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Intimate Partner Violence: Clarifying Signs & Risks of Victimization Within Romantic Relationships

Healthy romantic relationships can provide a context that fosters security, connection, and joy. In contrast, unhealthy relationships consist of qualities that can be harmful to those in the relationship and contribute to negative conceptualizations of partnership and intimacy. When gone unaddressed, problematic behaviors or attitudes in romantic relationships risk evolving into intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV can be identified as physical, emotional, verbal, psychological or sexual abuse perpetrated by an individual against another individual with whom they are currently or were previously in a romantic relationship. 


IPV is a persistent issue in the United States that about 41% of women and 26% of men report experiencing during their lifetime (CDC, 2022). In addition to increased risks of experiencing chronic physical outcomes, such as heart conditions or negative impacts on the reproductive and nervous systems, victims of IPV are vulnerable to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. Despite the prevalence of this issue, IPV can be a particularly isolating experience that can contribute to low self-worth and create contradictory narratives of what love looks like. Below we discuss preventive means directed at reducing the risk of victimization of intimate abuse and encouraging those impacted by this topic to seek out professional support and resources.



Preventing or mitigating the harmful effects of intimate partner violence

  • Familiarize yourself with signs of healthy relationships - Victims of IPV, particularly those who are victims of teen dating violence, are susceptible to developing skewed expectations of what constitutes a healthy romantic relationship. Increasing frequency of conversations related to the positive qualities of healthy intimate relationships to counter potential negative narratives constructed during impressionable developmental periods are critical for heightening awareness. Such positive qualities include but are not limited to: trust, kindness, and respect. Importantly, healthy relationships are by no means immune to conflict, but the manner in which confrontation occurs and avoidance of actions such as name-calling or personal attacks provides greater opportunities for individuals to respectfully express themselves. 

  • Increase awareness of unhealthy qualities of a relationship and assess opportunities to proactively take steps to address these signs before they turn into abuse - Organizations such as the One Love Foundation focus on addressing the notion that unhealthy relationship behaviors and attitudes often go unrecognized because individuals are not equipped with the skills and information to identify them until they escalate to abuse. Is there a level of intensity within the relationship that feels uncomfortable or overwhelming? Do you feel as though your partner is attempting to manipulate your attitude or behavior? If yes, these might be indicators of potentially controlling behaviors that could be misconstrued as love and well-intended concern. 


  • Check in and consider what thoughts or feelings are coming up for you while reading about this topic - You may have your own experience navigating difficult experiences that coincide with an unhealthy relationship, or are unsure of how to approach a friend that you suspect might be struggling within an intimate relationship. Feelings stemming from your own wellbeing, or that of a friend who is in a romantic relationship can be conflicting, scary, and complicated. Please know that you are not alone and consider seeking out professional support. 

  • Contemplate seeing a counselor or lean into resources that specialize in intimate partner violence - Resources such as the National Domestic Hotline offer chat or call services to support individuals who are seeking help for reasons including anxiety related to their own relationship, or concerns regarding a loved one’s wellbeing. Additional information about what you can expect from these services can be found here. If you are interested in learning more about identifying the signs of unhealthy relationships, broaching difficult conversations with a loved one who you are concerned about, or reading about guidance from survivors of IPV, click here


By: Laura Kiernan

Mental Health Counseling Intern


References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, October 11). Fast facts: Preventing intimate partner violence |violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html

Learn about relationships. One Love Foundation. (2024, March 12). https://www.joinonelove.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Hotline. (2023, April 27). https://www.thehotline.org/ 


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