by Kitty Bey: Activist, Writer, Director, and Producer
Teen dating violence is a major concern across the country. As television and the internet make it difficult to avoid messages of violence, young people emulate these themes in their own lives. We see the statistics, and we know that it’s an issue—but what are we doing to teach teens about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like? With so much misinformation out there, it’s hard to truly understand what is or is not normal in a healthy relationship.
One area we can see some confusion is when it comes to the idea of red flags. How often do you hear your friends say, “That’s a red flag! Get out while you can!” We see the term thrown around so much, it can start to lose its meaning. How can you tell the difference between something that might be simply undesirable, versus something potentially abusive?
A good definition for a red flag is any behavior that is indicative that your partner is trying or may try to gain power and control in the relationship. There can be plenty of behaviors that, while less than ideal, do not rise to the level of a red flag. Let’s look at a few examples to understand the distinction:
Your partner visits you at your home, but when they use the bathroom, they leave the toilet seat up.
NOT a red flag: The fact that your partner leaves the toilet seat up may bother you, but it probably doesn’t mean your partner is abusive. Try talking to your partner about this behavior to see if you can come to a solution. If your partner shuts down communication or reacts in ways that scare you, that can be a red flag.
Your partner makes suggestions about how you should dress.
Potential red flag: Abusive partners seek control in their relationships, so intent is a big part of the puzzle here. You always have the right to make your own decisions about what you wear, and in a healthy relationship, partners trust each other to respect the boundaries of the relationship—no matter what they are wearing, and no matter what anyone else might do or say. While it may make you feel loved and protected at first that your partner is worried about others looking at you inappropriately, controlling what you wear is not.
It might help to think about what happens when you decide to wear what you want, rather than what your partner wants. How do they usually react? If your partner becomes angry and pressures or forces you to change, that’s a huge red flag, since they are trying to control your behavior. If your partner is cool with you wearing what you want, they may truly just be making suggestions.
Your partner is Instagram famous, and they’re usually focused on what they are wearing and setting the next trend. Their time with you is limited, but when they are free, they call.
NOT a red flag: A self-absorbed person is not necessarily prone to abuse. If your needs aren’t being met because of your partner’s priorities, it’s okay to talk to them about it. In this case, you could ask them consider your feelings, and give them time to think about what they want out of the relationship. Your partner may decide that their Insta is what’s most important to them right now, and you may decide you can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t have time for you—that’s definitely okay!
Your partner has no friends.
Potential red flag: Having no friends on its own isn’t really an indicator of abusive tendencies. However, if your partner has no friends, they may expect you to spend all of your time with them, or may not understand the need to spend time with your friends apart from them.
One thing that is a definite red flag for abuse is isolation. Isolation is the key to control. Isolating you prevents the people who are close to you from knowing how you’re doing, or voicing concern when they see abusive behavior. Because attention can feel so great, especially at the beginning of a relationship, it can be easy to become consumed with someone who is actually isolating you. Abusers also often create a false sense of security, by convincing their victim that they are only safe with them.
Sitting in the park, you make fun of your partner in a playful way, and they slap you. When you ask why they hit you, they say they were just playing, and playfully slap you again.
RED FLAG: Violence in a relationship is a huge red flag. We often see abusers masking violent behavior as “horseplay” as a way to gaslight their partners and minimize their actions. You always have the right to feel safe and have your boundaries respected in your relationship. It’s definitely not okay for your partner to do anything that scares you, hurts you, or makes you uncomfortable.
If you have questions about whether certain behaviors in your relationship are red flags, contact loveisrespect today. Their advocates are available 24/7/365 by phone at 1-866-331-9474, by chat at thehotline.org, or by texting LOVEIS to 22522.
Kitty is a domestic violence survivor, but prefers to be known as a conqueror, and encourages all survivors to adapt the conqueror mindset. She lives in New York City, but speaks around the country bringing awareness to this often hidden and silent crime.
Kitty is the author of Crossover, a curriculum at CCNY, where she speaks to students about the signs of potentially abusive partners. Kitty is also a writer, creator and director of the web series, KittyCiti, and the founder of the ILOVEMYPRETTYSKINNY organization, which empowers women to find the passion in them to do what it takes to be great. Besides writing and directing, Kitty enjoys brownies and Diet Coke, believing that one of each daily makes you smile.