'My parents fight; I fear dating'
There are signs that indicate whether a person will become an abuser
By Valorie Helander-Paque
QUESTION: While I have been growing up, I know that my parents fight too much. They yell at each other all the time and say things to each other that really hurt. I know that my Dad hits my Mom sometimes.
I am thinking about dating a guy in my class but I am afraid to
date. What should I do?
ANSWER: A Your awareness of your family's pain and your desire to avoid
continuing the violence that you grew up with is a sign of
hopefulness for your own future.
There are a variety of behaviors that begin in the early stages
of a relationship that may indicate the potential for violence.
Let's take some time to look at some of these behaviors.
A first and obvious behavior that indicates the probability of
ongoing violence in a relationship is an incident of physical
violence. Typically a batterer is remorseful and expresses regret
after a physically violent act. There are often promises of such
behaviors not occurring again, or that the victim is to blame, or
the act is seen as not a big deal.
Sometimes when a woman is invested in making the relationship
work, she will quickly deny how she has been hurt by the incident
and will believe her partner when he says that it will never
happen again. It is very important for you to know that if such
an incident occurs once, it will probably occur again and the
intensity of the physical violence will only increase.
Emotional or verbal abuse is another early indicator of an
abusive relationship. Name calling, verbal put downs, or acts
toward you that feel humiliating or embarrassing are typical
examples of emotional abuse. When we are being victimized by
emotional abuse, we typically feel badly about ourselves and we
begin to question our decision-making process. We may have a
sense of feeling "crazy" and we begin to not trust our feelings
or intuition about the world around us, even when our partner is
being kind or loving toward us.
As your relationship with such an individual progresses, it is
natural that the two of you will have disagreements or
differences of opinion, as disagreements and arguments are a
normal and necessary part of any relationship. It is very
important for you to understand that it is the behaviors that are
displayed during arguments that determine whether your
relationship is healthy or abusive.
In a relationship where power and control dominates, during times
of argument, you will sense an increasing feeling of fear both
during and after the argument. Your partner may begin to make
statements of hurting you or himself if you choose to leave the
relationship. He may want you to believe that you are a bad
partner and no one else would ever want to date you. He may begin
to demonstrate abusive behaviors toward your friends or family
members and then tell you that his behaviors are all your fault.
Unfortunately, when women are dating and become fearful or
concerned about the behaviors of their partners, their partners
may begin to pick up on their apprehensions and begin to blame
them for their abuse.
If you find that happening in a relationship, you need to realize
that your partner may minimize your concerns or fears by telling
you he would act differently if you would act differently. He may
tell you that he was drunk or under the influence of some other
substance when he was abusive.
It is very, very important that you know that you are not
responsible for another person's behaviors or choices.
Your precautions in dating and better understanding of some of
the early warning signs of an abusive relationship may help to
safeguard you in the future. We have only begun here a
conversation on early warning signs of potentially abusive
Please know that there are a variety of community resources
available to help you learn more about abusive patterns in
relationships. Such services are available through your school,
and programs dealing with domestic violence for both men and
women that are available at Catholic Social Services.
If you are interested in exploring the resources through Catholic
Social Services, please look in your telephone book for the
office in your area.
(Helander-Paque is a counselor with Catholic Social Services,
Send questions to Counselor's Corner, c/o Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305-3825. All questions will be answered in print or through the mail. Identities will remain confidential.