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My boyfriend and I have been together for five months. I came to Washington, D.C., for college and was having a hard time making friends with similar interests. I finally met “Ben” before winter break, and ever since then we’ve been inseparable. We hang out all the time and talk and text all day. He says he likes me to be the last person he talks to before bed and the first person he talks to in the morning. He also likes us to experience things together, so when things are going on, like the Cher



Dear Tania,

Thank you for writing! Relationships can be complicated. It’s often not clear if one is “normal,” abusive, or not abusive, but also not particularly healthy. At JCADA, we define an abusive relationship as one where power and control are present: Is one partner using their power (physical, emotional, financial, etc.) to exert control over the other partner? It sounds like Ben is beginning to control your time, and I’m concerned that you don’t feel comfortable telling him you’re going to spend time with friends instead of him.

Often, couples spend a lot of time with each other in the “honeymoon” stage of a relationship; however, in a healthy relationship, both partners should feel comfortable also spending time with friends, family, and anyone else important to them. They should also feel comfortable spending their time however they want. Of course, all relationships require compromise, but ask yourself, “Can I generally spend as much time as I want with my friends, on school work, exercising, etc.?” Abusive relationships usually include an element of isolation, where one partner discourages the other from seeing his or her family and friends.

Unfortunately, that makes it more difficult for a person to leave an abusive relationship, as by the time they are ready to do so, they are out of touch with their support network. College, in particular, is usually a very social time of life. It’s an opportunity to explore and try new things and get to know others who may very well end up being lifelong friends. Whatever relationship you’re in during college should give you enough space to also develop meaningful friendships.

The other potential red flag I see in your description of your relationship with Ben is control through technology. We know that everyone texts constantly now and that college students, in particular, are more likely to text than call. Consider asking yourself, do you feel pressure to respond to Ben’s texts right away? If you’re at a movie or at dinner with friends or in class, is it a big deal to respond several hours later? If so, that’s something to pay attention to.

You’re about to have summer break. I don’t know if you and/or Ben are staying on campus, but it sounds like a good time to take a breath and get some space. If this is a healthy relationship, then it won’t be that big a deal. And if it is a big deal, then you have more information going into the summer and next fall. At JCADA, we know these issues are complicated and can be confusing. Don’t hesitate to call us at 1-877-88-JCADA(52232) for free and confidential counseling, safety planning, and other services.

For the past 17 years, JCADA has offered support to victims and survivors of domestic and dating abuse. These free clinical and legal services are available to any resident of the Greater Washington area, 14 years of age and older, who is affected by any type of domestic abuse. Staff are available to answer questions, offer support, and connect callers to services on our free and confidential helpline Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1-877-88-JCADA (52232).