The term “abusive relationship” tends to have an unfamiliar quality to it — except, of course, to those who have experienced one. You might picture a housewife who can’t leave her husband even though he beats her because she doesn’t have the means to care for her children alone. This is a real situation for some, but it is not the only form of a “unhealthy relationship.” Abuse comes in many forms and in varying degrees, and it exists in the UCSB and Isla Vista communities more than you may think. It can happen to anyone and may be present in your life even though you have yet to realize it.
The aforementioned example of an unhealthy relationship exhibits physical, emotional and financial abuse. The husband exerts power over his wife by creating fear through physical abuse and by controlling the monetary resources she needs to support herself and her children.
In I.V., an unhealthy relationship may be more like this: A man is jealous of his girlfriend’s male friends. He hurtfully makes remarks about how she must be attracted to them and starts arguments about her choosing to hang out with them instead of him. She feels fear and emotional distress due to his behavior, so the next time her guy friends ask her to hang out, she declines and stays home.
You might not have picked this scenario as abusive, but isolation and jealousy are means of controlling a partner. Partners abuse in order to gain control in the relationship. In this case, the boyfriend controlled the girlfriend by inflicting emotional stress through jealousy and by isolating her when felt she could not spend time with her friends. Abuse ranges through physical, emotional and financial abuse and includes isolation and jealousy.
Many think of abusive relationships as a man abusing a woman, but the roles can be reversed, and abuse can occur in same-sex relationships, too.
The yellow triangles around campus the week of Feb. 8 offer information on signs of unhealthy relationships and how to help a friend if their relationship seems abusive. They are part of Students Stopping Rape’s third-annual “We Deserve Better” campaign. Its goal is to educate our community on the realities of unhealthy relationships and dating violence.
I have been an avid volunteer for SSR the past couple years, during which I have been educated about dating violence. The more I learn, the more I notice unhealthy behavior in dating relationships; I have seen it in my friends’ relationships as well as my own. At first, I was a bit alarmed because I never would have associated the unfamiliar phrase “abusive relationship” with my friends or myself.
I could have been ashamed or felt stupid for being involved in unhealthy relationships, either personally or as a bystander. I knew what abuse was and that it’s bad and to be avoided. I’ve heard about abusive relationships through school and the media all my life, as I’m sure most students have. It can happen to anyone, and if we are not aware of the multitude of shapes it can take, we might not even realize it’s happening right before our eyes.
I assumed, first off, that I would never encounter abuse, and if I did, I would recognize it and prevent it from happening. Truthfully, it is not up to the victims or survivors of abuse to prevent it. We as a community must find ways to hold the abusers accountable for their choices, even though we may care deeply about them. If our friends are the target of abuse in relationships, we need to support them and let them know that we are here to listen.
I’m not insisting that if you see unhealthy behavior in your or your friends’ relationships, such as the scenario of the jealous boyfriend I described earlier, that the relationship is doomed and terrible and needs to end. If the two partners truly care about each other and want to make their relationship healthy, they can work together and with help from their friends to make things better. Open, honest discussion and a little knowledge about unhealthy dating can help define and address the specific behaviors that are making you or your friend uncomfortable in the relationship. From there, supporting each other can help those involved achieve a healthy, loving partnership.
To learn more about unhealthy relationships and dating violence, join us at our various programs next week that are part of “We Deserve Better.” There will be discussions on alcohol’s role in abuse, stalking prevention and how the media portrays high-profile abuse, such as in Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown. There will be calendars of events at our table at the Arbor all week. You can also stop by the Women’s Center for more information or for support from a counselor if you have been affected by sexual violence. We all have, whether we know it or not, and we deserve better.