By Leah Zeiger
This article is the second part of a two part series. Read part one, Defining the Line.
As a 22-year-old woman, I often look back to seven years ago, when a 15-year-old version of myself met a boy and quickly became trapped in his manipulation. Over the course of 2 years, I went on to endure abuse—emotional (including stalking), digital, physical and sexual—all at the hand of this dreamy boy I thought I loved. Looking back, there were some definite patterns of behavior that I didn’t notice crossed the line into abuse. Here are a few:
My god, this is a huge one. I remember so clearly my friends in high school saying that their boyfriends were so in love with them, and they knew that because they were always jealous of other boys. I remember a male friend saying to me, “A little jealousy is always good in a relationship. I mean, how can I believe you really love me if you don’t ever get jealous?”
JEALOUSY IS NOT OKAY.
I REPEAT, JEALOUSY IS NOT. OKAY.
Not even a little bit of it. Not even a smidge. Jealousy does not prove that your significant other loves you. A jealous partner is an insecure partner who will use their insecurities as a way to excuse manipulative and controlling behavior. A jealous partner will never trust you completely, and will use that lack of trust as a pathway to tear you down and convince you that somehow their inability trust you is your fault.
Jealousy and mistrust go hand in hand, and while it’s cliché to say that trust is the foundation of any good relationship, it’s true. What’s even more true is that lack of trust and the presence of jealousy is the foundation for an emotionally manipulative and possibly abusive relationship.
If your partner is looking through your phone, if your partner gets upset because you have friends who are of the sex you are attracted to, if your partner is constantly accusing you of cheating, if your partner wants to keep tabs on you at all times so that they know you are being loyal, they are jealous, and they are manipulating you to feed their jealousy.
In that situation, you will never earn their trust. Even though they claim it’s your fault, or maybe the fault of someone in their past, it’s actually their own doing, and because of that you will never be able to change it.
Jealousy and mistrust crosses the line.
Denying Their Actions
So often, I heard my abuser tell me that I was “acting crazy” and that everything was “all in my head.” I would tell him that he doesn’t treat me well, and he would proceed to deny all of the accusations I was making about him. Instead, he would list all of the great things he claimed he did for me. He would call me a liar and tell me I was making things up, and then the conversation would flip and everything would be all my fault – again – even though the conversation started by me telling him how he needed to act better.
Nothing was ever his fault. The fights always ended in me begging him to take me back, to stay with me, to love me. And then he would graciously agree and I would be relieved, and then moments later I’d feel like I had been hypnotized, as I’d realize that what I’d set out to talk to him about turned into yet another way in which he had hurt my self-esteem. He made me believe I was worthless, and made me beg for him again.
In no instance should you ever feel like you have to beg for someone to love you. In no scenario is it okay for a significant other to purposefully make their partner feel so worthless that they have no choice but to beg for their love, because they’re the only one nice enough to love them. This is a classic way in which perpetrators abuse their partners – they beat them down, make them feel like they are terrible people, and then trick them into believing that they actually are so terrible that they need to beg to receive love. Denying any wrongdoing and making their partner feel as if they are crazy for pointing out flaws in their abuser is another way in which perpetrators trap and control their victims. If this is happening to you, be aware that this is a huge red flag.
Consistently denying negative actions and behaviors in order to blame you for those behaviors crosses the line.
Name Calling / Shaming
My ex-boyfriend was so consistently skeptical of me, and so relentlessly accused me of cheating on him, that he began to justify this based on the fact that I had had two boyfriends before him, so therefore I was a “slut,” a “whore,” and many other terrible words. He would call me these things with the intent to hurt me, and he would never apologize. He called me a slut so often that I started to believe it.
Nobody ever has the right to call you names like these. Name calling and shaming is emotionally abusive, and yet another way in which abusers break their partners down so hard that they are defenseless against their manipulation.
Name calling crosses the line.
Shaming someone based on their sexual history crosses the line.
Restricting Digital Access/Monitoring Online Activity
This is a relatively new way perpetrators have been abusing their victims – particularly middle and high school and college-aged partners. My ex-boyfriend often went through my phone. He insisted that I turn over all passwords to him so that he could see who I was talking to and make sure I wasn’t cheating. He justified this by saying, “If you have nothing to hide, then why not let me see it?” Any time I refused, he took it as a confession to cheating, and the arguing and ultimate begging would begin again.
Nobody has the right to look through your phone at any time, for any reason, without your consent. And even if you do consent, significant others should not be constantly asking to go through your phone. There’s no reason they should be doing that – either they trust you or they don’t. If they trust you, truly, then they would never ask to do that, because they shouldn’t need proof that you are respecting the boundaries of your relationship. If they don’t trust you, letting them go through your phone will not fix that. Remember, you cannot change whether your partner truly trusts you or not, because mistrust and jealousy are just manifestations of an individual’s low self-esteem and desire to control you.
Additionally, a significant other banning you from having certain social media accounts is not okay, as is them telling you that you can’t go on certain websites or be online without them actively monitoring your activity. A partner who is trying to restrict your access to the internet is a partner who is trying to control what information you get to see, and what avenues you have at hand to express yourself or communicate with other people.
A partner insisting they have control over your digital life crosses the line.
This is a big one that often goes unnoticed or justified, just like jealousy. When a partner is constantly trying to take you away from your friends or family, they are trying to isolate you from your support network. My ex-boyfriend would take any excuse to come see me – we didn’t go to the same high school, so that meant I always had to hang out with him before and after school since he “didn’t get to see me during the day.” He would make it seem like he did this because he “loved me so much he couldn’t stand to be apart,” but it was clear that he was simply trying to control my time. During the school day, he would constantly text me, and if I didn’t reply quickly enough, he would get angry that I wasn’t paying enough attention to him.
This became a problem when my friends began to notice that I was always either with him or glued to my phone texting him. And when my ex caught wind that my friends were annoyed that he was hogging my time, he started spinning crazy stories about how they were bad friends for wanting to take me away from our relationship, and started to tell me who I could and couldn’t hang out with. Any male friends I had were totally off-limits, and even female friends who had brothers were off-limits. He would get angry if I made plans with a friend without telling him, and then he would tell me to cancel those plans and hang out with him instead. He successfully distanced me from my friends, which was devastating when the abuse got worse, and I desperately needed a stronger support network.
He would also try to take me away from my family by insisting he attend family events, and then hogging me to himself the whole time. He was skillful in knowing just how nice he needed to be to my parents to get them to invite him to family functions, while also maximizing the time he could have me to himself and not with other people. This isolation was a purposeful tactic he used to effectively make my life center around him – another way in which he manipulated me into staying with him.
Isolating a partner from their friends and family crosses the line.
Forcing You to Perform Sexual Acts
Yes, I am going to spell this one out, because even though it may seem obvious to some, when you are being controlled by an abuser it becomes much less clear. Recently, I spoke with an adult in my life and asked her if she had ever gone through something like I had. She simply said, “Well, there was one relationship that wasn’t great, and he made me do things I didn’t really want to do, but nothing other than that.” I pointed out that someone doing that to you is not okay, and it seemed to open her eyes to the fact that I was right – that what he did was inexcusable – for the first time.
There are so many reasons why women say things like that all the time, and the biggest reason is that we don’t draw the line at forcing us to perform sexual acts that we do not consent to.
Draw the line.
If, at any point in a relationship – be it one day in, two months in, or twenty years in – you feel uncomfortable in a physical or sexual way, and your partner ignores your discomfort and insists the act be carried out regardless, that most definitely and without hesitation crosses the line.
This one is sometimes upsetting for people to hear, because we so often make excuses for why someone could have forced us to do something like that, especially when that someone is a person we are convinced we love. What is confusing is knowing that you can love someone and they can love you, yet they can still hurt you. What isn’t confusing is that forced sexual encounters are, by definition, sexual assaults.
Naturally we all might find ourselves having sex with a partner who is not abusive, and we begin to get uncomfortable and ask our partner to stop. The fact that you started to feel uncomfortable doesn’t in itself constitute assault. What does constitute assault is when that discomfort is disregarded, undervalued, and/or questioned, and your partner chooses to continue anyway.
If your partner has said to you that they love you, so they want to have sex with you, and if you love them you’d want to have sex with them too, that is not okay. If your partner tries to guilt you into having sex, or persuade you into performing a sexual act, or tries to justify their forcefulness, or in any way makes you feel like you have no choice in the matter, that is sexual assault. That is abuse.
That most definitely crosses the line.
There are many other behaviors that constitute abuse, but the ones I didn’t spell out – hitting or physical violence, for example – are ones that society seems to collectively agree are clearly crossing the line. The problem is, as discussed in Defining the Line, society’s “line” is just one big blurry blob, and abusers take advantage of this blurriness. When we don’t draw the line, we don’t have the tools to stop them from doing this.
So there is the line—clearly and boldly. It’s not blurry, confusing or nuanced, and the sooner we definitively draw it, the sooner we can stop people from crossing it altogether.
If certain behaviors in your relationship may be crossing the line, loveisrespect is here to help. Talk to an advocate 24/7/365 at 1-866-331-9474, by online chat at www.loveisrespect.org, or by texting LOVEIS to 22522.
Leah Zeiger is a survivor of relationship abuse and founder of The Sunflower Project, which promotes survivor healing through the art of dance. You can follow Leah’s work at www.towardsthesun.org.