In this article, Kids Help Phone shares examples of how young people can identify when someone is being abusive in intimate relationships — even if it’s their own behaviour. Before making changes, it can be helpful to understand why and how you may be hurting a partner. You’ll also find actions you can take to get support if you’re ready to reflect on and change your behaviour.
In this article, Kids Help Phone uses the term intimate relationships to refer to dating / romantic relationships or any sexual / non-sexual relationships that involve physical and / or emotional closeness / connectedness between people. However, you may have different definitions / use different words to describe the types of relationships in your life than the ones used in this piece. We support everyone in using whatever terms feel best for them.
If you think you may be experiencing abuse in a relationship, or you’re in need of support, you can connect with Kids Help Phone’s e-mental health services 24/7. If you feel like you’re in a crisis, emergency services are available across Canada. Mobile crisis support and other community services are also options in some areas. You can search Resources Around Me to find what’s best for you and available nearest your location.
Why might I be using abusive behaviour with my partner?
Intimate relationships, especially when they’re new, can be fun and exciting. They can also bring up difficult emotions at times, and be challenging to navigate.
Respect, trust, honesty, safety and more are signs of healthy relationships. Partners in a healthy relationship treat each other as equals, communicate openly, support each other, etc.
Sometimes, relationships can be tough, and partners struggle to address issues together. You may interpret a partner’s actions / words in ways that bring up strong feelings for you (e.g. anger, frustration, jealousy, etc.) and you may be quick to react. It can be hard to know what to do.
And sometimes, you may not make the safest choices for you / a partner in the moment. This may include being abusive toward a partner, which you might wish you hadn’t done once you’ve calmed down.
You can reflect on whether you’ve experienced violence in other relationships. Maybe you experienced or were a bystander to abusive behaviour in the past. Maybe you learned abusive behaviours from someone in your life. Maybe substance use is affecting how you act. Kids Help Phone can support you to explore all of these possibilities and more. Something else may be going on for you and bringing up strong emotions. And you may be taking those feelings out (intentionally or unintentionally) on a partner.
You’re already taking action by learning how you may be hurting a partner. While making changes can be difficult, becoming aware of your own history of abusive behaviour can be helpful. You don’t have to reflect on your personal history with abuse alone. With help, you can learn to manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Am I being abusive toward my partner?
You can learn how to manage harmful behaviours by first understanding when / how you may be hurting someone. You may not be sure if what you’ve done is healthy or unhealthy. Here are a few examples of abusive behaviours:
- trying to control a partner (e.g. telling them what they can / can’t do, keeping them from their friends / family, etc.)
- humiliating a partner (e.g. name-calling, put-downs, criticism, making fun of them in front of their friends, etc.)
- expressing anger toward a partner by losing your temper on, yelling at and / or threatening them
- crossing a partner’s physical / emotional boundaries (e.g. invading their privacy, asking personal questions they’re uncomfortable with, etc.) (You can learn more about establishing personal boundaries from NeedHelpNow.ca.)
- acting jealous (e.g. checking a partner’s phone without permission, questioning them about who they spend their time with, etc.)
- physically abusing a partner (e.g. hitting, pushing, scratching, destroying their things, etc.)
- sexually abusing a partner (e.g. sexual assault, forcing any sexual activity without consent, threatening a partner if they don’t want to have sex with you, etc.)
- pressuring a partner to do things they aren’t ready for and / or not taking “no” for an answer
- gaslighting (you can learn more about gaslighting from Western University)
The things you say / do in a relationship can affect everyone involved. Your behaviour can have short- and long-term effects on a partner’s physical, mental, spiritual and / or emotional health. This can influence a partner’s self-esteem and bring up feelings of stress, fear, etc. No one deserves abuse. If you think you have acted / are acting in a way that’s abusive, you can learn from your behaviour to try to stop it from happening again.
I think I’m being abusive toward my partner. What can I do?
Becoming aware of how you may be hurting someone can help you learn healthier relationship behaviour. You can also learn to understand and manage your behaviour / reactions. As you explore ways to change your behaviour in your relationships going forward, you can keep in mind the three “Ts:”
Talk to someone about your behaviour
You can try talking to someone you trust about what’s going on. You can tell them what you’ve done, how you feel about it and / or how you want to change. This person could be a friend, sibling, caring adult (e.g. a parent / caregiver, teacher, spiritual leader, counsellor, etc.) or someone else you trust. The person you talk to may be able to help you understand what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling / acting a certain way and what you can do next. Resources Around Me can also help you find support nearest your community if you’re not sure who to talk to.
Think before you act
If you’re often quick to respond to a partner, you may be acting without thinking. The next time you have an issue or feel upset with a partner, try to pause and reflect for a moment. Try to think about what you’re about to say / do before reacting. Ask yourself if your words / actions are likely to hurt a partner, or if you’d be OK if someone treated you this way. If it’s not something you’d want said / done to you, think about how you’d like others to treat you instead. Then think about how you can treat a partner the same way.
If you can’t think of a way to respond differently, you can try channelling your energy into something else (e.g. write in a journal, write a letter to a partner to let your feelings out — you can decide later if / when you’d like to share it, focus on an activity you enjoy, etc.). You can respond to a partner once you’ve had time to examine some of your emotions (and you’re feeling calmer). You can also try focusing on the kind things you like to do for others and how you could do the same types of things for a partner.
Take a break
If you’re concerned about how you’re treating a partner, it may be best for you to spend some time apart to figure things out. Taking a break from a relationship may give you a chance to have space, learn ways to feel calmer and think about how to address any issues and abusive behaviours. You may do this through:
- one-on-one counselling
- trying anger management strategies
- practising mindfulness
- discovering your window of tolerance for stress
- relationship counselling
- learning more about healthy relationships, fighting fair and identifying signs of abuse
Your partner deserves the same respect that you do. If you think you’re being abusive in your relationships, you can take action to try to stop the behaviour. You can begin to understand your behaviour, talk to someone for support, try to think before you act and / or take a break from a relationship if you need to. Kids Help Phone is always here to help, too.