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I’m glad you asked this question because I don’t think you’re alone in wondering this, especially since it’s your first girlfriend and I’m guessing you’re new to dating. There’s a common misconception that domestic violence and abuse only involves male partners as abusers and females as victims. But that’s not accurate at all. Men can find themselves trapped with an abusive partner as well, either male or female. So, no, it’s not “normal” for your girlfriend to hit you.

Women can be abusive—physically, verbally, psychologically, financially, sexually—all of the ways. If your partner is doing something that makes you feel unsafe, controlled, in danger or that hurts your body, this is not OK, no matter what. You deserve to feel safe in a relationship no matter your gender or your partner’s gender.

It’s obviously the best choice not to use violence in return. You do need to be able to protect yourself but self-defense is different from abuse. A better option is to first make sure you’re talking to your girlfriend about how her actions are affecting you. This starts by establishing boundaries. You can set physical boundaries by stating clearly, “You can’t hit me when you get angry.” If she doesn’t respect this boundary, this is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. You need to feel like you can trust your partner. At this point, it would be a good time to think about if you want to stay with this partner.

Has your girlfriend shown other signs of abusive behavior? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel like you’re being controlled by your girlfriend?
  • Does she put you down, shame or embarrass you?
  • Does she ignore you?
  • Does she treat you as inferior?
  • Does she accuse you of cheating or is possessively jealous?
  • Does she threaten to hurt you, your friends, family or pets?
  • Does she force you to do things you’re not comfortable with?
  • Does she try to forbid you from seeing your friends or family, or having a job?
  • Does she try to control your money or demand money from you?
  • Does she deny verbal or physical altercations happened after they’re over? (This is called gaslighting.)
  • Does she avoid taking responsibility for her actions, or deny doing anything wrong?
  • After a fight, do things go back to normal? Does she go overboard with apologies or acts of kindness?
  • Has she ever used a weapon against you, or threatened you with a weapon?

If you answered yes to any of these, Anonymous, you may be dating someone who is abusive. These are all tactics abusive partners use to have power and control over others and none of them are OK. It may help you to reach out to a domestic violence advocate near you. Consider calling Martha’s House hotline to talk to someone—anyone can call and you don’t need to be seeking shelter or even be ready to leave just to talk to someone about what you’re going through.

I know it might be hard to come to terms with the fact that you’re being abused. This is why many men have a hard time disclosing abuse—there’s a stereotype out there that men shouldn’t be victims because they’re often times bigger or stronger than women. But this simply isn’t true. Men can be victims and it’s not their fault.

“Men struggle being seen as a victim because they’re concerned about fitting into that manliness box, or being perceived as weak,” says Becky Lee, executive director of Becky’s Fund and Men of CODE.

“It’s not uncommon to hear men say something like, ‘I can’t be a victim because I’m a guy.’” Lee, who’s worked with male victims of abuse, says there are harmful repercussions when we don’t talk about how toxic masculinity supports this stereotype of men being too tough to be victims.

“It can lead to mental health issues when we teach that boys don’t cry, or boys don’t ask for help,” she says. “Take gender out of it completely—it’s never OK for someone to be hitting you.”

Is there a possibility that you grew up witnessing domestic violence within your family? If so, it could feel normal to you to see physical violence because it became normalized in your childhood. Likewise, if your girlfriend grew up a victim of childhood domestic violence (CDV), the same could be said for her. Research has shown that witnessing domestic violence as a child can be just as harmful as being an abuser’s direct victim. It can have lifelong effects including increasing your risk of being an abuser or a victim of abuse. You can learn more at CDV.org.

In any case, your safety is top priority. Remember, you get to determine your boundaries in a relationship—no one else.