Growing up, the only piece of advice about relationships I got from my mom and both grandmothers was this: Do not put up with physical violence. Get out of a relationship and never look back if there is any physical violence, no matter how small. This was, for me, the only criterion to judge the quality of romantic relationships. There’s so much more I wish I knew back when I was 20.

I wish my mom had taught me about the characteristics of a bad relationship, even if not physically abusive. I don’t blame her. She didn’t teach me because she didn’t know. But here’s what I wish she had told me, and I didn’t have to learn the hard way:

That control can be disguised as worry or care. That calling every evening to make sure I got home safely from college and making a scene if I was 10 minutes late was a way of controlling me, disguised as care.

That a boyfriend or partner who sulks at the idea of you hanging out with girlfriends without him is not okay. That a partner who wonders why you need anyone else’s company and what in the world you’d be talking about and why, and controls your behavior by sulking or yelling, is not okay. That if you find you have no girlfriends because he doesn’t approve of it, it’s not okay.

That if you feel stressed and cannot enjoy time away from him, if you keep an eye on the watch to make sure you’re home at a certain time, because he’ll make a scene if you spend more time outside than he allowed you, that’s not okay.

That there is a time and place in relationships for baby names and baby talk. But if that takes over the tone of conversations to the point where there is no room for the adult that you are – to the point where your opinions and thoughts are not respected, that’s not okay.

That looking in the mirror and feeling that, although nothing has changed in your physical appearance, you can’t recognize yourself, that’s not okay. It means you can’t be yourself in a relationship – and that’s not okay.

That being yelled at for your choice of clothing, no matter how bad, or how short your dress is, is not okay.

That imposing his OCD behaviors on you and making a scene when you don’t line up the canned vegetables in alphabetic order in the cupboard or don’t cut the butter at a straight angle is not okay.

That not being treated with care and courtesy is not okay. Not being attentive to your needs, not carrying the heaviest bag, not picking you up at the airport, or walking in front of you with friends and letting you trail behind – is not okay.

That whenever you feel you have to explain or justify his behavior to yourself or others, that’s not okay. If you catch yourself making excuses or explaining away his behavior – that’s a bad sign about the relationship, and a sign the behavior is not acceptable.

That it’s not worth putting up with this for fear of being alone. Being alone is not as bad as he makes it sound. Being alone allows you to find yourself and your balance, and it can feel wonderful. Yes, you can manage on your own, like millions of other women do.

I’m sure the list could be longer. Google “signs of abusive relationships” and you’ll see (I like this list). Or add your own insight here.

Things ended up wonderfully for me, thanks to destiny and divine grace. I’m grateful to my husband for teaching me, with patience and love, what a healthy relationship is like.

This came as a surprise and big revelation: I also learned that parents are usually right. They see something we don’t see when we’re in relationships. When we’re young, we rebel against them and are angry because “they don’t understand.” Maybe because many parents don’t know how to communicate their concerns tactfully and lovingly, and maybe because “love is blind,” we don’t listen to them. But it turns out that my parents where right – and that their parents were right about their relationship choices. True, I’d have little respect for someone who ends a relationship because their mom told them to. But it doesn’t hurt to find out what it is that they see not being okay in a relationship – and to inquire for yourself whether they do have a point. Be open to the possibility that parents may have a point.

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