Have you experienced dating violence?
By Kaycee Jane
Say you’re talking to a guy at a party. Your boyfriend doesn’t like it, and later he confronts you. He pins you against a wall. You yell at him to get his hands off you. As you’re trying to explain that the guy was just asking about one of your girlfriends, your boyfriend smashes his fist into the wall.
Often in teen relationships, violence takes the form of physical aggression, which can be minor (pushing, grabbing, smashing an object) or major (slamming someone against the wall, slapping her, punching her). You’ve just experienced dating violence. You love the guy. What do you do?
Sticking up for yourself, making your boyfriend aware that he’s not treating you with respect, is the only way to earn his respect. It may feel good to keep him happy by doing what he wants—not talking to other guys, for example. But if he doesn’t have a good reason for asking you to do what he wants—and jealousy is not a good reason—it’s a bad idea. Why? Because you’ve given up your own needs to keep yourself safe and be able to happily accept how he treats you.
If a guy gets physical, he’s a Frog. Kick him to the curb. Period. Some girls do, but then take him back for reasons like it’ll-never-happen-again or I-can’t-live-without-you. You get lots of good feelings in a relationship, whether there’s dating violence or not. That’s why it’s hard to exit—make a big self-respect choice—even when your boyfriend gets aggressive.
Should you take him back because you think you can change him? Absolutely not, says Dr. Julius Licata of TeenCentral.net. “When you enter into a relationship to change a person, the only person that changes is you. If your boyfriend punched the wall because you were talking to a guy, you fix your relationship by giving up your rights: you stop talking to other guys. So now the relationship works. But what happens next time you do something he doesn’t like? His aggression won’t go away just because you love him.”
It’s hard for a teen to know whether she can work things out with a guy—take back her rights and needs, trust him to not be physical, build a healthier relationship. But she must be able to do so if she’s going to make a “go-back” choice.
In a healthy relationship you get to decide when you want to give up meeting your own needs to meet your boyfriend’s. And if he gets his needs met by telling, instead of asking, he doesn’t know right from wrong. He doesn’t respect you. He’s a Frog, not a Prince.
Healthy relationships are about “being mutual,” says Dr. Joanne Davila, Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University. She describes this skill as being able to have open, two-way conversations to see each other’s perspective, listen (without judgment), take turns talking, and adjust your perspective when the other raises good points. Can your boyfriend do that?
Dr. Julius suggests giving your boyfriend this information: “I have a right to decide who I talk to at a party, and not give reasons. If you truly cared about me, you’d trust me.’” And asking him: “What makes you think I need a reason to talk to anyone?” How can a girl tell if she can trust a guy not to be physical again?“If you’re going to remain in the relationship,” says Dr. Julius, “you have to give your boyfriend this information: “Punching the wall is how you tell me that you’re more powerful than I am. I’m not frightened. I’m angry at you for the way you just treated me.” And ask him these questions: “What made you think you could get away with that? When we disagree again, how do I know you won’t show this aggression?” Then let him talk.
If your boyfriend gets angry at having to answer your questions, or refuses to answer them, he’s not being mutual. He can’t build a healthy relationship. If doesn’t have good answers to your questions, he doesn’t know himself. He doesn’t respect himself. So either way it’ll be impossible to determine whether you can ever trust him again after a threat, a push, a slap.
Don't be afraid to talk about physical aggression. Establish boundaries. It’s only when you tell him your boundaries that he’ll respect you and understand a healthy consequence: “If I step beyond her boundaries, I’ll lose her.”
If you say, ‘I’m outta here the moment you raise your hand and he does, and you don’t exit, there’s a gap between your words and actions. How do you close that gap? By aligning who you are (your feelings, needs and beliefs) with what you do. If you believe it’s wrong to hurt others, but your boyfriend hurts you, you must find the courage to exit.”
A guy needs to earn your love with his actions, meeting your needs one at a time. And you have to build your self-esteem by standing up for yourself and meeting your own needs—such as the need to be able to happily accept how your boyfriend treats you.
That’s why, if he ever pins you or slaps you or smashes his fist against the wall, it’s time to exit the relationship. Throw that Frog back into the pond. It’s the only way you’re going to find a Prince.
This article is based on podcast conversations at www.TeenCentral.Net between Dr. Julius Licata, Director of Teen Central.net, and Kaycee Jane, author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon-only).
Interview with Joanne Davila, who is a Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University. Her expertise is in adolescent and adult romantic relationships and mental health, especially depression and anxiety. email@example.com