Being in a committed relationship and making choices about it while in college can present students with difficult choices and possibly multiple conflicting roles. Relationships can be an important source of emotional support as you face the challenges of school and life, but they also add additional demands and expectations of your time. The way you manage your expectations and the inevitable conflicts that arise will, to a great extent, determine your ability to create a satisfying balance in your life.
The first challenge is to decide whether you are in and how committed you are to a relationship. Important things to pay attention to are how you feel about yourself and your life with this person in it. Do you feel better about yourself and more satisfied, or is the relationship more of a source of stress? These questions are important ones to answer as you continue to make choices about staying in a relationship as well.
Once you have made the decision to be in a relationship or to stay in one, you are faced with the challenge of balancing and integrating your relationship with the rest of your life.
As a student, you may be used to doing your work whenever you feel it needs to get done. You also may be used to being able to be very spontaneous in your extracurricular activities and spending time with your friends whenever the mood strikes you. If this is your accustomed style, you may find yourself putting your relationship on hold with the expectation that the issue of balancing your committed relationship time with your other priorities will automatically disappear when school ends.
Not only is it very possible that things will not change as much as you imagine with the ending of school, but your partner may have different expectations—expecting to share time working or playing with you. Expectations for attention, affection and support carry with them an expectation for time together. If members of a couple are to enjoy both their relationship and the other parts of their lives, it is important that they understand each other's expectations and work together to reach mutually agreeable compromises about how they spend their time.
Setting limits is an important skill to learn because, for most people in school and after graduation as well, there is always more to be done than there is time to do it. Setting aside time to take care of your work and your relationships can help you be more effective at both. You may find it helpful to set aside specific times to share time with your partner. It is also important that you learn to say no to activities that exceed the priorities you and your partner have set.
Maintaining a committed relationship requires a great deal of communication. Partners need to feel able to express positive and negative feelings, complaints, and affection. Regardless of how hard a couple works at it, there will be times when they have difficulties in communicating. At these times, couples may find it helpful to examine their communication. The person who has identified something that is bothering them should focus on what the other is doing that is hard for them and then identify what meaning this behavior has for them and how that makes them feel. The listener should focus on helping the speaker to feel heard by reflecting back to his or her partner what the behavior at issue is, what it means to his or her partner, and how it makes the partner feel. It is important that both partners have a chance to be heard. It is important that they both feel they have an active role in deciding on the nature of the relationship.
Good communication is essential in negotiating a variety of issues in relationships, be they about money, sexual decision making, or time. If you are having difficulty establishing the kind of communication you desire in your relationship, or want to discuss any other relationship issues, please call or stop by the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment.