How does jealousy get from being a sign of love to a sign of abuse?
By Kaycee Jane
Some girls don’t think a slap or a push or a threat is violence. But it is. Or that the best thing to do if a guy is physically aggressive is kick him to the curb. But that’s what you should do, unless you can absolutely trust him never to do it again.
Why would any girl put up with a guy who uses a push, threat or slap to get his way? One reason: she believes in his basic goodness. She accepts his really bad reasons for why it won’t happen again—all introduced by “I love you, baby.” But if someone slaps you once, chances are they’re going follow up with something worse.
Don’t wait until someone hits you in the face before recognizing that you’ve experienced violence. Often in teen relationships violence is minor physical aggression—pushing, grabbing, or smashing an object. Don’t wait till it becomes major—slamming you against the wall or slapping you—before exiting the relationship.
Say a guy calls his girl. She doesn’t return his call immediately because she’s busy talking to her mom. He calls her again, fuming. They meet. She tries to explain. They start arguing. He brings up other stuff she hasn’t been doing for him lately. When she replies, he yells: “I don’t want to listen to your excuses. Just respect me, listen, and answer me when I call.” She throws her own list of his “won’t do’s” back at him. He pushes her. She storms off. Later, she blames herself for what happened.
Did this girl deserve to be pushed? Her girlfriend says, “You know what he’s like. He gets angry. Why did you push it? Why didn’t you just take it?” But when he started knocking her down, blaming her for his unhappiness, she had to respond. Did she do the right thing?
Dr. Julius Licata of TeenCentral.net says, “I think she fought fair. She stood up for herself. She listened, meeting his needs to be heard and understood, and tried to tell him why she did what she did. She didn’t deserve to be pushed. You don’t earn negative consequences—abuse—by standing up for yourself, or because you think that’s love. And any friend that tells you to take abuse is not a friend you want advice from.”
How high you set your bar—what behavior you’ll happily accept—is connected to the information and skills you have, and to your self-esteem. In a healthy relationship, you decide what wants and needs you meet for your boyfriend—like whether you interrupt a phone conversation to take his call.
Dr. Joanne Davila, Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, has identified skills that teens need to develop healthy relationships in which their needs get met.[i] She describes one of these skills—to be mutual—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.[ii]
One way to apply the skill to be mutual is to negotiate to get your rights back, which means making sure your needs are met—like the need to happily accept the way your boyfriend treats you. Can you have a mutual, heart-to-heart conversation when he wants you to do something you don’t want to do? Or does he become verbally or physically aggressive?
How can a girl take back her rights? Dr. Julius suggests, “Fight fair. Calmly let the other person know—no screaming and yelling, even if he starts—that you will do what you need to do and what feels right for you. But if you’re asserting your rights and he isn’t willing to listen, red flag up!”
How can a girl tell if she can trust a guy not to be aggressive, to be willing to build a healthier relationship? Dr. Julius says that if you’re going to remain in the relationship after he pushes you once, you have to ask these demanding questions: “Do you respect me as a person, or do you think I'm here to just shut up and make you happy?” “What made you think you could push me and get away with it?” “When we disagree again, how do I know you won’t become physically aggressive?”
If he gets angry at having to answer these questions, or refuses to answer them, he’s not being mutual and he can’t build a healthy relationship. Red flag! It’ll be impossible to determine whether you can trust him not to get physical again.
Has your boyfriend ever said, “I love you” and then pushed or slapped you? Ask him if he believes it’s wrong to hurt you or others. Do you see the gap between what he says and what he does? He lacks character; you can’t trust him. Do you believe it’s wrong to hurt others? If you do, but let someone hurt you, there’s a gap between your words and actions. That gap tells you this: you can’t trust yourself, don’t respect yourself.
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—just once— you find the courage to exit. Deep down, we all want to respect ourselves. Sometimes it just takes knowing how.
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).
[i] Davila, J., Steinberg, S. J., Ramsay, M., Stroud, C. B., Starr, L., & Yoneda, A. (2009). Assessing romantic competence in adolescence: The Romantic Competence Interview. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 55-75.
[ii] 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. firstname.lastname@example.org