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In an Unhealthy Relationship? You Have Options

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Taking the time to reflect on the health of your relationship—whether you are married or in a long-term relationship—is not easy to do, and can sometimes be uncomfortable. By listening to your intuition, and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings about how your partner treats you, you are making an important commitment to yourself and investing in your wellbeing. Here are some tips for assessing your relationship health and options for you to consider to support your safety, no matter where you are.

Remember that all relationships lie on a spectrum

All relationships exist somewhere on a spectrum that ranges from healthy, to abusive, with unhealthy patterns falling somewhere in the middle. Life is stressful—and can be especially so for military families and couples managing deployments, child care and permanent changes of station. It’s natural for all of us to sometimes fall short of being the best spouse or partner we can be. You may notice that you or your partner have exhibited behaviors towards each other that fall under the “unhealthy” category. That is okay, and normal, provided you and your partner feel safe in raising any concerns with one another, and have learned how to fairly have a disagreement.

This tool from Love is Respect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, offers a useful overview of what’s healthy and what’s not to help you determine where you are in your relationship.

Trust yourself

If you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells with your partner, or are afraid to bring up a topic that might lead to a difference of opinion, pay attention to that feeling. If fighting unfairly, or dismissing your concerns is a regular pattern with your partner, know that you are right to be upset. In fact, if your partner has a habit of telling you how you should feel—or causes you to question your reactions to their concerning behaviors—that is called gaslighting, and is a form of emotional abuse. Also remember that if your partner uses violence of any kind, or threatens to harm you or your children, that is never okay. The Department of Defense is committed to your safety and right to choose what’s best for you and your family. Sometimes, that may even mean deciding to end the relationship. Whatever you decide as your next steps, you deserve to understand your options and, above all, keep yourself safe.

You have options

Here are a few tips and resources that can help you determine next steps:

  • Learn how you can maximize your privacy and safety with technology. Concerning or harmful behavior that happens offline often crosses into the online sphere. Military OneSource has information designed to help you understand the ways in which abusive spouses or partners may misuse technology, and offers tips to keep your electronic devices safe and secure.
  • Connect with your installation’s Family Advocacy Program. A victim advocate in the Family Advocacy Program can help you understand your options, inform you about reporting domestic abuse in the military and connect you to civilian support outside the installation. By connecting with a victim advocate through the Family Advocacy Program, know that you can preserve your privacy and do not have to make a report.
  • Speak or chat with an advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 en Español. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to you 24/7. You can talk over the phone, or chat online with a victim advocate who will keep your conversation confidential, and can help you identify your choices.

Remember that whichever option or options you choose have safety risks that may increase depending on the options you believe are necessary in your circumstances. Speaking to an advocate can help you understand the risks inherent in unhealthy or abusive relationships, including the decision to end the relationship, which is the most dangerous time for a person leaving an abusive relationship. If you are considering this option, we strongly urge you to contact your installation’s Family Advocacy Program or to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 en Español. Reading this article cannot fully prepare you for the safety risks involved in leaving an abusive relationship. Working with an advocate will help you to make informed decisions about protecting your safety throughout the relationship spectrum.

Everyone deserves to feel safe, loved and respected in their relationships. The Department of Defense supports all individuals in the military community to understand their options and take actions to enhance their safety.