The “perfect couple” isn’t always “the perfect couple”: Domestic violence in the month of love

It’s February, and retailers are slamming Valentine’s Day in our faces. Some of us enjoy this holiday dedicated to love and romance (if you want to learn more about Valentine’s Day’s origins, check out the History Channel’s website), while others despise it. But when we’re looking at photos and videos of “the perfect couples” on social media, we must remember that what we see isn’t always reality. It may be a façade hiding an abusive relationship. 

Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse as well as stalking between people in a relationship. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, so it’s appropriate to use this post to draw attention to the issue which is part of intimate partner violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but we aren’t ignoring this issue just because it’s not the correct month. 

Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (as cited in Varnado, 2019), says on average, more than 12 million U.S. men and women per year are victims of some form of domestic violence; in fact, 24.3% of women and 13.8% of men age 18 and older in the U.S. have been victims of physical domestic violence in their lifetimes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, n.d.) expands on this, stating that 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of some kind of domestic violence as adults were also victims of teen dating violence.

According to the CDC (n.d.), approximately 1 in 11 female high school students and 1 in 14 male high school students experienced physical dating violence in the last year. Also, approximately 1 in 8 female high school students and 1 in 26 male high school students experienced sexual dating violence in the past year.

Signs and Prevention

There are warning signs that someone may be exhibiting abusive behavior or may be experiencing abuse. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (2017), you may be at risk of domestic violence if your partner constantly criticizes you, doesn’t respect your boundaries, is jealous of you, and encourages you to end your activities and friendships with others. Check out their website for a more extensive list of warning signs. The CDC (n.d.) adds that people who have low self-esteem, have low income, and have emotional and addiction issues may be at risk for perpetuating domestic violence. The CDC provides a more extensive list on its site which also includes cultural pressure due to traditional gender norms. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (n.d.) also stresses the role culture plays in abuse and the survivor’s decision to leave or stay in an abusive relationship.

The CDC recommends strategies for preventing teen dating violence and intimate partner violence across the lifespan such as teaching safe and healthy relationship skills, providing economic support for families, and supporting survivors. Additional information can be found on the CDC’s (n.d.) Teen Dating Violence website, Dating Matters website, and in their Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan brochure.

Acknowledging domestic violence is a problem and speaking openly and honestly about it is also important. In fact, the 2022 Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month theme is “Talk About It” (Love Is Respect, n.d.).

What to Do

If you’re experiencing domestic violence, or if you think you might be experiencing domestic violence but you’re unsure, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline via phone, live chat, or text. It is free and confidential, and it’s available 24/7.
If you believe someone is experiencing domestic violence, it is important to be supportive, voice your concerns, and help connect the person to resources, but don’t force them to talk if they aren’t ready or willing to talk. The NNEDV (2017) provides tips for having an informed conversation about domestic violence. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for tips on how to support the person you believe is experiencing domestic violence.

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