Sixteen and Struggling

Badgyalania
asks:
Hi I'm 16 years old and I'm a lesbian. I've been in a relationship with a female for a year and 4 months now, but it's hasn't been all happy and what not. We've had a lot of down falls mainly on her. She's lied to me about soooo much and has cheated on me more than 4 times I'm not sure the exact amount but its definitely more than 4. Our relationship isn't just a relationship we are best friends and it's really hard for us to walk away from eachother. So everytime I find something I give her another chance and she always says she's going to stop and fights for me to stay with her. I dont know what To do anymore I'm in love with her but it's not the same anymore everything we've gone through has changed our relationship and how we view eachother. So now I'm not sure what to do. Should I stay and see if it gets fixed or just give up and leave my best friend and first love. She also took my virginity by the way. She always try's to control me and I do the same but the difference is I listen and she doesn't she just lies and lies. I'm so stuck and I'm becoming depressed and she isn't being any help she think I need to just move on from what she did and continue the relationship but I don't think it's that simple. There's so much more but I'm gonna leave it at that.
Amanda S replies:

You say that you're not sure whether or not to end the relationship, but it sounds to me like part of you knows that many aspects of your relationship aren't healthy and that ending it is what needs to happen. It's completely normal to have conflicting feelings about that, but it's also important to keep in mind that while ups and downs in a relationship can be exciting, they can also be exhausting, and old patterns--like repeated violation of trust, a lack of respect for boundaries, and a roller coaster ride of emotions--are very difficult to fix.

All relationships are opportunities for learning and growth, and a lot of that occurs in hindsight, after you've had some time to reflect. Our earliest intimate relationships sometimes have imperfect, somewhat dysfunctional dynamics, simply because those involved are brand-new to the whole thing, and there's nothing wrong with that. Think about it: were you good at riding a bike the first time you tried? How neat and tidy were you when you first learned how feed yourself with a spoon? Messy relationships can be part of the learning curve for many people, but there's a difference between messy and unhealthy.

One part of your question that really stands out to me is the control that you say your partner tries to exert over you, and vice versa. In a relationship, attempting to gain power or control over another person is a huge red flag that signals unhealthy and often abusive dynamics. The fact that you are becoming depressed as a result of the way your partner is treating you says to me that you really do need to step away from this relationship, as it's become toxic to your health. Relationships certainly have their ups and downs, but at the end of the day people in healthy relationships know that they have safety, respect and trust within those relationships.

I do pick up on a lot of passion and strong attachment in your relationship with your partner, and I understand that these feelings make the thought of ending the relationship daunting. It can be especially tough to end a relationship if it was one of a lot of "firsts": first kiss, first sexual experience, etc. Those milestones often have a lot of importance, and the thought of losing the relationship in which they happened can make deciding whether or not to break up even more difficult.

However, passion and attachment, and those first-time experiences, even though they mean a lot, don't make up for a lack of mutual respect. Respect has to be present at the very beginning of any kind of relationship, otherwise the relationship will almost certainly lead to pain and heartbreak. Respect means honoring another person's boundaries, accepting another person's feelings as important and valid, making fair expectations and agreements using healthy communication strategies, and being accountable to those agreements. Once a pattern of disrespect and mistrust has been established, it's unlikely that these underlying dynamics will change.

Recognizing when a relationship is abusive or unhealthy can be surprisingly hard when we're in the middle of it, though, because our judgement is clouded by strong feelings of attachment, passion, and even dependency within that relationship. I'd suggest doing a little bit of reading in order to better understand and reflect on the specific dynamics that may be at play in your relationship with your partner. Our relationship checkup tool is a good place to start, and I'd also recommend our piece on abuse and assault.

You might also consider asking the opinion of someone whose relationships with others--whether those are intimate relationships, friendships or relationships with family--you admire and respect. This could be a friend, mentor, older sibling, parent, etc. Getting an outside opinion from someone who cares about you and wants the best for you can often be a breath of fresh air when you feel submerged in a toxic relationship. This person may also be able to help you strategize about moving forward. If you need to make a safety plan--to arrange for physical and emotional safety, or even just to ensure you will have the support you would need to end the relationship--a trusted friend or mentor can be a great resource for this.

If you don't feel like you have someone like this in your corner, you can use the Scarleteen chat line or the message boards where someone can have an in-depth conversation with you, and help you work out how you want to move forward.