If you’ve ever read or heard me give me my testimony, you know that a large part of it involves journeying through three years of an abusive dating relationship. And you also know that I take full responsibility for recognizing the signs and ignoring them. I spent most of my thought-life during that season trying to justify actions and treatment that cannot be justified. Though it took three years to finally see the harm this relationship was causing, I did eventually walk away.
And it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. So, I know this conversation can be really upsetting if you think you might be in this type of relationship and need to get out. I won’t lie: giving this up is not going to be easy. But, it will be worth the pain.
Maybe you clicked on this post because someone you love is in the middle of a relationship like this. I can’t tell you that by you reading this you will find the strength to convince her to walk away. But, I can assure you that if you spot any of the things I mention in this post, you have every right as a friend to speak up. Even if she doesn’t hear you right away, it will plant a tiny seed that will cause her to evaluate her situation. She may hate you for suggesting that such a large part of her life is unhealthy, but she will thank you someday. I say this because the friend that finally spoke up in my life will forever have my gratitude for helping me see what I could not see on my own: the truth.
If you are doubting your own involvement in this sort of relationship or you feel like you don’t have the right to speak up to a friend in that situation, I first want to explain to you the severe repercussions of remaining in an abusive dating relationship.
What Abusive Relationships Do Long-term
The long-term effects of abusive dating relationships are incredibly difficult to navigate. The emotional scars will carry over into future relationships and the way you view relationships in general is likely to change. Though there is hope and healing to be found on the other side of abuse, we still must acknowledge the very present pain that exists even after the relationship ends.
We often overlook abuse present in dating relationships because we view these sort of relationships as “easy to get out of.” And we think that if marriage isn’t a part of the equation then the people involved in these relationships will find it easier to walk away. But that simply isn’t true.
When I was journeying through my own harmful relationship I didn’t think “a way out” existed for me. Of course, I didn’t realize there was a problem until I was so deep in it that I couldn’t find the strength to climb out on my own. Even when the thought of ending it would cross my mind, I just didn’t believe I could do it. I worried that I’d already sustained too much damage for anyone else to want me. I was sure he would convince me stay. I didn’t believe I deserved better. And I just didn’t think I was a strong enough woman to choose being alone over being with someone who made me feel alone.
Even after I let that relationship go, I still struggled with what it did to me mentally. I feared men for a while. I felt like “damaged goods” and I feared that the opportunity to meet a good guy I could build a life with had already passed me by. I say all of this to help you understand that one poor relationship can cause a lot of harm to the rest of your life. That isn’t said as a way to pull you down or make you lose hope, but as a way to help you understand how very serious this is. So, if you think that you or someone you care about may be in a relationship that could cause these type of long-term effects, please read on and take note of the red flags you should be looking out for.
Red Flags Of Abusive Dating Relationships
- Obsessiveness: Infatuation in the early weeks and even months of dating is normal. We all know how easy it is to give all of our time to that new and exciting relationship. But, we also know that there is a line between excitement and obsessiveness. If the person you’re with continues to exhibit infatuation-like behavior after a few weeks or months of being together, do not be fooled into thinking that this is normal. Having someone feel this way about you may feed your ego and make you feel like the most desirable woman in the world. But, I can assure you that it will leave you feeling depleted. It is not something you can maintain — you are not called to spend every free moment with just one person. Not only does it negatively impact your friendships, but it will also strip you of your identity. If the only thing your mind is occupied with is spending time with this one person then you will lose your hobbies, your faith, your dreams, your loyalty to friends and family, and ultimately yourself. It is NOT acceptable for a boyfriend to expect you to give him every moment of your day. You do not need to be in constant contact and if he expects you to do this then he has a distorted view of what dating is supposed to look like.
- Asking You to Change: For me, I found that in my own abusive dating relationship the person I was with really wanted me to change major things about myself. The first being my faith. He wanted me to admit that my belief in God and Jesus and Heaven and Salvation weren’t that important to who I am. He also, very slyly, convinced me that I needed to lose x-amount of weight, tone up my arms, grow out my hair, stop wearing certain types of clothing, reject what my parents said about virtually everything, believe that my Christian university was brainwashing me, workout 3+ hours a day, stop spending so much time with my family, and shut out any friends that he didn’t like (which was all of them). If you notice, I said he did this slyly. Meaning he never came out and said I needed to change these things, but rather he implied them with little comments that dug their way deep into my heart. He wanted me to accept him exactly as he was but he refused to do the same for me. I’m not saying we aren’t allowed to help one another grow — but if your partner is asking you to change core things about who you are simply because it will make them like you more…then it’s time to reevaluate that relationship. You, like I did, may be changing yourself without really noticing it. I would invite you to examine yourself now in comparison to before you started dating. See any major changes? Ask a close friend if they have noticed anything different about you. Take their words to heart.
3. Pushing Physical Boundaries: this is a pretty common issue and there is a major difference between moving further into physical acts together and him asking or forcing you to move into physical places you aren’t ready to go to yet. It doesn’t matter if your boundaries are based on your faith or if they are simply based on what you feel is appropriate, whoever you are dating MUST respect those boundaries. The only responsibility you have is to communicate those boundaries. Even if you have crossed certain physical lines before with other people, you do not have to cross them now for this person. Anyone that cannot respect boundaries that you set up around sex, will also find it difficult to respect other boundaries you set up down the road. The love someone has for you should NEVER be based on what you are or are not willing to do with your body. Now, if you are asked one time to step across a certain line that does not mean that your partner is abusive. But, if you have continually expressed where your lines are and why you have drawn them and he continually puts you in situations where he can ask you to cross them, then it might be time to have a serious conversation with yourself. For many of us, we have already crossed our lines and feel that we can’t turn back. This is not true, friend. You can reset a boundary whenever you feel it is needed. And if you are told that by doing so you are being cruel, inconsiderate, or “a tease,” then it’s time to draw one final line between the two of you and consider moving on.
4. Accusations & Jealousy: This is a HUGE issue in dating relationships. Jealousy is a major red flag and accusations without evidence is never acceptable. While in the middle of my own journey, I lived a life of loneliness because my ex could not stomach the idea of anyone else in my life. I refused to be social just to keep him from getting angry about any men that may potentially be at an event or gathering. Friend, a boyfriend is not allowed to tell you who you can be friends with. Including friends of the opposite sex. My very best friend is a male and I explained that to my husband on our first date. It has never been an issue. Not once! Because my husband knows two things: that he can trust me and that this friendship is very important to me. I regularly had to explain why men would show up in my life in my previous relationship. Let me give you a for-instance: during a frozen yogurt run with my college roommate one night we realized that her car battery was dead. Late at night, off campus, and in a dark parking lot we decided to call a close male friend of hers to come help us out. He came, gave us a jump, grabbed his own cup of frozen yogurt and went back to his dorm. Instead of being relieved that someone was able to help us out, my ex questioned why we called a male and not a female to help us. I should not have had to explain that. You should never have to take all-female classes, avoid innocent college events, or intentionally avoid male coworkers and classmates. Trust must be present for a relationship to thrive. Therefore, you do not have to explain every second of your life outside of your dating relationship.
Friend, if even one of the things on this list makes you feel a little uncomfortable in regards to your own relationship, I invite you to take a step back and examine that relationship. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does he demand all of my free time?
- Does he ask me to change fundamental & small things about myself?
- Does he push my physical boundaries consistently and fail to respect my reasons?
- Does he get jealous and accusatory about friends or acquaintances?
Get serious with yourself and seek the wisdom of people that care about you. Your situation is likely different than my own and these red flags may just be a way to open a conversation rather than end a relationship. But, if you can answer “yes” to any of the questions above then you might need to spend some time in prayer and seeking counsel.
And, friend, if you know that this is for sure something you are walking through…I am so sorry. I’m sorry that you have felt the weight of that on your shoulders. And I’m so sorry for the pain it has caused. But, I can promise you that there is healing for you. And love. So much love. Love from a male that not only cares for you deeply and wants to give you abundant joy, but also gave up His own life so that you could have that joy. And, He wants you to be with someone that will try to love you the same way that He does. If you take all the scars and brokenness from this relationship and take them to Him, I promise that He will provide healing that you never thought possible.