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THRIVE Information on Healthy Relationships

Tips on maintaining healthy relationships in college and beyond

THRIVE Information on Healthy Relationships

Relationships aren’t always easy to maintain…college opens the door for all kinds of new relationship challenges such as roommate issues, casual dating, serious dating, friendships, and sex. You may also be confronted by interpersonal issues when you play on an intramural team, become involved in a student organization, or decide to join Greek life. These various relationships can provide a great deal of comfort and support during your college years, but they can also be a source of confusion and stress at times.

The Beginning Stages

While the early months of a relationship can feel effortless and exciting, successful long-term relationships involve ongoing effort and compromise by both partners. Building healthy patterns early in your relationship can establish a solid foundation for the long run. When you are just starting a relationship, it is important to:

Build. Build a foundation of appreciation and respect.

Explore. Explore each other's interests so that you have a long list of things to enjoy together.

Establish. Establish open lines of communication, honesty, and emotional responsibility.

As the Months Go By: Important Things to Recognize as Your Relationship Grows

Relationships Change. Changes in life outside your relationship will impact what you want and need from the relationship.

Check in Periodically. Occasionally set aside time to check in with each other on changing expectations and goals.

Conflict

Disagreements in a relationship are not only normal but, if constructively resolved, actually strengthen the relationship. It is inevitable that there will be times of sadness, tension, or outright anger between you and your partner. The source of these problems may lie in unrealistic/unreasonable demands, unexplored expectations, or unresolved issues/behaviors in one partner or in the relationship. Resolving conflicts requires honesty, a willingness to consider your partner's perspective even if you don't fully understand it, and lots of communication.

Healthy communication is critical, especially when there are important decisions regarding sex, career, marriage, and family to be made. The following are some guidelines for successful communication and conflict resolution.

Understand Each Other’s Family Patterns. Find out how conflicts were managed (or not managed) in your partner's family, and talk about how conflict was approached (or avoided) in your own family.

Timing Counts. Contrary to previous notions, the best time to resolve a conflict may not be immediately. It is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time to cool off. This "time-out' period can help you avoid saying or doing hurtful things in the heat of the moment, and can help partners more clearly identify what changes are most important.

Establish an Atmosphere of Emotional Support. Emotional support involves accepting your partner's differences and not insisting that he or she meet your needs only in the precise way that you want them met.

Agree to Disagree and Move On. Rather than continuing a cycle of repeated fights, agree to disagree and negotiate a compromise or find a way to work around the issue.

Distinguish between things you want versus things you need from your partner.

Clarify Your Messages. A clear message involves a respectful but direct expression of your wants and needs. Take some time to identify what you really want before talking to your partner. Work on being able to describe your request in clear, observable terms.

Discuss One Thing at a Time. It can be tempting to list your concerns or grievances, but doing so will likely prolong an argument. Do your best to keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time.

Really Listen. Being a good listener requires the following: (a) don't interrupt, (b) focus on what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own response, and (c) check out what you heard your partner say.

Restrain Yourself. Research has found that couples who "edit" themselves and do not say all the angry things they may be thinking are typically the happiest.

Adopt a "Win-Win" Position. A "win-win" stance means that your goal is for the relationship, rather than for either partner, to "win" in a conflict situation. Ask yourself: "Is what I am about to say (or do) going to increase or decrease the odds that we'll work this problem out?"

Expectations in Relationships

Each of us enters into romantic relationships with ideas about what we want based on family relationships, what we've seen in the media, and our own past relationship experiences. Holding on to unrealistic expectations can cause a relationship to be unsatisfying and to eventually fail. The following will help you to distinguish between healthy and problematic relationship expectations:

Respect Changes. What you want from a relationship in the early months of dating may be quite different from what you want after you have been together for some time. Anticipate that both you and your partner will change over time. Feelings of love and passion change with time, as well. Respecting and valuing these changes is healthy.

Accept Differences. It is difficult, but healthy, to accept that there are some things about our partners that will not change over time, no matter how much we want them to. Unfortunately, there is often an expectation that our partner will change only in the ways we want. We may also hold the unrealistic expectation that our partner will never change from the way he or she is now.

Express Wants and Needs. While it is easy to assume that your partner knows your wants and needs, this is often not the case and can be the source of much stress in relationships.

Respect Your Partner's Rights. In healthy relationships, there is respect for each partner's right to have her/his own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.

Be Prepared to "Fight Fair." Couples who view conflict as a threat to the relationship, and something to be avoided at all costs, often find that accumulated and unaddressed conflicts are the real threat.

Maintain the Relationship. While we may work hard to get the relationship started, expecting to cruise without effort or active maintenance typically leads the relationship to stall or crash! Though gifts and getaways are important, it is often the small, nonmaterial things that partners routinely do for each other that keep the relationship satisfying.

Outside Pressures on the Relationship

Differences in Background. Even partners coming from very similar cultural, religious, or economic backgrounds can benefit from discussing their expectations of how a good boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse behaves. If you are from different backgrounds, be aware that you may need to spend more time and energy to build your relationship. Take the time to learn about your partner's culture or religion, being careful to check out what parts of such information actually fit for your partner.

Time Together and Apart. How much time you spend together and apart is a common relationship concern. Check out with your partner what time alone means to him or her, and share your feelings about what you need from the relationship in terms of time together. Demanding what you want, regardless of your partner's needs, usually ends up driving your partner away, so work on reaching a compromise.

Your Partner's Family. For many students, families remain an important source of emotional, if not financial, support during their years at the university. Some people find dealing with their partner's family difficult or frustrating. It can help to take a step back and think about parental good intentions. It's important that the two of you discuss and agree on how you want to respond to differing family values and support one another in the face of what can be very intense "suggestions" from family.

Friends. Giving up friends is not healthy for you or the relationship, except in circumstances where your friends pressure you to participate in activities that are damaging to yourself and the relationship. At the same time, keep in mind that your partner may not enjoy your friends as much as you do. Negotiate which friends you and your partner spend time with together.

Eight Basic Steps to Maintaining a Good Relationship

  1. Be aware of what you and your partner want for yourselves and what you want from the relationship.
  2. Let one another know what your needs are.
  3. Realize that your partner will not be able to meet all your needs. Some of these needs will have to be met outside of the relationship.
  4. Be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from one another.
  5. Do not demand that a partner change to meet all your expectations. Work to accept the differences between your ideal mate and the real person you are dating.
  6. Try to see things from the other's point of view. This doesn't mean that you must agree with one another all the time, but rather that both of you can understand and respect each other's differences, points of view, and separate needs.
  7. Where critical differences do exist in your expectations, needs, or opinions, try to work honestly and sincerely to negotiate. Seek professional help early rather than waiting until the situation becomes critical.
  8. Do your best to treat your partner in a way that says, "I love you and trust you, and I want to work this out."

Setting Boundaries

  1. Choose to set boundaries. You will tolerate a difficult relationship situation just as long as you choose to tolerate it. To change the situation, you need to be the one to choose to set boundaries in place.
  2. Identify the source of your feelings. It often takes some real soul-searching on your part to figure out the source of your anger or resentment.
  3. Decide when, where, and how to set the boundaries. Think about the entire situation. Consider your time, emotions, and means. Remember that setting boundaries is about getting your needs met.
  4. Express the boundaries clearly. For example, you say to your friend, "I will loan you my car once per week for two hours."
  5. Stick to your boundaries. You are not responsible for making the other person obey the boundaries. You are only responsible for following the boundaries yourself and for reinforcing them.

Relationship Issues and Counseling

If you are feeling distressed about a relationship, you may wish to consider individual or couples counseling. Counseling can help you identify problematic patterns in your current relationship and teach you more effective ways of relating. If you are grappling with a relationship problem and would like some help, we encourage you to contact the ESU Student Wellness Center at 620-341-5222.

***Information adapted from the University of Texas- Austin and The State University of New York.

Relationship Bill of Rights

  • I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
  • I have the right to make friends and be myself around people.
  • I have the right to say no and not feel guilty.
  • I have the right to feel safe.
  • I have the right to take time for myself.
  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to ask for what I want.
  • I have the right to ask for information.
  • I have the right to make mistakes.
  • I have the right to be me and feel good about myself.
  • I have the right to be understood and cared for.
  • I have the right to understand and care for whomever I choose.
  • I have the right to leave conversations with people who make me feel disrespected or humiliated.
  • I have the right to set boundaries in a relationship and make changes to improve the health of a relationship.
  • I have the right to end a relationship.
  • I have the right not to be responsible for others' behavior, actions, feelings, or problems.
  • I have the right to expect honesty from others.
  • I have the right to experience and express all of my feelings.
  • I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
  • I have the right to express my emotions in a healthy,
  • constructive and non-threatening manner.
  • I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings, my judgments, or any reason that I choose.
  • I have the right to change and grow.
  • I have the right to be happy.