“It’s complicated”…a common response when adults, and even teenagers, are asked about their romantic relationship status. The good news is, relationships do not have to be complicated! Healthy relationships should add to one’s sense of self-confidence and should be a source of support when life becomes challenging. Couple therapists call healthy relationships “safe havens." Meaning that when life becomes difficult, coming home to ones that love and support us should reduce anxiety and emotional distress, not add to it (Johnson, 2002). Unfortunately, research has shown that violence in teenage relationships is more common than any of us would like to think. According to breakthecycle.org (2017), one in three high school students will experience physical or sexual dating violence.
"Is your relationship a safe haven?"
An article by Cascardi (2016) found that physical dating violence often begins in adolescence and may continue into early adulthood and beyond. Being raised in a home or environment where children witness adults and family engaging in violent behavior or being frequently exposed to scary, intense experiences, can increase the risk that youth will become involved in future violent relationships. Some research theories say this is due to watching and learning how to act in relationships with others.
Other research shows that children who live in frightening or chaotic environments can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders and health conditions such as frequent stomach aches, nausea, pain that has no medical origin, and insomnia (Cascardi, 2016). These symptoms and conditions make it easier for a teenager to end up in unhealthy relationships because mentally and physically they are already worn down. If a relationship becomes violent, it can then be harder to fight back or know what to do to escape difficult or dangerous situations. Making this topic even more complicated. Sometimes there is no reason from the past why adolescents get involved in violent relationships! If violence or chaos becomes a normal part of one’s life, it may not appear dangerous at first in a dating relationship.
Warning signs to look for while teens are in romantic relationships:
- Unexplainable bruises or injuries
- Increased in irritability or anger
- Loss of their friendships
- Unusual and frequent crying spells
- Decrease in attending social events
- Unexplained nausea, insomnia, stomach pain, or headaches
- Unusual guilt or shame
It is never easy, at any age, to be told that by others that you need to leave a relationship. Sometimes children and teenagers take feedback from a trusted adult or counselor better than they would from their own parents. Counseling can help children and adolescents learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. They can also guide teenagers in how to safely leave toxic relationships. Research also has found that counseling addressing PTSD, depression or anxiety symptoms can be a proactive factor in reducing the risk for future unhealthy relationships (Cascardi, 2016).
Relationships do not have to be “complicated.” One of the first steps to having healthier relationships is realizing that you deserve to be treated well and have a right to not be physically or emotionally harmed by anyone. Your relationship status will change one step at a time.
- Cascardi, M. (2016). From violence in the home to physical dating violence victimization: The mediating role of psychological distress in a prospective study of female adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(4), 777-792.
- Johnson, S. M. (2002). Emotionally focused couple therapy with trauma survivors: Strengthening attachment bonds. New York, NY: Guilford Press.