Growing up, I always thought it curious how my mother would react to the phrase, “I love you to death.” If she heard it she’d scrunch up her face and say, “I sure hope not.”

As a kid, I didn’t get the gravity behind such a statement–because to literally love someone to death is quite scary. But considering how we casually throw around words, I didn’t think much of it. As I got older, however; the phrase no longer sounded sweet, but hinted at something even more sinister: abuse.

Recently, I read an article about the murder-suicide of model Vanessa Banks. Banks–a mother of three–was fatally shot by her longtime boyfriend after driving him to a train station in Philadelphia. After murdering her, he turned the gun on himself, but the damage was done: he loved her to death.

I often think, write, and discuss relationships with my friends. Although many of our conversations are light-hearted and comical, one thing rarely comes up: relationship violence. But for black folks, and specifically black women, relationships can be physically scary places to be.

Lost in the debate about whether or not Chris Brown is truly sorry for beating up Rihanna are the facts: our sisters, daughters, and friends are being abused, and sometimes killed, at alarming rates.

According to the Bureau of Justice, 652,660 incidents of intimate partner violence were reported to the police in 2008, the majority of crimes, 551,590, being committed against women (and that doesn’t account for those that go unreported).

Even more alarming, black women suffer from higher partner violence rates and are four times more likely to be murdered by a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse than our white counterparts.

So when your partner says they love you to death, they might just mean it.

I’m a true believer that words have power, and as cliched as it sounds, actions oftentimes speaks louder than words. Although it may be cute that your dude acts jealous when you talk to male friends, or your girl gets mad when you hang out with your female friends, seemingly petty things like mistrust, control issues, and obsession can quickly turn violent and perhaps even deadly.

So if you’re in a relationship and your partner is exhibiting signs that give you pause, don’t just brush them off as cute or a sign that he really loves you. While that could very well be the case, addressing your concerns head on might be the difference between living happily ever after and calling the police for help.

What do you think of the phrase, “I love you to death”? 

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