Many times we only hear about abusive relationships existing in marriage. This is not true; many violent relationships begin when two people are dating.
An abusive relationship consists of two people dealing with the issue of power and control in their relationship. One partner feels the need to be in constant control and will use physical and mental abuse to obtain this control. Many college students experience these types of abuse in their relationships.
Facts about Abuse
- One out of five college students have reported at least one incidence of premarital abuse in their relationship varying from slapping and hitting to more life threatening violence. (Domestic Violence Prevention and Services)
- Typically, in 72-77% of the cases, violence occurs only after a couple has become seriously involved, rather than in the early, more casual, stages of dating. (Angela Browne, When Battered Women Kill)
- Violence can occur in all kinds of relationships (heterosexual, gay, lesbian) and although women are more often abused, men are victims, too.
Advocates are available to provide confidential crisis intervention and emotional support through the Women and Gender Advocacy Center. We provide information about academic, legal, medical, emotional, and student conduct resources to survivors of relationship violence. We also offer support to secondary survivors, such as intimate partners, friends, family, and you.
Call 970-491-6384 during business hours M-F. An advocate is available for walk-ins or scheduled appointments during business hours. All information shared with advocates is confidential unless the person is a danger to themselves, someone is in imminent danger, a child currently under 18 has been abused or if the perpetrator is currently in a position of power over minors (even if the survivor is over the age of 18).
This document is written in an effort to help you support CSU students who may be in and/or thinking about leaving an unhealthy relationship. As a support person it is important to mirror the language your friend uses. For instance, you may hear the terms victim/survivor used in reference to the person experiencing negative effects of the relationship. You may also hear terms like abuser/batter/perpetrator in relation to the person enacting power and control in the relationship. It is important to allow the person you are supporting to choose the terms that they identify with.
Being in and/or ending an unhealthy relationship can be a difficult struggle for someone who feels powerless and frightened, but you can make a difference. Your support and concern can allow for space to question how the person your supporting feels about their relationship and what they would like to do to address the issues they identify. To show you are supportive:
- Listen: If someone is willing to share their experience/ with you, it is important that they can share without fear of being judged, rejected or betrayed.
- Believe/Validate: Unhealthy relationships occur within every social stratum, among every race, and to all genders and sexual orientations. It is a very serious problem in our society.
- Assure the person that they are not to blame: They do not deserve what is happening to them, nor are they the cause.
- Support without dominating: Encourage them to see that they still have choices and support them in the choices they make. Empower them to know that they have options.
- Be there: Supporting a person in an unhealthy relationship can be difficult but they need to know that you will be there for them. There are many things that keep someone trapped in a relationship. It is complex and rarely an easy decision. Try to educate yourself about these obstacles and be understanding when talking with someone in an abusive relationship.
How To Ask About A Suspected Unhealthy Relationship
- Power dynamics resulting in an unhealthy relationship are very common, and many people are being hurt or controlled by their partner. Is this happening to you?
- (If injured) Did someone you are in a relationship with do this?
- Is your partner very jealous?
- You seem frightened by your partner. Are you intimidated by them?
- Do you have equal say (power) in your relationship?
Underlying Issues Involved in Unhealthy Relationships
- Everyone comes to us with a different set of experiences that may affect their response to their situation.
- Just as with any other situation, our life experiences make us who we are and affect the way that we respond to situations. Dealing with a person in an unhealthy situation is one area where we should be especially cognizant of these issues. Religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation all play a significant role in response to relationship, both healthy and unhealthy.
- Personal beliefs systems affect the way in which a person responds emotionally. This can have an impact on them staying in a relationship, leaving the relationship, utilizing support systems (family/friends), and whether or not they choose to participate in the legal process (should it rise to that level).
- Previous incidents of interpersonal violence may also affect the way a person responds.
- The person may have a hard time trusting people, including police or others who are trained to help.
- Talking about their situation often times makes people uneasy, and therefore heightens their sense of weariness. They also may have trusted the person who did them harm, making them question their judgment.
- The person will likely be blaming themselves for what happened.
- Because of the messages we all receive from society, the person may believe that they could have prevented the situation by changing their own behavior. The ONLY person who can stop the behavior from happening is the person who caused the harm.
- The person may tell you what they did to provoke the occurrence, you may hear, “because I drank too much”…or, “Because I made them mad,” etc.
- Sometimes when people question their relationship decided to ask for help or advice from support people they may be inadvertently “blamed” for the situation. They then might feel reinforced that the situation is their fault.
- The person may be worried about being blamed for the incident.
- They often hear questions like: “Why were you with a hurtful person?” “How much did you have to drink?” “Why were you dressed like that?” “It advertises that you want sex.”
- Avoid asking questions that blame, let them know that it wasn’t their fault.
- They can be worried that other people will find out.
- People are often sensitive to others finding out about their situation…in fact, it is one of the most significant reasons a person leaves a community (residence hall, apartment, classroom, club/organization, friend group, etc.) after a public situation.
- Share with the person that what they tell you will be kept in strict confidence, unless you have a responsibility to report incidents because of a policy. If that is the case, be up front about that responsibility as well.
- Minimization of the situation.
- Many people in unhealthy relationships will minimize a situation so as not to draw attention to themselves, or to maintain control.
- Hearing them say things like, “I can handle this, it isn’t always bad.” Or, “I think things will get better when my partner is less stressed about school.”
- The person may have concern about what will happen to their partner.
- It is likely than not that they cared for their partner in some way and may be socially connected with them whether they stay or leave the relationship.
- If the police or Student Conduct services get involved, they may be worried about what will happen to their partner.
- Anger as a response.
- Sometimes the person is angry at the situation or at the flawed system.
- They maybe afraid, but are more comfortable expressing anger.
- Recovery through empowerment.
- Someone else took this person’s power away from them, it is important that we start giving that power back by encouraging and supporting a sense of control in their life.
- The person might be in serious danger.
- Some unhealthy relationships are also abusive. Interpersonal violence is very unpredictable and complex, if a student thinks they are in serious danger, believe them.
- The importance of listening.
- The person may not want you to solve the problem, or even expect you to know all the answers. They may just want someone to share experiences, validate their feeling, and to gain support.
- If someone has experienced a form of interpersonal violence, they may feel a loss of power. The best thing we can do is give some of their power back by sharing resources and allowing for the person to make their own decisions.
- Because it is so hard to believe, the first thing that most people do is question whether your friend really experienced something traumatic. One of the most important things that we can do is BELIEVE AND VALIDATE THEM!
- The person may have fear of judgment.
- This can be pronounced if your identities are different that theirs. Or if you are extremely close, there can be a fear of losing a support person.
- Talking about their situation often times makes people uneasy, and therefore silences many people in unhealthy relationships.
What to say to someone who is in an unhealthy relationship
- Violence is never ok.
- I am afraid (or concerned) for your safety.
- I am here for you when you want help.
- You do not deserve to be treated this way.
- You did not cause this.
- You cannot change your partner or the way they choose to act.
- Couples counseling is never safe or appropriate if there is an imbalance of power in a relationship.
- Asking the question may give someone you care about the safety they need to talk about their experiences in the relationship
- Avoid asking “why” questions about anything.
- Avoid using terms like batterer, abuser, victim, or battered. Mirror the language of the person you are supporting.
- Remember that emotional abuse is a very real and dangerous form of violence, and if violence is present in a relationship that it may not be physically violence.
How to refer someone to an advocate and services
- “There are offices on campus and agencies in Fort Collins that can give you information, support, or referrals to shelters where you can be safe. They can help you plan for your safety. Here is their phone number. Please call them.”
- “Do you want to use my phone?”
- On Campus Resource: Women and Gender Advocacy Center. Phone: 970-491-6384. Office open Monday-Friday 8:30-5PM.
- Off Campus (Fort Collins): Crossroads. Phone: 1-888-541-7233 (24 hour hotline)
- Off Campus (Loveland): Alternatives to Violence. Hotline 970-278-2083
If you would like to learn more or talk about ways to improve this relationship, we have advocates available to provide confidential crisis intervention and emotional support through the Women and Gender Advocacy Center. We provide information about academic, legal, medical, emotional, and student conduct resources to survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. We also offer support to secondary survivors, such as intimate partners, friends, family, and you.
Intimate Partner Violence shelters play a critical role in providing support and safety for victims and their families. Shelters are especially important to victims who lack access to other resources, or who feel they have no other safe place to which they can escape.
Victims of intimate partner violence who desire to leave dangerous situations may also find, unless they have resources, a lack of available, safe places where they can turn. Support, such as shelter residences, for victims of intimate partner violence is critical to making sure they not only become safe, but get the chance to regain their lives after violence. If you find yourself needing shelter from your partner, below is a list of local.
Crossroads, Ft Collins, 970-482-3502, www.crossroadssafehouse.org.
- Services for women, children, men, LGBT.
- Services in English and Spanish.
- Foster program for pets.
Safehouse, Denver, 24 hour crisis line 303-318-9989, www.safehouse-denver.org.
- Serve women and children.
- Specialized services for Lesbians and Bi-Women.
- Services in English and Spanish.
- No services for men or fostering for pets.
Safehouse for Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, Boulder, 24 hour crisis line 303-444-2424, www.safehousealliance.org
- Services for women and children.
- Safe shelter for pets available.
A Women’s Place, Greeley, 970-356-4226, www.awpdv.org.
- Serving women and children.
- Shelter for men on a voucher system.
- Services in English and Spanish.
- No pet services (service dogs accepted).
Cheyenne Safehouse, Cheyenne, 307-637-7233, www.wyomingsafehouse.org,
- Services for women, men, LGBT, children.
- Safe shelter for pets available.
Alternatives to Violence, Commerce City, 24 hour crisis line 303-289-4441, www.atfv-adamsco.org,
- Women and Children. No mention of services for men and LGBT.
- Services in English and Spanish.
- No Pet services.
Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley, Longmont, 24 hour crisis line 303-772-4422, www.safeshelterofstvrain.org.
- Services for women, LGBTQ, children, and men.
- Services in English and Spanish.
- No services for pets.
There are often signs of an imbalance of power in a relationship that are overlooked and can lead to more serious abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse are very often minimized by people, i.e. “My partner is not abusive…they don’t hit me.” If any of these indicators are present in a relationship, it is crucial that each partner gets help before it gets worse.
This list identifies a series of behaviors typically demonstrated by abusive people. All of these forms of abuse (psychological, economic, and physical) come from the abuser’s desire for power and control. These may help you recognize if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship. The more that you answer “yes” to these possibilities, the greater likelihood of a problem. Unhealthy relationships cover a spectrum of miss use of power and control. These questions are designed to establish a pattern of behavior. Meaning that the questions may represent warnings signs if it happened once, but may not necessarily cause you alarm to call it violence, whereas other markers might be immediately identified as harmful and cause you to act on your feelings.
- When there are disagreements between the two of you, does this person always have to “win” the argument? Does this person fail to respect your needs and views when there is a disagreement? Always claiming to be right (insisting statements are “the truth”) telling you what to do, making big decisions, using “logic.
- Does this person often make you feel guilty about the relationship, often by placing you in “no win” (i.e., “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”) situations?
- Does this person often berate you or put you down (even in front of others) in order to feel superior?
- Does this person criticize you by calling you names, mock your race, swear at you, exoticify your appearance, or make humiliating remarks or gestures toward you?
- Does this person threaten to tell you secrets to people you wouldn’t tell this information to? (i.e. “out” you to your family, post nude pictures of you in places you don’t want them visible)
- Does this person resent you having friends of your own?
- Does this person use money as a means of control in your relationship? Do they make you feel bad for having less money than they do? Do they make you feel beholden to them for their financial assistance?
- Does this person make you feel incompetent to make your own decisions? Do they question your mental health/ability, or make you feel bad for any perceived mental health disorders or ability issues?
- Does this person become extremely upset when you do things without their permission, or when you reject their presumed authority?
- Does this person break your possessions as a means of controlling your behavior?
- Is this person abusive to animals/pets?
- Does this person try to control your friendships (e.g., place restrictions on whom you can see and when you can see them)?
- Does this person threaten to harm your friends if you continue seeing them or if they try to help you?
- Does this person monitor you phone calls, check your texts, misuse your social media outlets (i.e. facebook twitter) as a way of knowing what you are doing?
- Does this person threaten violence toward you or toward self (i.e., suicide threats) in order to make you stay in the relationship?
- Does this person exhibit an obsession with pornography?
- Does this person seem to pay close attention to how you are dressed? Do they act displeased when what you are wearing doesn’t fit their wishes?
- Does this person check your phone logs? Control your car keys? Check-up on you at work? Keep you from going to work?
- Does this person take pride in your achievements, or does this person view your accomplishments as threatening? Does this person seem to feel better when you fail?
- Does this person believe in the “adversarial” or game-like system of sexual conquest? Does this person boast of sexual intimacy as a victory or achievement, or define members of the opposite sex as sexual property?
- Has this person ever forced, pressured, or manipulated you into having sex when it was against your wishes?
- Does this person exhibit unpredictable mood swings? Getting easily upset by small annoyances and lash out verbally or physically as a means of coping with the situation?
- Does this person keep weapons? Do they “play” with them in your presence to make you uncomfortable?
- Does this person deny responsibility for faults by shifting the responsibility to someone/something else or explaining the behavior as necessary and unavoidable? Makes excuses when confronted.
- Does this person say untrue things, leaving out parts of the truth, or pretending to agree when they don’t?
- Has this person ever hit you, pushed you, thrown objects at you, or otherwise displayed violent outbursts directed toward you?
- Does this person use their physical size to intimidate you? (ie: stand in your way, impede you)
- Has this person ever been violent toward former dating partners?
- Does this person become verbally or physically abusive when under the influence of alcohol? Alcohol and drug use reduce a person’s self-control, and are often used as an excuse for abusive behavior, but are not the cause of violence.
- Does this person have a history of getting into frequent fights with others?
If after looking over this list you answered “yes” to more questions than you are comfortable with, it is possible that the relationship you were evaluating is not a healthy one. If you would like to learn more or talk about ways to improve this relationship, we have advocates available to provide confidential crisis intervention and emotional support through the Women and Gender Advocacy Center. We provide information about academic, legal, medical, emotional, and student conduct resources to survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. We also offer support to secondary survivors, such as intimate partners, friends, family, and you.
Regardless of if you plan on leaving or staying in your relationship, safety planning is a tool to use when protecting yourself when you are threatened. It is important to recognize the skills you have already acquired. Many people in abusive relationships have already developed effective safety mechanisms; you likely know more than you realize about protecting yourself. Spend some time thinking about strategies you have been using to protect yourself. This is an opportunity to put these skills into a conscious process. No person in an abusive relationship has the control over their partner’s potential for violence, but each person can find ways to reduce their risk of harm. There is no right or wrong way to develop a safety plan. Use what applies and is comfortable for your situation. Make this your own, review it regularly, and make changes as you develop what will work for you. Be sure to keep it in a safe place where your abuser won’t find it.
for easy reference.
It can be difficult to make a safety plan alone. You may find it helpful to ask a friend to assist you in creating your plan. The advocates available in Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center are available to work with you to help form ideas about how to keep you safe. Services are free and confidential for CSU students. We understand the complexities involved with abusive relationships and are trained to understand the emotional, medical, legal, and physical issues involved with intimate partner violence. We are located at 112 Student Services Building on CSU’s campus and our phone number is 970-491-6384.
If you are planning on leaving the relationship: Be aware that people who are violent often escalate during times of separation. This escalation can increase your risk of harm to serious, even life threatening levels. Making a safety plan ahead of time can help reduce the risks you may encounter in the separation process.
Communication is a key part to building a healthy relationship. The first step is making sure you both want and expect the same things — being on the same page is very important. The following tips can help you create and maintain a healthy relationship:
- Speak Up. In a healthy relationship, if something is bothering you, it’s best to talk about it instead of holding it in.
- Respect Your Partner. Your partner’s wishes and feelings have value. Let your significant other know you are making an effort to keep their ideas in mind. Mutual respect is essential in maintaining healthy relationships. Both parties should be allowed to express their feeling, needs, thoughts, and desires.
- Compromise. Disagreements are a natural part of healthy relationships, but it’s important that you find a way to compromise if you disagree on something. Try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way.
- Be Supportive. Offer reassurance and encouragement to your partner. Also, let your partner know when you need their support. Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down. There should be equal power in the decision making processes the relationship encounters.
- Respect Each Other’s Privacy. Just because you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean you have to share everything and constantly be together. Healthy relationships require space and access to external support systems and people.
- Individual freedom to disagree, change or leave the relationship;
- When power is shared between intimate partners, they protect themselves and each other from abuse in the relationship.
Creating boundaries is a good way to keep your relationship healthy and secure. By setting boundaries together, you can both have a deeper understanding of the type of relationship that you and your partner want. Boundaries are not meant to make you feel trapped or like you’re “walking on eggshells.” Creating boundaries is not a sign of secrecy or distrust — it’s an expression of what makes you feel comfortable and what you would like or not like to happen within the relationship. Remember, healthy boundaries shouldn’t restrict your ability to:
- Go out with your friends without your partner.
- Participate in activities and hobbies you like.
- Not have to share passwords to your email, social media accounts or phone.
- Respect each other’s individual likes and needs.
What Isn’t a Healthy Relationship?
Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, not equality and respect. In the early stages of an abusive relationship, you may not think the unhealthy behaviors are a big deal. However, possessiveness, insults, jealous accusations, yelling, humiliation, pulling hair, pushing or other negative, abusive behaviors, are — at their root — exertions of power and control. Remember that abuse is always a choice and you deserve to be respected. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind.
If you think your relationship is unhealthy, it’s important to think about your safety now. Consider these points as you move forward:
- Understand that a person can only change if they want to. You can’t force your partner to alter their behavior if they don’t believe they’re wrong.
- Focus on your own needs. Are you taking care of yourself? Your wellness is always important. Watch your stress levels, take time to be with friends, get enough sleep. If you find that your relationship is draining you, consider ending it.
- Connect with your support systems. Often, abusers try to isolate their partners. Talk to your friends, family members, teachers and others to make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need. Remember, our advocates are always ready to talk if you need a listening ear.
- Even though you cannot change your partner, you can make changes in your own life to stay safe. Whether you decide to leave or stay, make sure to use our safety planning tips to stay safe.
- For more on warning signs of an unhealthy relationship click here.
First of all, it is important to examine why we are asking the question. We are assuming it is the responsibility of the person being abused to leave, rather than the responsibility of the perpetrator not to be abusive.
Understanding that, people who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave. They don’t understand that breaking up can be more complicated than it seems.
There are many reasons why both men and women stay in abusive relationships. If you have a friend in an unhealthy relationship, support them by understanding why they may choose to not leave immediately.
- Fear: Your friend may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. If your friend has been threatened by their partner, family or friends, they may not feel safe leaving.
- Believing Abuse is Normal: If your friend doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
- Fear of Being Outed: If your friend is in same-sex relationship and has not yet come out to everyone, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret. Being outed may feel especially scary for young people who are just beginning to explore their sexuality.
- Embarrassment: It’s probably hard for your friend to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.
- Low Self-esteem: If your friend’s partner constantly puts them down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for your friend to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
- Love: Your friend may stay in an abusive relationship hoping that their abuser will change. Think about it — if a person you love tells you they’ll change, you want to believe them. Your friend may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
- Social/Peer Pressure: If the abuser is popular, it can be hard for a person to tell their friends for fear that no one will believe them or that everyone will take the abuser’s side.
- Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit to being sexually active and for young men to admit to being abused. Also, your friend’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
- Pregnancy/Parenting: Your friend may feel pressure to raise their children with both parents together, even if that means staying in an abusive relationship. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the children if your friend leaves.
Distrust of Authority
- Distrust of University resources: Your friend may be worried that the university will not take them seriously or say that nothing can be done.
- Distrust of Police: Many teens and young adults do not feel that the police can or will help them, so they don’t report the abuse.
- Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If your friend is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others.
Reliance on the Abusive Partner
- Lack of Money: Your friend may have become financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.
- Nowhere to Go: Even if they could leave, your friend may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they’ve ended the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.
- Disability: If your friend is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence his or her decision to stay in an abusive relationship.
What Can I Do?
If you have friends or family members who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, the most important thing you can do is be supportive and listen to them. Please don’t judge! Understand that leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship is never easy.
Try to let your friend know that they have options. Invite them to check out resources like talking with an advocate from the WGAC or loveisrespect.org, even if they stay in the abusive relationship.
Adapted from loveisrespect.org