Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Stop My Boyfriend From Mistreating Me?
“Today my boyfriend beat me for the first time. He apologized, but I don’t know what to do now.”—Stella.*
“APPROXIMATELY 1 in 5 female students,” says an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, “reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.” In a survey conducted in Germany among youths aged 17 to 20, more than a quarter of the girls reported that they had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact involving physical violence, verbal pressure, drugs, or alcohol. According to one U.S. survey, 40 percent of the teenagers polled have seen classmates “verbally insult someone they were dating in a hurtful way.”*
Are you a young adult pursuing marriage with someone who insults you or yells at you or who belittles, pushes, shoves, or slaps you? A previous article in this series showed that such mistreatment is alarmingly common.* It further showed that Jehovah God does not approve of abusive speech or conduct and that victims should not accept such misbehavior as normal or as something that is their fault. (Ephesians 4:31) Even so, knowing what to do in such a situation is not easy. You may still have strong feelings for your boyfriend—despite his behavior. Or worse yet, you may fear his reaction if you criticize him. What should you do?
Assess the Situation
First, you need to calm down and get an objective view of what has happened. (Ecclesiastes 2:14) Are you truly a victim of verbal abuse? Was your boyfriend being deliberately malicious, or was he simply “speaking thoughtlessly”? (Proverbs 12:18) How often has this occurred? Is it a one-time mistake that you can simply overlook? Or has he developed a habit of saying belittling or insulting things?
If you are not sure of your own feelings in this regard, talk matters out with someone—not another peer but someone who is older and wiser. Perhaps you can confide in your parents or in a mature fellow Christian. Such a discussion can help you determine if you are overreacting or if a serious problem does exist.
If it seems safe to do so, arrange to talk to your boyfriend about it. (Proverbs 25:9) Calmly tell him how his behavior makes you feel. Be specific about why you were offended. Set clear limits regarding what you will not tolerate. How does he react? Does he brush your thoughts aside or respond with even more angry speech? This is a clear signal that he is unwilling to change.
What, though, if he displays godly humility and genuine remorse? Then it may be possible to salvage the relationship. Be careful, though! Perpetrators of verbal abuse often make elaborate expressions of seeming remorse after they hurt someone—only to repeat their hurtful speech the next time they feel provoked. Time will tell how sincere he is about making changes. One good indication of how serious he is would be his willingness to seek help from Christian elders.—James 5:14-16.
Realize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) You will search in vain for someone who is perfect. All married couples will experience some measure of “tribulation in their flesh” because of imperfection. (1 Corinthians 7:28) In the final analysis, you have to decide if his flaws are ones that you can live with happily. Again, allowing some time to pass is the safest way of making this determination.
When There Is Violence
It is a different matter, though, if the abusive speech is laced with angry profanity or threats of violence or if you find yourself being abused physically—perhaps by being pushed, shoved, or slapped. This indicates a dangerous lack of self-control; things can easily escalate into even more serious expressions of violence.
It is best for unmarried couples to avoid being isolated together in the first place. But if you do somehow find yourself alone with a raging man, do not “return evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17) Remember: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Stay calm. Ask him to take you home. If necessary, walk—or run—away!
What if a man tries to force a woman into sexual activity? Of course, it is wise for a couple, right from the start of a courtship, to set clear limits on their expressions of affection. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) If a young man pressures a young woman to violate Bible principles, she should make it clear to him in no uncertain terms that she will not compromise. (Genesis 39:7-13) “Don’t back down,” pleads Anne, who gave in to such sexual pressure. “Have respect for yourself. Please, don’t make this mistake, no matter how much you love him!” Should he ignore your refusal, tell him that you would consider any further attempts as rape. If he still does not stop, call for help and try to fend him off as you would any rapist.*
In either case, the Bible’s counsel at Proverbs 22:24 is appropriate: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger; and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in.” You have no obligation whatsoever to remain in an abusive relationship. Obviously, it would be foolhardy to meet alone with an abusive male to inform him of a breakup. Likely, your best course of action is to let your parents know what has taken place. Naturally, they will be angry and upset over your mistreatment. But they can help you determine what further steps need to be taken.*
Trying to Change Him
In any event, it is not your responsibility to make your boyfriend change. Irena admits: “You think that you love him, that you will manage, and that you can help him. But you simply cannot.” Nadine likewise confesses: “I keep thinking that I can change him.” The truth is, only he can ‘make his mind over’ and change. (Romans 12:2) And doing so will be a long, arduous process.
So be firm in your decision, turning a deaf ear to any efforts he might make to play on your emotions. Try to put as much distance between you and him as possible—emotionally and physically. Do not allow him to talk, beg, or threaten you back into a relationship. When Irena broke up with her violent boyfriend, he threatened to kill himself. Clearly, such a person needs help, but not your help. You help him best by taking a stand against unchristian behavior. If he wants to change, he is free to seek help.
However, some think that marriage will solve the problem. Says one researcher: “Women who marry their abusive boyfriends and men who marry their abusive girlfriends are usually surprised to discover that the violence doesn’t stop. Many people believe the myth that once the marriage license is signed, all such problems evaporate. Don’t believe it.” The fact is, physical abuse that starts in courtship is very likely to carry over into marriage.
“Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 22:3) Breaking up with someone you care about is hard. But being trapped in an abusive marriage is far harder. Besides, you need not fear that you will never find a suitable partner. With the insight you have gained, you will be more inclined than ever to look for someone who is gentle, kind, and self-controlled.
Healing the Emotional Scars
Being a victim of verbal or physical abuse can be devastating. A victim named Mary advises: “Get help—tell somebody immediately. I thought I could make it through on my own, but talking to people has helped me.” Confide in your parents, a trusted mature friend, or a Christian elder.*
Some have also found it helpful to keep busy by engaging in such things as wholesome reading, sports, or hobbies. “Most important,” remembers Irena, “was studying the Bible and attending Christian meetings.”
Clearly, Jehovah does not approve of abusive words or actions. With his help, you can protect yourself from being mistreated.
Some names have been changed.
While both males and females can be victims of verbal and physical abuse, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “females suffer significantly more injuries than males.” At any rate, for the sake of simplicity, in this article we will refer to the abuser in the male gender.
See the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Does He Treat Me So Badly?” in the May 22, 2004, issue of Awake!
Awake! of March 8, 1993, has information on resisting rape.
In some cases, such as attempted rape, your parents may decide to report matters to the police. This could prevent other girls from going through such a devastating experience.
In cases of trauma, some may choose to be treated by a physician or a licensed mental-health worker.
[Picture on page 24]
Mistreatment during courtship is likely to continue in marriage
[Picture on page 25]
Do not be forced into inappropriate displays of affection