As a parent, if you suspect that your son or daughter could be in an abusive relationship, it is extremely important that you help them to leave the relationship as soon as possible. Not only can an unhealthy relationship take a toll on your teen’s health now, but it could negatively impact their future relationships in the form of trust issues, fear of commitment, and a warped sense of what it means to be a happy couple.
It can be difficult, though, to start this type of conversation with your teenager – and understandably so: No one wants to hear that their family disapproves of their significant other, whatever the reason. This topic is an extremely sensitive one, and it should be handled with extreme caution. After all, the last thing you want to do is to alienate your teen and cause them to run back to their abuser for comfort.
First and foremost, make sure you have a case.
Before you confront your teen, you need to establish reasonable cause to believe that he or she is actually in an abusive relationship. Simply disliking their date is not a good enough reason; you must have real feelings and genuine concern about the emotional, physical, or sexual health of your teen in regards to this relationship. If your teen refuses to talk with you about the possibility, look for the signs of abuse, which include (among others) a teen who:
- Seems withdrawn
- Is uninterested in former hobbies
- Spends less time with family and friends
- Lies or is secretive
- Cries frequently or seems moodier than usual
- Devotes an inordinate amount of time to their boyfriend/ girlfriend
- Vehemently denies the possibility of any relationship troubles in the face of obvious issues
- Refuses to discuss details of the relationship
- Does not stand up for their side of relationship arguments
- Defends their partner to their own detriment, even in situations where the partner is obviously in the wrong
It could also help to validate or alleviate your suspicions if you talk to the friends and acquaintances of your teen. Oftentimes, even if the pair themselves will not admit to anything being amiss in their relationship, their friends will willingly express their concerns to you.
Understand that it will probably be a struggle.
Even if your teen admits to the possibility of being in an abusive relationship by expressing fear of their partner, saying they feel unhappy in their relationship but are afraid to leave, admitting to a feeling of having to tread lightly around their partner, or exhibiting any of the other signs (detailed here), that does not mean that your struggle is over. Many times, even smart teenagers become clueless when it comes to love, and these teens could refuse to end their relationship, even if they acknowledge that it is unhealthy. They could feel betrayed by your intrusion, and they’re likely to accuse you of being nosy or pushy. This is a natural reaction, but luckily, you are their parent (not a powerless friend or associate) and so you have the ability to change their situation for the better – whether they like it or not.
Be aware, though, that this will be a trying time. You’re likely to feel betrayed, too, at times, especially if your son or daughter sides with their abuser instead of you, but do not become disheartened. Seek assistance in the form of professional help if you need to (for both you and your teen, if need be), but persist until you have succeeded in removing them from their potentially dangerous partnership.
Explain to them what it means to be in a happy, healthy relationship.
Once you have your teen’s attention, it is important to explain to them what healthy relationships are like. Even if they acknowledge that their relationship is abusive, they could wind up in a similar situation in the future if they aren’t taught what a loving partnership is all about. You know your teen, so tailor your discussion to their individual needs and emotional buttons. Center your instruction around the fact that healthy relationships contain elements of trust, honesty, openness, support, fairness, and communication and are not characterized by persistent fear, anger, hurt, guilt, jealousy, or sadness.
Again, in many situations, it could benefit your family to seek professional help. Psychiatrists, social workers, religious officials, or whomever else your family deems appropriate can all be of invaluable assistance during this process. A strong support network is essential for successfully separating a victim from his or her abuser.