Young People Ask . . .
Why Does He Treat Me So Badly?
“Often [my boyfriend] accuses me of things that are really stupid. But emotionally, I’m stuck on him.”—Kathrin.*
“Outwardly you didn’t see [any wounds], but inside it hurt so much.”—Andrea, who was slapped by her boyfriend.
IT IS an all-too-common scenario: A young woman dates a young man who seems to be the very picture of charm and courtesy. But slowly he begins to change. Words of affection are replaced by biting sarcasm and belittling criticism. At first, she brushes it all off as clumsy but affectionate teasing. However, things escalate into a recurring pattern of verbal attacks, outbursts of anger, and expressions of deep remorse. Somehow feeling responsible for the misbehavior, the young woman suffers in silence, hoping things will change. But they do not. Her boyfriend now takes to yelling and screaming. During one fit of rage, he even gives her a violent shove! She fears that the next time he will hit her.*
Young men and women in romantic relationships characterized by physical or verbal abuse may be subjected to an unrelenting barrage of criticism, hurtful speech, and rage. Are you in such a situation? (See the box “Some Warning Signs.”) If so, you may be so distressed and embarrassed that you simply do not know what to do.
Situations like this are not nearly as uncommon as you might think. Researchers estimate that 1 person in 5 has experienced some form of dating violence. When verbal abuse is factored in as a form of violence, this estimate rises to 4 in 5. Contrary to popular opinion, not all victims are females. According to a British study of dating violence, “almost equal percentages of men and women” reported having victimizing partners.*
Why does such misbehavior occur in courtship? What should you do if you find yourself in such a situation?
Getting God’s View
First, you must recognize just how serious such a situation is in God’s eyes. It is true that imperfect people are bound to say and do things that hurt others. (James 3:2) It is also true that even people who love and trust each other will occasionally have disagreements. The apostle Paul and Barnabas, for example, were mature Christians. Yet, on one occasion they had “a sharp burst of anger.” (Acts 15:39) So if you are dating someone, you may experience some tensions from time to time.
Furthermore, it would be unrealistic to expect that your boyfriend will never utter a critical word. After all, you are contemplating marrying each other. And if he is disturbed by some trait or habit of yours, wouldn’t it be loving for him to talk to you about it? True, criticism is painful. (Hebrews 12:11) But if it is motivated by and given in love, it is not a form of abusive speech.—Proverbs 27:6.
It is another thing entirely, though, to engage in yelling, slapping, punching, or reviling. The Bible condemns “wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech.” (Colossians 3:8) Jehovah is outraged when someone uses “power” to humiliate, intimidate, or oppress others. (Ecclesiastes 4:1; 8:9) In fact, God’s Word commands husbands “to be loving their wives as their own bodies . . . , for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” (Ephesians 5:28, 29) A man who speaks abusively to or mistreats the woman he is courting shows himself unfit to be a marriage mate. At the same time, he arouses the displeasure of Jehovah God himself!
It’s Not Your Fault!
Yet, abusers often blame their victims. So perhaps you sometimes feel it is your fault that your boyfriend becomes so angry. But his anger may have little or nothing to do with you. Often abusive men have been raised in households where the use of violence or abusive speech was considered normal.* In some lands young men are influenced by the prevailing culture in which men are expected to be dominant. Peers can also put pressure on a young man to be macho. Lacking self-confidence, he might feel threatened by just about anything that you say or do.
Whatever the situation, you are not responsible for another person’s outbursts. Abusive speech and violence are never justified.
Changing Your Thinking
Even so, your own view of matters may need to be adjusted. How so? Well, if a girl has been raised in an atmosphere of violence and injurious talk herself, abusive behavior might seem normal to her. Instead of recoiling at such unchristian conduct, she might tolerate it—perhaps even find it attractive. Yes, some victims of mistreatment admit that they are bored with men who are too nice. Other young women suffer from the illusion that they can change their boyfriend.
If any of this is true of you, you need to “be transformed by making your mind over” in this regard. (Romans 12:2) By prayer, study, and meditation, you need to take Jehovah’s view of the abusive conduct to heart and see it as repulsive. You need to grasp that you do not deserve to be mistreated. Cultivating modesty—a sense of your limitations—can help you to realize that you do not have the ability to change an angry boyfriend. It is his responsibility to change!—Galatians 6:5.
In some cases young women endure mistreatment because of a low sense of self-worth. Says Kathrin, mentioned at the outset, “I cannot imagine life without him, and I cannot imagine getting someone better.” A young woman named Helga similarly said of her boyfriend, “I let him beat me because it’s still better than not being noticed at all.”
Do such viewpoints sound like a good foundation for a healthy relationship? After all, can you really love someone if you cannot even love yourself? (Matthew 19:19) Work on developing healthy self-respect.* Enduring mistreatment will not help you to do that. As a young woman named Irena knows from experience, enduring abuse can “rob you of all your self-esteem.”
Facing the Truth
It may be hard for some to admit that they are in an unhealthy relationship—especially if strong romantic feelings have developed. But do not shut your eyes to the truth. A Bible proverb says: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.” (Proverbs 22:3) A young woman named Hanna recalls, “When you fall in love with the guy, you are as good as blind, and you see only his positive qualities.” However, if you are being mistreated, it is important that you see him for who he really is. And if your boyfriend makes you feel threatened or demeaned, something is seriously wrong. Do not try to deny your feelings, excuse him, or blame yourself. Experience shows that left unchecked, abusive treatment will only escalate. Your well-being could be seriously endangered!
Of course, it would be best not to get involved with someone lacking self-control. (Proverbs 22:24) So if someone you do not know well wants to date you, it is a good idea to find out something about him. Why not suggest that you first associate with each other in a group setting? This can allow you to get to know him without getting romantically involved too quickly. Ask meaningful questions, such as: Who are his friends? What type of music, films, computer games, and sports does he like? Does his conversation indicate an interest in spiritual things? Talk to people who know him, such as his local congregation elders. They will let you know if he is “well reported on” by others because of his mature and godly conduct.—Acts 16:2.
But what can you do if you are already involved in an abusive relationship? A future article will address this question.
Some names have been changed.
This article addresses victims of verbal and physical abuse. Counsel that can help perpetrators was given in the articles “From Words That Hurt to Words That Heal” and “Bullying—What’s the Harm?” in our October 22, 1996, and March 22, 1997, issues.
For simplicity’s sake, however, we will refer to victims of abusive treatment in the feminine gender. The principles discussed herein apply to both men and women.
See the article “Uncovering the Roots of Abusive Speech,” in our October 22, 1996, issue.
See chapter 12 of the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 21]
Some Warning Signs
◼ He often makes demeaning remarks about you, your family, or your friends, either when you are alone or when you are with others
◼ He usually ignores your wishes or feelings
◼ He tries to control every aspect of your life, insisting on knowing your whereabouts at all times and making all decisions for you
◼ He yells at you, pushes or shoves you, or threatens you
◼ He tries to talk you into making inappropriate expressions of affection
◼ You can hardly do anything without worrying whether it might in some way irritate him
[Picture on page 20]
Constant criticism or insults may indicate that a relationship is unhealthy