02/04/2013 02:17 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How I Steer Clear of Crazy, Rage-Filled Lovers

In Chicago, a boyfriend once seethed, "This is the worst it's going to get, Twanna. I mean, it's not like I'm going to hit you!" After giving him the benefit of the doubt much longer than I should have, our relationship culminated with a particularly unsettling argument. Although he never hit me, had I stayed with him -- based on our trajectory -- I really believe he would have hurt me. So, I left him. I've since learned: Trust your instincts. Equally intriguing and counterintuitive, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us women are more likely to be slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner if bisexual (55.1 percent) or lesbian (36.3 percent) versus heterosexuals (29.8 percent). For men, approximately 1 in 4 of will be slapped, pushed, or shoved by partners; bisexual (27.0 percent) and heterosexual (26.3 percent) males are at greater risk than gay men (24.0 percent). The good news is nearly 67 percent of all women and 75 percent of all men aren't slapped, pushed, or shoved by their partners. As a sex educator, I believe two great strategies are helpful in steering clear of unhealthy relationships:
  1. Educate partners about abuse
  2. Hold abusers accountable for their actions
It would be easier if people came with warnings. Luckily, sometimes they do. According to the CDC, World Health Organization, The National Institute of Justice and others, here are a few samples of what abuse may look like:
  • Emotional/verbal: namecalling, insults, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, shouting, continuously arguing, interrupting, put downs, talking down, spying, ignoring, violating privacy, excessive jealousy and possessiveness, controlling, mocking, shaming you for your sexuality / sexual activity, abusive language, grooming and gaslighting. (In many cases, the emotional violence has effect of putting you off balance as a precursor to physical or sexual violence.)
  • Physical: shoving, choking, shaking, slapping, punching, hitting, biting, kicking, throwing objects, scratching, pulling hair, pushing, pulling, and grabbing.
  • Financial: Using money to exert power and control.
  • Sexual: Attempting, threatening, or actually using force to coerce someone into unwanted sexual activity; having sexual contact with someone who due to sleep, influence of drugs or alcohol, or duress can't consent; or abusive sexual contact.
  • Stalking: Constant following, monitoring, watching, or harassing.
  • Digital: Texting and using social networking to abuse.
Why we do it? I say "we" because, perhaps, each of us might see a bit ourselves in the above. Perhaps you've called your boyfriend a name (i.e. you're such an "ass"), been jealous of attention your girlfriend receives, or monitored your ex's Facebook activity. The difference between that and abuse may rest in the intensity and patterns creating a cycle of abuse.

The internet overflows with random profiles of abusive men who abuse women. This "beware of the scary man" technique offers little assistance to any abusive man who genuinely needs to recognize his behaviors, take responsibility for his actions, and be willing and able to have more healthy and fulfilling relationships. It also vastly ignores straight men who are abused by women as well as LGBTQ couples -- a community that experiences violence at equal or greater rates as heterosexual partners. This dearth neither absolves the abuser for their actions nor implies anyone should tolerate abuse. Therefore, while it should be noted some great resources like Northwestern's warning signs of an abusive person are more gender neutral, those of us who are sexual and reproductive health educators, providers, and counselors may be falling short at providing support to the diversity of individuals in abusive relationships.