A few days ago I had what I felt was a really important conversation with my 18yo daughter about relationships and expectations. It’s a topic I feel strongly about and particularly so as a father of girls: abusive relationships.
Abuse can be subtle, psychological bullying or a simple lack of kindness, but it can also take on a more physical form that’s far more egregious. Both stink, and everyone deserves a loving, nurturing, caring relationship where they are cherished and appreciated by their partner, whatever the extenuating circumstances.
Still, life ain’t no bowl of cherries and there are a lot of abusive relationships. It’s easy to be on the outside saying “just leave him” I think that it’s far easier and smarter to start out by teaching our children how to create and nurture a great relationship than to coach them on how to break up with someone who might well have already gotten their psychological hooks deep into your son or daughter.
And as much as I want to say that women can be as abusive as men, the stats are shockingly clear that men are far more likely to be the abuser in a relationship, particularly when you consider physical abuse. According to the CDC, for example, “20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States.” Add rape and the stats get worse: “nearly 2 million women are raped in a year and over 7 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year.”
Go to the National Domestic Violence Violence Hotline and the stats get far more grim. Consider this:
From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of
intimate partner violence were female.
So it really is a problem with us guys, there’s no way around that fact.
Men are still victims too. In fact, half of men report psychological aggression from an intimate partner, 28% of men report that they’ve experienced physical violence, rape or stalking and 10% of men report that these incidents have adversely impacted their ability to function on a day to day basis. Us humans are messed up, but still, us guys are more so: over 35% of women report rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. One out of three. WTF?
Don’t worry, I didn’t drop these stats on my daughter’s head like a sledgehammer. That wouldn’t accomplish much with any teenager, and every girl is convinced that the boy she’s seeing is wonderful or she wouldn’t be in a relationship with them in the first place. And vice-versa, I hope.
The issue that we talked about was expectations. I assured her that she was a wonderful person and that she deserved to be cherished and adored by her partner, that it wasn’t something to work towards, it was something that should be present from the very beginning and should remain as the relationship grows and evolves. I think too many girls assume “that’s all there is” or “all I deserve” or “all I can hope for” while boys get away with despicable behavior and way too much abuse.
“Congratulations,” I told her, “you’re now old enough to be in an abusive relationship. Now let’s talk about how to avoid that…”
There’s also a part inside of me that would unleash and come down on any boy who abused my own like that proverbial ton of bricks. Every father would. But I can’t always be there to run defense for my girl — or any of my children — and so rather than being that snowplow parent, it’s important to teach our children what to expect, what they should insist upon, and what they can reasonably expect out of a relationship.
Sadly, I’ll admit to having been in abusive relationships myself, so I understand the stats all too well. It’s frightening when someone takes away your power and while it’s easy for everyone else to tell you what to do, they’re not in the middle of things and don’t really, fully understand.
And so, again, my goal is to teach my girls – and my son – to expect more, nay, to demand more from their relationships. And for them to be the best, most loving, most supportive partners they can be, all without losing themselves and their values along the way.
Love is all you need. But a bit of fine tuning never hurt a relationship.