Recognizing Unhealthy Relationships to Prevent Dating Violence 

Recognizing Unhealthy Relationships to Prevent Dating Violence 

Dating violence and abuse can be perpetrated by anyone, but these patterns do not develop immediately. It may be especially hard to recognize an abusive partner when the victim deeply cares for them. The abusive partner could be kind around family and friends but change their demeanor behind closed doors. For Gabriella Kreuz, in-park host for the Cleveland Guardians and Cleveland 19 News Reporter, that was her experience in an abusive relationship.

“I was in an abusive relationship, and it escalated around 2012,” Kreuz says. “It was a bad experience. It was someone that I really cared about and loved, but he was just an extremely violent person. It was a sad and confusing time, because I was trying to hide it, because he was so charming around my friends and family, but very different when they weren’t around. I knew some behaviors were bad, but I loved him so much.”

Kreuz dated him from her senior year of high school through her sophomore year of college. Even after they broke up, Kreuz’s ex-boyfriend still displayed abusive behavior. 

“He would show up unannounced to my track meets and see if I was talking to someone on the team, to any of my teammates that were boys that he didn’t want me to talk to,” Kreuz says. “He would say that he showed up unannounced because he wanted to surprise and support me, but really, that was just a manipulative way to justify why he would show up unannounced.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in eight high school students reported abuse or violence in a dating relationship in the past year. Dating violence occurs when a partner uses patterned behaviors to gain power and control over the other individual.

Washington University in St. Louis’ Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center says that dating violence can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. Dating violence can include stalking, or the unwelcome surveillance of another person.

“Stalking occurs when an individual makes you feel uncomfortable from unwanted visits, harassment, using other people to locate your whereabouts, and/or unwanted phone calls, texts and voicemails,” Bonnie Glavic, Development Associate at WomenSafe Inc., says. “‘Cyberstalking’ is the term for using social media platforms and technology to track a person. Stalking can lead to damaged property, showing up unwanted at places repeatedly and using friends and family as means of getting information about the individual.”

Glavic explains that over time, the abusive partner uses tactics like verbal and emotional abuse, digital and technology abuse, financial, religious abuse, sexual and reproductive coercion, and stalking.

“The difference between having disagreements in a healthy relationship, as opposed to an unhealthy relationship, is the frequency and lethality rates increase,” Glavic says. “In short, it does not start with abuse, it starts with love and can be difficult to detect. Over time, tension builds in the cycle of abuse, and an explosive episode follows after. After the abusive episode occurs, the ‘honeymoon’ period begins,” when the abuser assures their partner they are wanted and loved, but only under certain conditions.

In an abusive relationship, tactics of isolation, emotional and verbal abuse can result in the victim feeling lowered self-esteem and less confidence. The victim in an abusive relationship may withdraw from activities or from their friends, and may experience heightened anxiety and stress levels when the abuser is around.  

“I think it’s important to get help,” Kreuz says, even though at the time, she didn’t really think she needed help. “I got help because my friends were telling me that I was just not the same anymore. They were using ‘I’ statements, and would say, ‘Gab, I care about you, I love you, but I won’t support you if you stay with him after what I’ve seen.’”

Teen dating violence and stalking can occur at any stage of the relationship and can happen in-person or digitally. It is important for parents to be aware of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and know where to seek support.

Through the Journey Center for Safety and Healing (formerly Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center) and through a college class, Kreuz learned the importance of ‘I’ versus ‘you’ statements. Kreuz says it is important to say: “I care about you and this is why I am bringing this up” and give examples of behaviors observed in the relationship, rather than saying, “You should have left him a long time ago,” or “You should have known he was bad news.” Using ‘I’ statements places emphasis on your care for the victim rather than blaming them for the situation.

“‘You’ statements can intensify the feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment, and inadvertently lead to victim-blaming,” Glavic says. “By using ‘I’ statements, you are bringing the focus to the content, feelings and beliefs of the speaker, which fosters trust and open dialect.”

While it is important to reach out to a loved one if you think they are in an abusive relationship, it is crucial to approach the situation in a respectful and safe way. WomenSafe encourages asking the question, validating the person’s experience, building on their strengths, and educating them on safety planning and available resources.

“Respect the choice they make moving forward, even if that means staying in the relationship,” Glavic says. “The goal as a parent or friend is to keep the lines of communication open, resources readily available, and educate them on the cycle and effects of domestic violence.”

Someone in an abusive relationship may defend what’s happening by making excuses or justifying the abusive behaviors. To support someone in an abusive relationship, take into consideration the vulnerability they are expressing by opening up. Glavic says you can cultivate this relationship through trust by sticking to the facts and content of the discussion without blame or re-victimization.  

“One can use experiences where the individual identified barriers to overcome the obstacles,” Glavic says. “Point out the strength and courage it took. Educate your friend by offering suggestions, rather than telling them what they should do. An example of this would be offering an observation and asking how they felt about it. Prepare the conversation by having resources readily available such as safety planning, local hotlines and shelters. It can be scary for teens to reach out for a variety of reasons. Educate yourself so you can assist in eliminating barriers.”

Education is the most important tool in recognizing abusive behaviors. 

Kreuz did not realize the signs of unhealthy partner behavior until she took a family violence class at John Carroll University. During this time, Kreuz switched her minor to sociology to learn more about human behavior, and through that course, recognized just how important and applicable the course material was to her life.

“After taking the class, I asked myself, ‘Why aren’t we talking about this more?’” Kreuz says. “The education was healing. I asked myself, ‘Why aren’t we educating? Why aren’t we making education more accessible?’ That is why I started ‘Love Doesn’t Shove.’”

Gabriella Kreuz created the nonprofit Love Doesn’t Shove to facilitate discussions about dating violence with students in middle school, high school and college.
PHOTO SUBMITTED BY GABRIELLA KREUZ

Love Doesn’t Shove, which Kreuz founded in 2014 as a senior at John Carroll, is a nonprofit organization that offers presentations about unhealthy relationships and facilitates discussions about dating violence with students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. 

“One of the main things I try to do is let people know that there are resources available in their community,” Kreuz says. “There are 24-hour hotlines, there are nonprofits set up, and people at school are a resource as well. I try to remind or empower students to realize you can always confide in a teacher or a coach or a counselor at school. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for help.”

There are many ways to help a loved one who is going through an abusive relationship. Caitlin Tully, Training Supervisor at The Center for Family Safety and Healing, says parents can help by talking about healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships. She recommends starting early and having these conversations often. 

“Getting to know your teen’s friends and social group is important,” Tully says. “Keep in mind that some teens may mistake actions as expressions of ‘love,’ when in fact they are warning signs of control. Please assure your teen that they are not to blame for the abuse, and that you are available to help them be safe and happy.”

If your child does not want to talk, it does not mean they are not listening. Tully recommends coming back to the conversation at another time. Ask your child if they would be more comfortable talking with someone else – a friend, counselor, coach or other trusted adult. 

“Educating yourself about teen dating abuse is important,” Tully says. “Learning about the different types of abuse and warning signs is likely to help you recognize if your teen might be experiencing teen dating abuse.”

Glavic says asking open-ended questions that invite your child to tell their story in their own words is important. Instead of asking,“How are you and your significant other getting along?” try to reframe the question in a non-threatening way as: “Tell me about how your date went.” Glavic says parents should foster an environment based on mutual respect and non-judgement, so your child feels comfortable coming to you with serious issues

“Reflective listening also plays a critical role when validating a child,” Glavic says. “If you are not sure what you heard, repeat it back. Circle back to the open-ended questions, so you can better understand the situation and show you are interested in what they have to say and hear them. The cycle and effects of domestic violence and abuse have long-lasting effects and unfortunately, these instances continue to rise. We have the ability as parents to lead by example and equip our children with tools set to have happy and healthy relationships.

“I just think it’s so important to realize that you’re not alone,” Kreuz says. “People want to help you, and you can be happy. A lot of people don’t realize how unhappy you become in your situation, or you’re embarrassed by it. My advice is: There is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. You can ask for help. Taking that leap will be worth it.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing dating violence, please consult the resources below.

National Teen Dating  Abuse Helpline:  1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799 SAFE (7233)

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Hotline: 800-656-4673

Cleveland Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Hotline:  216-391-HELP(4357)

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Hotline: 216-619-6192

lovedoesntshove.org

womensafe.org

www.circleof6app.com 

techsafety.org

futureswithoutviolence.org

loveisrespect.org

familysafetyandhealing.org

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