Red means run

What growing up in an abusive home taught me about dating

Tatiana Martin, Guest Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

He was tall, charming and good at making people laugh, a momma’s boy and a man who loved small-town living. His business made him known, and people described him as a good friend and hard worker.

I was five when I first met him and six when my mom moved us into his home. I was eight when he tried running us off the road. I was ten when he threw a brick into our window, hoping to kill my mom, the woman he claimed he loved.

After meeting him, the memories of my childhood become few and far between. I remember building mini-igloos in the snow with my sister and playing with Littlest Pet Shops. I remember being interviewed by cops in my childhood bedroom. I remember the slamming of doors, which would be followed by the slamming of skin. I remember my mother hiding us in hotels. I remember always being scared for my life — but even more for my mom’s.

Growing up with an abusive-step father taught me a lot of things. But the greatest lesson I learned was that when you see red, you run. While not all bad relationships end in violence, a concerning number of them do.

According to the Domestic Abuse Hotline website, every minute 24 individuals, at the hands of their romantic partners, will experience rape, physical violence or stalking. These statistics do not include the many individuals who suffer from verbal and psychological abuse within their relationship.

There are a variety of reasons that people stay in these abusive relationships, such as the belief that one does not deserve better or that better does not exist.

There is a popular quote that states, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” When someone struggles with low self-esteem, they lose the urgency to do what is best for themself, leaving them vulnerable to unhealthy relationships.

Another reason many stay in these abusive relationships is because they are unaware that what they are experiencing is unhealthy. If someone has never experienced healthy love, then red flags are even harder to detect.

Lastly, some stay because they believe things will get better, or they gaslight themselves into thinking things are better than the reality.

Everyone deserves healthy love, and healthy love certainly does exist. After spending most of my life in an abusive environment, and only ever seeing abusive romantic relationships, my standards for romance were low and I did not know what to be looking for. All I required was that I was not being physically abused, which left me vulnerable to unhealthy relationships. I was unaware of what healthy relationships looked like, and I have noticed many others experience this discrepancy too.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 states, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” This verse successfully captures many of the key features to look for when meeting new people, or within an existing relationship.

Notice how this person speaks to you. Are they building you up, or are you leaving the conversations feeling discouraged? Pay attention to how they express anger — are they gentle yet expressive, or are they malicious and possibly threatening? Try setting boundaries with this person, and note how they react.

Even if it does not seem that bad, growing up in an abusive environment taught me that no red flag is worth looking past.

Love is a good listener and engages in conversation. Love is soft and leaves your body and nervous system feeling safe. Love is powerful and silly. Love is vulnerable, and welcomes you to show every inch of yourself — mind, body and soul.

Love is respectful, forgiving and generous — and it is worth leaving a bad relationship for, even if that means being single for a little while. A key feature to look out for is that healthy love is consistent and it does not exist in the cycle of incredible highs and devastating lows.

I have seen the worst in relationships, but I have also experienced the best. Safe, healthy and good love is out there and it is worth waiting for.