By now you’ve likely heard the reports that claimed Marc Anthony was “too controlling” in his marriage to Jennifer Lopez, thereby contributing to their decision to split up. Latino stereotyping? We’d say so.
But it also got us thinking about those times in a relationship (that many of us have experienced!) when a partner exhibits domineering behavior, like frequently getting jealous, telling you how he’d like you to dress or complaining about how much time you spend with your friends. Sometimes, that kind of possessiveness can feel “very flattering,” says Eugenio Rothe, M.D., a Cuban psychiatrist and educator in Miami. And sometimes it might even be intended as nothing more than a demonstration of how much your partner loves you.
At what point, however, does your partner’s behavior cross the line from being caring to being a cause of concern? After all, the incidence of domestic violence in this country continues to rise, with national statistics showing that 1 out of 4 Latinas reports having experienced physical abuse at some point in her lifetime. And while it’s harder to pinpoint the number of us who have experienced emotional abuse, experts report that the lingering effects of our machista culture mean it’s not uncommon for Latinas to wind up with oppressive partners.
To get a better feel for the health of your own relationship, take a look at these five red flags, any of which could be a sign that your partner cares more about being your boss than making you happy. And isn’t happiness what every Latina deserves?
Red Flag No. 1: He always wants you to himself
A lover’s desire to spend all his time with you can definitely be thrilling, making you feel “so irresistible that the man has lost his mind,” Rothe says. However, it definitely isn’t healthy to abandon your family or friends for a guy, especially if he demands it of you. “If you’re feeling smothered or suffocated, you have to be firm and set limits,” says Argentinean psychiatrist Maria Rodriguez-Boulan, M.D., who practices in New York City. “Help him understand that you love him but you also need to be with other people.”
Red Flag No. 2: He constantly suspects you of straying
A bit of jealousy is normal. Nonstop surveillance is not. “If a guy always wants to know where you are, is constantly texting you and getting angry if you don’t text back right away, it’s a warning bell,” says Rose Ortiz, a Cuban American psychotherapist in NYC. Try talking to your partner; if he was cheated on before, he may need extra reassurance from you, or even counseling. But the bottom line is he has to learn to trust you, or else your relationship won’t survive.
Red Flag No. 3: He tries to control you
In a healthy romance, it’s normal to want to please your partner. However, if he insistently demands that you change your behavior or wardrobe to suit his needs and tastes, then he’s disrespecting your boundaries, which could be a sign of worse to come.
Red Flag No. 4: He ignores your feelings
We all know this happens. But if he routinely dismisses your deeper emotional concerns or makes light of your physical discomfort or pain, this can be a serious symptom of a much bigger problem: Men who become abusers tend to be very self-absorbed, Dr. Rothe explains, because “there’s no give-and-take or respect for the other person’s feelings.”
Red Flag No. 5: He constantly criticizes you
Does he belittle you and pick at the smallest details—from how you style your hair to the way you cook—and you just never seem to get it right? Don’t blame yourself, Ortiz says. “You can say, ‘Listen, this is bothering me. Let’s talk about it. What’s going on with you? You can’t do this anymore.’ ” Relationships have to be built on mutual respect.
He threatens you
Some people just talk tough, but if you fear that he might actually hurt you—or himself—there is nothing to talk about. You need to leave—and get help.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, don’t look the other way—act. Each situation is different and needs to be handled carefully. “The victim is usually the best person to know what the immediate danger is,” says Adelita Medina, a Mexican American executive with the National Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. For that reason, she emphasizes the importance of speaking to a counselor or advocate who can offer the victim an immediate safety plan. Help is always available from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224.