published Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Baumgardner: Great expectations may not lead to great relationships

By Julie Baumgardner

Jessica was a junior in college when she started dating Jason (names have been changed).

She had her eye on him, thinking he was cute. When he finally asked her out, she was very excited.

Within a month of their first date, Jessica's girlfriends started commenting that she never spent time with them anymore, her whole world revolved around Jason. Initially, Jessica made excuses, but she finally told them that Jason got jealous and angry when she spent time with them. Rather than make him angry, she was willing to give up her time with them for the sake of the relationship. She loved him.

If Jessica had asked her friends what they thought about Jason, they would have told her he was controlling, possessive and had an anger problem. On more than one occasion after one of Jason's outbursts, friends warned her that this relationship was not healthy and that she needed to end it. She ignored them.

Six months later, when she finally broke up with Jason, her friends had moved on, and she found herself alone, heartbroken and face to face with the reality that her friends had been right. Why hadn't she listened?

This scenario plays out on many high school and college campuses, more so for girls than guys.

Key findings from a College Dating and Abuse poll conducted in 2011 by Fifth and Pacific Companies (formerly Liz Claiborne) indicate that a significant number of college women are victims of violence and abuse.

• 52 percent of college women report knowing a friend who has experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

• 43 percent of dating college women report experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

A 2009 study by the same company among high school students found that teens nationwide are experiencing high levels of abuse in their dating relationships, and the economy appears to have made it worse. Findings show that parents are out of touch with the level of teen dating violence. The majority of abused teens are not informing parents and, when they do, most stay in abusive relationships.

This is scary. Teens need to know the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Warning signs include:

• Checking your cell phone or email without permission.

• Constant put-downs.

• Extreme jealousy, insecurity or anger.

• Isolation from family or friends.

• Making false accusations.

• Physically hurting you.

• Possessiveness.

• Controlling behavior

Breaking it off can be complicated. Teens need to know that asking for help from parents or other trusted adults is a sign of strength. Putting together a plan will help. Make a clean break, and move on to a different group of friends so it's not tempting to fall back into the unhealthiness.

Remember, this is a dating relationship, not a marriage. If it isn't good while you are dating, it's not going to get better over time. There's nothing wrong with having great expectations for a relationship, but if you are having to change who you are and sacrifice your friends to make it work -- move on.

Contact Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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