Our first guest post comes from our very own Helpline advocate Jackie Stone. As someone well-trained in addressing dating abuse, Jackie says “No More” to viewing abuse as normal behavior in a relationship.
When I first started work as a Helpline advocate, I realized exactly how little teens and young adults – myself included – are taught about what is okay in a relationship.
Teens are flooded with tons of advice and ideas from friends, from family and from movies and books about what it takes to make relationships “work” and what it takes to be “in love.” The information about what it takes to make a relationship healthy for both people is much harder to find. A lot of teens make it to their 20s or 30s before learning not only that the way they were treated isn’t okay, but also why it wasn’t okay.
When I started talking to people on the phones and chats, I was stunned by the number of them whose partners would stalk them, demand email passwords, throw things when they fought or physically hurt them, while the caller still thought the majority of the behavior was normal.
“He doesn’t let me wear the clothes I used to wear because he doesn’t want other guys to look at me. You know, it’s normal.”
“I used to play soccer and be in the band, but he doesn’t want me to do that anymore so I can spend more time with him. He just wants to be with me – isn’t that normal?”
“We were arguing and it got out of hand, so she slapped me. It’s not that big a deal.”
“I know he pushed me, but it’s just because I texted my ex. I shouldn’t have done it.”
When you are dating someone that you care about, it is normal to want things to work out and to hope for the best. Many people are looking for a reason to explain why something that scares them or hurts them has happened. It is hard to believe that someone you care about would do something without a reason.
But something that I tell a lot of callers and chatters is that, even though he may give a reason, it isn’t a good excuse – and it doesn’t make it normal.
A couple years back in my high school days, I didn’t really know about what made for a healthy relationship. I was lucky enough to be in a mostly healthy relationship from the end of high school to early college. But now that I have been through the advocate training and look back on it, I see that some things I thought were normal were actually red flags for really bad and unhealthy communication.
I felt like I couldn’t speak up about things that bothered me. I got tongue-tied and self-conscious whenever I tried to tell my boyfriend that I was uncomfortable with how jealous he got when I would go spend time with my girlfriends instead of him. I didn’t want him to think I was doubting the relationship.
Looking back on it, I realize that things might have gone differently in our relationship if I had realized that wanting to talk about problems and concerns didn’t mean that I doubted the relationship – it meant that I cared about the relationship and wanted to see it work out. It wasn’t normal for me to worry so much that I couldn’t bring up important issues that might have saved our relationship.
People of all ages call or chat the helpline because they feel like something is off, but they don’t know what. They know there is something they are unhappy about, but they have a hard time even saying what behavior is bothering them because it seems “normal.”
Is it normal for a boyfriend or girlfriend to feel jealous when they see their partner laughing with someone they don’t know? Sure. And it’s normal to worry about what will happen to your girlfriend or boyfriend if they are at a party or a practice where you can’t see them.
But even though those feelings are normal, it isn’t okay to use those feelings as an excuse to control your partner’s life. Just because you are jealous doesn’t mean that it is normal to stop your boyfriend from talking to a female friend, or to hit your girlfriend when you find out she went to a party without you.
If you’re in a relationship with someone and some part of you says something is wrong, it’s important to listen to that voice. Don’t just write it off as “normal.”
Because even if there were no abuse ever in your relationship – even if your partner never put you down or made you feel self conscious about the way you dress or who you want to hang out with – it would still be okay for you to decide that the relationship wasn’t working for you.
In fact, if there were no abuse or abusers/friends/pop culture telling you that “it’s normal,” you might be more likely to listen to that voice that tells you when you aren’t happy.