Growing Out Of Bad Relationship Cycles

By Juli Briskman
December 4, 2018

This is the second in a series of blogs about domestic violence experienced by UPIC employees and their families. #WeAreWhoWeServe

Something remarkable happened when UPIC encouraged employees to wear purple in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month in October.  The day set was Oct. 30 and as employees shared their photos from the offices and from home, many came with snippets and stories attached.

We have turned those stories into a blog series called #WeAreWhoWeServe.  This is the first expanded story from one of our coworkers who did not want to reveal her name.  We will call her Natalie.

Natalie, 34, is originally from Richmond, Va., and the eldest of six children. When we asked UPIC employees to wear purple in October, she wrote that she did not grow up in an abusive household but remembers her grandmother telling her to keep her smart mouth shut or a man would “beat her butt.”

Natalie says she did not grow up “abused.” But her mother was shot in the head and died when she was 12 and her grandmother, who raised her, was verbally abusive toward her own boyfriend while Natalie was in her custody.

This is where Natalie believes she learned to be a fighter and to have strong opinions that may have led to the rough relationships she experienced during her college years.  She says it was always about controlling her.

“As I got older I was in some relationships like that as well. I always considered myself a fighter.  It was like a mutual thing,” she said. She was in two abusive relationships while attending Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. and shortly after. And they each ended when the boyfriend was jailed on unrelated charges.  “I eventually realized that’s not the relationship I wanted.”

In the first relationship, Natalie said her boyfriend went from being a ‘9-to-5 guy’ to some kind of street guy.”  He later told her that he changed to prove he was strong and to control her. They would verbally battle, grab each other and tussle.  “We broke a lot of things.”

This boyfriend was jailed for shooting a college basketball player.

“He came in my apartment and said ‘hey babe cut on the TV look what I did.’  He thought I was the kind of female that wanted a street guy. In his crazy mind he thought that was what I wanted,” she said.  “I always wonder if my demeanor pushed him to be that way. He later said that he needed to do that to control me.”

It’s difficult for Natalie to label her relationships as violent and she finds ways to blame herself.  “Every time it was me saying something to them and it was something that just made them snap.”

She’s not atypical.  Many victims blame themselves. And according to, college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse as 57% say it’s hard to identify.  On the whole, 43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.

But while she feels she’s “grown out of” accepting violent relationships, it’s clear Natalie had some hurdles to break a cycle that accepts verbal and physical abuse as the norm.  She grew up in a neighborhood with “a bunch of gang bangers and drug dealers.” Her mother suffered from crack addiction that eventually led to her death.  And her grandmother came from an abusive relationship that Natalie eventually realized led to her comments about getting her butt beat. She is the only one of her siblings to attend college.

The Second Relationship

In her second college-age relationship, things got more physical:  “It was way more on him. It was way more that he had to control me and I wouldn’t allow it.  I didn’t really want to fight. I can’t really remember what we fought about.”

Twice he tried to choke her.  The first time they were in a car.  “I was driving. I said something smart to him and he choked me.”  She remembers waking up and the car was still moving.

The second time it occurred at his uncle’s house while the boyfriend was drinking.  She remembers calling for help, nobody was coming and thinking that she may actually die that night.

 “I was screaming telling them to come to get him and they were like completely ignoring me.  And I remember being on the floor and he was choking me and I remember thinking he was going to kill me.”  The second abuser was also put in jail and right around the same time, Natalie got a job and an apartment.

Natalie changed the type of men she dates and is in a relationship now.  But she finds the tools for control have just changed.

She decided if she dated guys that make money she would not have to deal with physical abuse. But:  “Guys with money try to control me as well.”  

No one deserves to be mistreated. If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence or domestic abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.   You can also visit:

Juli Briskman is Chief Marketing Officer for UPIC Health, LLC.  UPIC outsources patient contact center, revenue cycle management, and telebehavioral health services.  To learn more, visit the Who We Are page on our website. Follow us @UPICHealth.