As a new relationship begins, whether it's beginning to talk with a crush or a first date, we're often excited and move forward with hopeful anticipation. We tend to think the other person is wonderful. We tell our friends all about what we believe are the other person's best attributes. This is all normal. We wouldn't talk with or go on a date with someone we don't like or believe to have questionable qualities.
But teens and young adults are new to dating relationships. The excitement can cloud their judgment, or as the relationship grows, unhealthy qualities may begin to emerge.
Relationships don't come with warning signs like the ones pictured above, so it's essential to help our youth understand and be able to identify warning signs.
Consider this: A teen plays on one of their school's sports teams. Their dating partner criticizes their ability to play the sport. The comment makes them feel bad. They may question their ability and worry if they'll be able to maintain their position on the team. They may begin to practice more. But they're not likely to share the comment with friends or family.
Why? Because it made them feel bad and doubt their ability and worth. We tend to internalize and ponder negative statements rather than share them and ask what someone else thinks about them. Even if they do share it, it would most likely be as a means of venting. For example, "Can you believe X said this?!? I'm so mad!"
But would they recognize that put-downs, insults, name-calling, or derogatory comments can be a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship or the beginning of verbal or emotional abuse?
So that they're equipped to identify warning signs and feel comfortable talking about them with a parent, trusted friend, or adult, it's vital to discuss the warning signs with the teens in our lives. It's also important to help them understand that, especially at the beginning of a relationship, we tend to use and see other's best behavior. If warning signs pop up as the relationship progresses, it's not their fault for not seeing it earlier or getting involved with the wrong person. If something happens in the relationship that makes them feel uncomfortable or seems like a potential warning sign, it's a good time to share their concerns with someone they trust and feel comfortable confiding in.
For a list of potential warning signs and characteristics of healthy relationships, please read through the pages on this website or the websites on the Resources tab.