’s no set timeline or “right” way to do it.

If you’d like to start dating again after experiencing abuse, here are some things to consider:

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Reproductive coercion photo of hands putting a pin into a condom package

What is Reproductive Coercion?

In season one of the TV show “Desperate Housewives” (blast from the past, we know), the couple Carlos and Gaby can’t agree on whether or not they should have a baby. Carlos, anxious to start a family, replaces Gaby’s birth control with sugar pills, which leads to her getting pregnant. Five seasons (and some children) later, Carlos has again tricked Gabby, and confesses that he didn’t actually have a vasectomy, even though he’d told her he had.

While there are a lot of outlandish storylines on that show, this one isn’t far from reality for some couples. Unfortunately, these scenarios don’t just happen onscreen, and there’s a name for them: reproductive coercion. A person of any gender can coerce their partner into being at risk to have — or actually having — a baby.

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Photo of a pair of clasped hands resting on a book in the foreground, and another pair of clasped hands resting on a book in the background

Religion and Relationships

By Bri, a loveisrespect advocate

Being raised in a religious home can have some powerful effects on your life and relationships. Religious institutions can provide moral and ethical education, emotional support and social interactions. Often, they also teach specific ideas about gender and the types of relationships that are “acceptable” and “not acceptable.” Unfortunately, sometimes these ideas lead to attitudes of control and dominance in relationships, and those aren’t healthy parts of any relationship, regardless of your religious affiliation.

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Photo of a young man in a baseball cap looking down at the ground as he leans his hand on a chain-link fence

Excuses, Excuses…

Just as people make excuses for their own poor behavior, it seems to be human nature that we often make excuses for others as well — in particular, our significant others. Have you ever found yourself apologizing for the actions of your partner? “Sorry about that, they’re just tired and had a really long day,” or, “They don’t mean to act like that, they’ve just been stressed at work.”

Has a family member or friend ever directly asked you about the way your partner treats you? How did you respond? Did you come up with an excuse to put them at ease — or, to put your own mind at ease?

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Students Become the Teachers in a Healthy Relationships Workshop

By Anitra, youth organizer

Last week, students at Conrad High School in Dallas, TX joined with educators for a workshop that focused on identifying healthy vs. unhealthy relationship behaviors.

In a unique twist, the students became the teachers and led the event using the Educators Toolkit, developed by loveisrespect. The educators participated in two activities from the toolkit. One activity was completing the loveisrespect relationship spectrum and discussing various behaviors to identify if they were healthy, unhealthy or abusive. The second activity was a group discussion about an unhealthy relationship situation.

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