Ending unhealthy relationships

By Alexis O., former National Youth Advisory Board member

When I was growing up, I watched my mother fall in and out of love with men who were nothing but bad for her. There was never a day when my mother and her man of the week weren’t at each others throats, and I watched, day after day as he verbally and physically abused her. Later in the day she would go crawling back, because she thought no one else would want her – a thought put in her head by the same person who had earlier called her a “stupid slut.” I always knew somewhere deep down that their behavior was abnormal, and I swore to myself to never end up like my mother had.

And I have not. Very few people know about the way I grew up. I disclose as little of my past as possible, because I believe that my past is no longer a part of me. But everyone knows about my refusal to be treated as less than, and my boyfriends over the years have had to learn that as well.

There has only been one incident where my partner treated me as less than a goddess and in the end, I broke up with him.

I say that like it was easy, though. It was not. I knew that he was wrong for me from the minute he told me that I was his girlfriend so he could do whatever he wanted to me, whenever he wanted. This came after I got angry with him for being too clingy and grabby in public. When I thought it over later and decided to break up with him, I tried. But he cried and told me he was sorry, and that it would never happen again, and that he loved me more than anyone he had ever met, and I couldn’t do it. That’s the thing about abusers. They are not wholly evil. And they are damn good liars that sometimes they even fool themselves.

But if they get away with something once, they start pushing their boundaries and pretty soon they are telling you that they didn’t rape you because you never said no, in fact you didn’t say anything. That’s when I realized if I didn’t break up with this boy, I would marry him and have children with him and be forced to spend my life with a man I didn’t love telling me that what I did or didn’t want wasn’t important. I remembered that promise I made to myself as I little girl to never end up like my mother, and I left.

The thing about unhealthy relationships is that we want to believe that person can change. We want to believe that if we stick around they will stop insulting us to keep us with them longer. That they will get over their rough patch in life and they won’t have to hit us when we mess up. But I am here to tell you as a survivor of multiple types of abuse that they don’t change, and it is important to realize that. I wish I could say that you can change them. That if you want it enough, and try enough, your partner will stop hitting you, insulting you, isolating you. But for a person to change, they have to want it, and abusers are oftentimes in denial about who they are, so they are going to get angry for you even suggesting there is something wrong with who they are as a person.

If you find yourself dating someone who hits you—even once—it's not okay.

You have the right to tell someone. Your partner is going to make you feel like you are scum for trying to make them look bad, but you should not be ashamed of defending yourself, and preserving your well-being. It is not your fault they abuse you, physically, verbally, or emotionally. It is never your fault.

Healthy relationships should be based off of equality and respect, not control and power. In a healthy relationship you are not afraid of your partner’s anger, because they aren’t a threat to you. You feel safe, supported, happy, and excited to be around each other. You respect each other, have lives that are separate from each other, but can come back and be a unit at any given time. In healthy relationships, both parties have a right to privacy. If your partner is forcing you to allow them to read your text messages or emails or Facebook messages, there is a problem.

Remember, love is respect. And you deserve that. Don’t settle for anything less.