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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This blog was written and submitted by a youth member of our Fuerza Unida Amig@s Youth initiative.

As teenagers, it can be hard to know the signs of what’s a good relationship versus a bad relationship. We’re still growing and learning from our life experiences and mistakes, and along the way many of us aren’t able to recognize the early signs of an unhealthy relationship.

In my life, I became involved with a guy I thought I loved and who I thought loved me back. Although our relationship never became physically violent, it was very verbally and emotionally abusive. From name calling to threats, it all worsened as the relationship progressed. During arguments, he would call me all these mean and terrible names. When this name calling occurred, I would tell myself that he’s simply mad and that I needed to learn how to not make him mad. As time progressed, he was starting to isolate me from many guy friends that I had. He simply told me he was “jealous” and he couldn’t trust me around my guy friends. If I didn’t listen to his wish for me to not have guy friends, he would threaten to leave me. These threats and the isolation he began putting me through still didn’t convince me that it wasn’t a healthy relationship; I simply thought that it was how he was showing me love.

These different, unhealthy behaviors kept happening back and forth for about a year. I soon learned that I was pregnant with his child. It was during this scary moment that I realized I needed my family more than ever. Once my then-boyfriend began trying to convince me in different ways to choose him over my family, I realized that I needed to find the strength to leave him and move on. It was a hard decision because I was now expecting his child. The strong feelings I had for him made it very hard as well, but I couldn’t stand the isolation he was putting me through. First, I had been separated from friends, and now he wanted me to put my family last.

Thankfully, I was able to find the strength and courage to leave that relationship even though it meant I would become a single teenage mother.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a single teenage mother is balancing out my life and accepting the fact that I can’t do many things that other teenagers are doing. It’s hard to accept the fact that I can’t rely on my son’s father to help me take care of him. I have to work twice as hard to get things done in life. It’s been a challenge not having time to take a break from motherhood.

Through my own relationship and those of my friends and family, I hope to move away from the “traditional” Latin American belief that men have more authority than women. That machísmo that exists in our community can be the root of many unhealthy relationships among Latin@s. I hope to teach my son about gender equality, and that couples should come to an agreement together during decision making in relationships. I hope to teach him that if he decides to have children someday, he should take full responsibility; parenting responsibilities should be EQUAL — it shouldn’t all just fall under the mother’s responsibilities. Growing up seeing that gender inequality in my community has made me want to change it and move away from the values my own parents grew up with. I think teaching our children about gender equality and that machísmo isn’t a good thing will help prevent unhealthy and abusive relationships.

Just like many teenagers, I used to think relationship violence could only be physical; I never imaged that emotional and verbal abuse also fell under the category of an abusive relationship. This is why I think many teenagers don’t leave these types of relationships — simply because they don’t know the difference between unhealthy and healthy. I also believe it can be hard when teenagers in the past have experienced some sort of trauma that causes low self-esteem. When a partner brings happiness and makes you feel good about yourself, you don’t want to let them go; you don’t want accept that they’re more toxic than helpful. For young moms, it can be difficult when they financially depend on that other person. Even if they know they should leave, it’s extremely hard when their partner is the only person who is supporting them. The fear of being alone and not having support can make many mothers stay in an unhealthy relationship.

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