As your daughter grows older and develops a relationship with a steady partner, the feeling of losing control grows too. Being the mother of a young woman (OMG, she is 20!), I see a lot of value in teaching teenage girls the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
I am sometimes surprised to meet new clients who cannot understand how they got themselves into an abusive relationship. As you can imagine, getting a women out of an abusive relationship is much harder than not getting into such relationship in the first place.
If you are the parent of a young daughter, you are probably asking yourself, “How can I make sure my daughter never gets herself into an abusive relationship?” The good news is you can! And if you do it before the relationship starts, you have a better chance of succeeding.
A word of caution: There are abusive relationships in which women are the abusers, but in our society, in the most common abusive relationships, men are the abusers and women are the victims of abuse.
Most abused women say they “never saw it coming”. They say they never thought things would turn to be so bad. Every time something abusive happened, they were convinced it was just a one-time incident. Listening to this type of statements from the side is hard, but most people, when facing abusive behavior by someone they love, try to comfort themselves by saying things are not so bad or each episode is just a “one of” and their partner actually loves them.
All these things only support the idea that every discussion with your daughter must be done before she gets emotionally involved with an abuser.
Rule #1: Teach your daughter how to avoid abusive relationships before she gets herself into one
The warning signs
Most abusive relationships show warning signs long before they become too complicated to end. If you teach your daughter to pay attention to these signs before she gets involved with someone, she can use this new skill to assess her relationship and predict the future much better.
Abusive partners behave this way because they do not know a better way to behave. Someone once said this was like trying to open the door with your head because you do not know how to turn the handle. Nevertheless, as a parent, your job is not to teach the partner to behave differently but to make sure your daughter is safe and enjoys happy, loving relationships.
Rule #2: Focus on your daughter’s wellbeing (not her partner’s)!
Here is a list of warning signs that are good to talk to your daughter about long before she gets into any relationship. To make it real, try to find examples from people you and your daughter know who have abusive relationships.
- “If your partner says ‘I allow you’, ‘You have my permission’ or ‘I’ll let you’ about things you want to do, this is a sign he thinks he owns you and has the right to control what you do”
Teach your daughter to pay attention to this kind of language and make sure she remembers that no partner can allow or forbid her to do anything. It starts with “permitting” her to wear certain clothes or talking to certain people and ends with controlling her every move.
- “If your partner ever raises a hand on you, remember that in violence, the first time must also be the last”
Teach your daughter she may not control when the first time happens, but it is always her responsibility to make sure there are no more. No excuses! No justifications! If he hits her once, he is capable of doing it again, whatever the circumstances. Tell your daughter that partners using violence will use it in communication with their kids. Thinking about her future kids may help her rethink her relationships. Teach your daughter that violence cannot be cured by saying “Sorry!”
- “If your partner monitors you phone calls, it is a sign he thinks he has the right to do it”
Again, teach your daughter to see warning signs in anything looking like an attempt to control her. Many girls interpret this behavior as an indication of love. Make sure your daughter will never think that jealousy is a sign of love.
- “If your partner controls your spending, it is usually a sign that you will have problems around money in the future”
Make sure your daughter understands that money matters can cause a great deal of trouble to any couple, even if they are not abusive in their relationship, so when her partner believes he has the right to control your daughters’ spending, he will more likely to continue doing it when they share the same bank account, home and children.
- “If your partner tells you what to wear and what not to wear, he will more likely do it in the future”
Again, most of the abusive relationship signs show a desire to control the relationship and the other person’s movements. If he tries controlling your daughter’s movements when they are just friends, encourage your daughter to imagine what might happen when they live together, get married and have children.
- “If your partner is jealous of the people you hang out with, be alert!”
Make sure your daughter understands the importance of having other friends and that giving up all her other relationships and spending all her time with her boyfriend will lead to frustration and heartache when they move in together. Abusers isolate their partners from their surroundings (friends and family) to have better control over them. This causes the girls/women to keep the true nature of the relationship secret much longer after entering the danger zone.
- “If your partner has temper tantrums that scare you, you can predict your future relationship will be the same”
Make sure your daughter understands that temper tantrums are reasonable under extreme circumstances, but not when they are frequent. Temper tantrums are often reactions to loss of control and can escalate to violence.
- “If your partner blames you for his temper tantrums, this is a typical reaction of an abuser”
Many abused women arrive at hospital emergency rooms with significant physical injuries and say “It was my fault!” Explain to your daughter that after being blamed like this for a while, women believe they really are the cause of the violence against them, but it is not their fault at all.
- “If your partner is involved in illegal things, he is more likely to be involved in illegal things when you live together”
Teach your daughter that people doing illegal things do not follow the law and will see themselves beyond the law in the future, even when it comes to controlling their partner with abusive behavior.
- “If your partner scares you in any way, this fear may trap you later”
Tell your daughter that one of the reasons women do not leave abusive relationships is their fear that their partner will come after them and abuse them even worse for running away. Once trapped by this fear, it is extremely difficult to leave, so if there is anything scary or intimidating about a partner, it is best not to get too close.
As you can see from the warning signs, it is important for your daughter to understand she can actually see an abusive relationship forming long before it does.
Rule #3: Teach your daughter to trust herself
Without drawing too dark a picture of the world, let your daughter know her relationships must work for her. Therefore, she is the best judge of her own relationships and should trust the way things look, sound, feel or add up to her.
Rule #4: Teach your daughter to trust you
Being young and inexperienced can make life exciting, but it can also make a person do dangerous things. Repeat like a mantra to your daughter over and over again, “No matter how small your suspicion is or how little seems not to make sense to you, if something isn’t right, we are here for you. Come and talk to us. We will always have your best interest at heart.”
While most girls will be able to get this by themselves, other girls may need more guidance. I always say to parents, “Whether you think your daughter belongs to the first group of the second group, do not take any chances!”