So I keep trying to write this amazing and profound post about our children and abusive relationships, how to help them see what they look like and how to get help when they see they’re in one. I can’t make the words come out right, I can’t get them to make sense. I’m trying. I feel like I have something to say on the matter, it just refuses to be said.
We’ve allowed our oldest two children (18 and 15.5) to “date” if they found someone worthy of their time and energies and we approved. Our “dating” looks a bit different than other people’s, no one-on-one quiet time in the dark stuff. No real trips in a car alone together, the list goes on. We’ve encouraged purity and chastity and both of my daughters have an amazing example of a young married couple who waited until their wedding day for their first kiss, it was beautiful and they want that. So, basically “dating” in our family is just a closer friendship. They know they are working out what qualities they would ultimately see as important in a spouse, they get all that. I trust their judgment. I think they have good instincts and we gave them ample examples of what is good and right.
What we failed to do is show them what unhealthy looked like. We talked about being respected and loving God and praying for each other and praying together and how important all those things were but we didn’t talk about how those things could be manipulated and twisted to look good on the outside, all while hiding ugly on the inside. We didn’t talk about mental illness and how you can’t fix crazy. We didn’t talk about how there are more ways to hurt than with a fist, that words can kill nearly as efficiently as a weapon and that blackmail and veiled threats are not okay, not ever. And, NEVER, EVER a part of a loving relationship.
We, as parents, need to explain to our daughters that no boy has the right to tell you who to be friends with, ever. They don’t have the right to contact friends and warn them not to hang out with you or they would cause physical harm. They don’t get to say “I feel like they are trying to break us apart as some attempt at winning me over”. That kind of controlling is never okay. We need to explain that if you are that friend that you need to tell a trusted adult. Your parents, your friend’s parents, a pastor/priest, a youth director, SOMEONE. Don’t delete the threats, print them up and TAKE them to the trusted adults in your life and demand they do something about it.
We need to tell our daughters (and sons) that any relationship should not be built on “ME” and “I”. That the text messages you get from your boyfriend/girlfriend should look like “hey, beautiful, good morning, hope your day is awesome!” and not “You know I’m sorry, I love you, I was grumpy and wanted to hurt myself so I hurt you instead, but I love you and I’m sorry, so I spent an hour crying and beating myself up, but whatever, just be mad and mean and angry.”
We need to teach our daughters and sons that shallow, veiled threats of harm to self or others is not ever, EVER okay. That phrases like “You know you mean the world to me, right? I would never mean to hurt you on purpose. I just…. I know I screwed up but it is in the past and…” or even that while “Every part of me needs you to be around to function and I’m happy you’re mine” sounds good, it’s not your responsibility to make sure that someone is strong and happy and functioning and alive. You are not a possession to be had. Not ever. If your boy/girlfriend has to apologize often for letting their “burning hatred” get the best of them, LEAVE. NOW. Block them from facebook, from your phone and from email. If they speak about the fact that YOU are the only reason they are alive they are trying to manipulate you into staying. LEAVE, NOW. Always, ALWAYS include a trusted adult in the messages, especially if they suggest harm to self or others, no matter how vaguely. Always INSIST that the adult take it seriously, because sometimes we need to be reminded that there are other things more serious than whether or not the mortgage got paid on time.
We need to teach our children that “no” means “NO” and “Please give me space” means exactly that, whether we’re talking about sex, or going for an afternoon stroll and need to be respected equally. We need to talk to our children about the fact that physically acting out, in any way, towards or in reference to someone is not ever okay and to involve a trusted adult, immediately. If you have a fight with your boy/girl friend and they see you (or a friend, whatever) and beat hands on a table, or a wall, or slam chairs or doors, that is NOT okay and it’s time to leave that relationship. Immediately.
We also need to teach our children that being sorry means changing your behavior and forgiveness does not mean continuing to take abuse. God loves you. HE LOVES YOU. He would never want anyone to abuse or hurt you. You are His beautiful and loved child, for whom He gave His life. When apologies roll in like waves, never ending and always coming, it’s time to leave. Read 1 Cor. 13.
The goal in a relationship is to build each other up, encourage each other. Remember 1 Cor. 13? Read it with your children. A lot. KNOW it inside and out. Help them to understand that all of their relationships should glorify God FIRST, not any person. Compare each and every relationship to the goal set in the Bible. Read and compare often. When both parties are working towards that common goal with healthy and loving words, thoughts, and actions, even if you decide maybe it’s time to end the relationship because you don’t have things in common (likes, dislikes, goals, whatever) walking away is easier, and kinder. You both walk away with a good friend, which you can never have too many of.