Every year on Feb. 14, partners celebrate their love by participating in the social practices associated with Valentine’s Day. A day laced with romantic symbolism, gifts, flowers and heartwarming social media posts reflects the United States’ obsession with idealizing Hallmark romance. Behind the glorified images of love hides the unsettling truths about relationships in the United States, specifically domestic abuse.
“1-in-4 women and 1-in-9 men expereince severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partnere contact sexual volence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc,” the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports.
Domestic abuse is a pervasive issue in the United States, and unfortunately, the signs of abuse are often overlooked due to society’s acceptance of unhealthy relationships. Even worse, toxic traits in partners often garner appreciation due to the romanticization of abusive behaviors in western media.
The YouTube channel Popculture Detective explores the social influences of modern media, particularly some of the harmful ideas perpetuated by the movie industry. The video “Abduction As Romance” investigates the romanticization of abusive behaviors in Hollywood films. Abduction, stalking, harassment and sexualt assault are often portrayed as essential, even attractive, plot drivers in American media, and these ideas are then internalized by viewers. Thus, when these abusive behaviors occur in real life, victims are left trapped as their suffering goes unnoticed.
Jealousy, love-bombing, quick involvement, isolation and controlling behaviors, all are standard red flags for abusive relationships. However, they all can easily be remarketed to fit the paradigm of American romance. Love bombing, for example, is the inital phase in the abuse cycle which can often mimick the traditions upheld by Valentine’s Day such as extravagant gift exchanges and partner idolization.
“Love bombing is where an abusvie partner is bombarding ‘love’ onto their victim and is part of emotional abuse and coercive control. It could include excessive affection, excessive compliments, declarations of love, gifts and praise,” Solace Women’s Aid reports.
Love bombing is just one example of how romance norms can conceal dangerous relationship abuse, and why education is needed to help partners look out for concerning red flags. The consequences of domestic abuse are serious, impacting those in the United States physically and mentally, but also financially.
“The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion a year. Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from abuse” the NCADV reported. The United States urgently needs to allocate resources to combat domestic violence, and this need has only heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has created an environment where victims and aggressors, or potential aggressors in a relationship cannot easily separate themselves from each other. The extra stress also can cause mental health issues, increasing individuals’ perceived stress and reactions to stress through violence and other means,” Karen Nikos-Rose wrote for UCDavis.
While healthy love does exist and Valentine’s Day can serve as an uplifting day to celebrate love and human connection, it is an equally important time to educate yourself on domestic violence and unhealthy relationships.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides incredibly insightful educational material for identifying abuse, getting help, planning for safety, supporting others, finding local resources and getting involved. In order to cherish healthy love, we need to fight to protect ourselves and others against unhealthy love through education and adequate resources. In this time of overwhelming acts of love, be sure to recognize potential signs of abuse so your future Valentine’s Days will be full of true love.