Many students come to the Counseling Services because they are having difficulty with romantic relationships. Some find themselves unable to form lasting relationships and may need help/advice about how to go about forming such relationships. Others want to improve current relationships or deal with the break-up of a relationship. As you browse this section, remember that loving relationships are a process, not a finish line. We hope that this will serve as a guide in helping you to better understand relationships and in developing healthy relationships based upon realistic expectations.
"I would like to have a relationship with someone, but have a hard time meeting people."
Often times, difficulty in opening up to other people stems from a fear of being rejected in some way. If we value other people and their perception of us, it is natural we would feel anxious when the possibility of rejection is real. The first step to building a stronger self-concept is to identify the underlying source of your fear.
Perhaps your fear is that you will be alone and/or that you will be unhappy unless you are in a relationship? This could certainly cause you to feel a sense of self-doubt if you are unsuccessful in establishing and maintaining a relationship. In this case, dependency may be interfering with your ability to form a healthy romantic relationship. If your sense of self worth comes from being with another person and/or you depend on your partner to keep you happy and functioning, it is unlikely that the relationship will last very long. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
One misconception about relationships is that two halves will come together to complete the other. This is dangerous thinking and can be disastrous for a relationship. Each person must enter the relationship willing to share the responsibility for mutual growth. The relationship should provide each person a foundation of support upon which a complimentary union of each person's strengths and weakness may be built.
Do you expect too much from your partner?
Try this quiz to gain an idea of how realistic your relationship expectations are. Use the response scale below:
|0=Don't Know||1=Strongly Disagree||2=Disagree||3=Agree||4=Strongly Agree|
What Your Score Means
0-30: You're wearing dark glasses. Either your view of relationships is somewhat negative, or you are uncertain on a number of issues. Talk with a counselor, mentor or respected friend who has a healthy, fun marriage/relationship.
31-40: Your glasses are clear. You have a fairly realistic expectation of your relationship. But seek outside input regarding any areas in which you answered "don't know."
41-50: Your glasses have a rose tint to them. You are very optimistic about relationships, but tend to minimize problems and differences. Find a mentor who will bring realism yet not destroy your excitement.
51-60: Your glasses are completely rose colored. You are heading toward a major relationship crisis due to failed expectations. Seeking help from an experienced counselor may provide you with the clarity/insight you need.
- My partner can and will meet all of my needs.
- Our current problems can all be resolved by spending more time together.
- If we commit to it, I believe my mate and I can overcome any problem or struggle.
- My partner and I want exactly the same things from our relationship.
- With mutual willingness to teach and learn, our sex life will get better with each passing year.
- I believe I will always feel in love with my partner.
- My partner and I fully understand each other.
- My partner can and should be my best friend.
- I expect romantic feelings in our relationship to come and go, largely controlled by our own actions.
- My partner is everything I've ever dreamed a boy/girlfriend should be.
- I don't believe there will ever be any serious problems in our relationship.
- My partner and I have resolved all the issues from our pasts that could affect our relationship.
- I believe marriage is a gift and that overall it will be a very enjoyable experience.
- I believe our sexual relationship will always be wonderful and free from conflict.
- Compromise will keep us from having serious struggles.
"If my boy/girlfriend doesn't think I'm popular/a leader/smart… then I'm nothing."
Some view rejection as a reflection of who they are. If your sense of self-value is tied into what others think of you, then rejection may threaten to destroy your whole self-image. Begin by asking yourself, "Who am I?" This means learning not to focus on what we are "too much" or "not enough" of. This also means turning off that internal judge and critic inside your head who so often sounds remarkably like Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, Sister or Big Brother, etc. To learn who you are means that you must shake off restrictions and limitations and begin to accept yourself for who you are.
"All the people I date turn out to be scrubs." How can I find the right person for me?
The first step to finding the right person is to set expectations that are realistic. Identifying your future partner by his or her pant or dress size, hair color or shoe size may bring you someone visually appealing, but who may lack the qualities you need to feel happy in a relationship. Have you ever heard people say, "...it seems as though as soon as you stop looking for Mr./Mrs. Right he/she appears?" When one feels pressure to be in a relationship, one may lower expectations in hopes that the other person will change. Without the fear of being alone or feeling pressure to find a mate, however, one begins to adopt the attitude of "I'm perfectly happy being alone. What do you have to offer to make being in a relationship more appealing?" When you are thinking this way, expectations are usually more clearly defined and you are less likely to overlook the important qualities your love interest is lacking.
Try this exercise to begin to clarify the characteristics that are important to you. Imagine you will be sent indefinitely to a deserted island and are able to select three people, dead or alive, to take with you. What characteristics or qualities make those persons dependable companions? Now consider why those characteristics are important to you. Lastly, consider how you would know that a person exhibits the qualities you enjoy in those people you've selected. Use this information as you pursue relationships as a measure for qualities that are important in your mate. Be cautious not to overlook those characteristics that conflict with those that are important to you and you'll be on your way to healthier relationships.
"My boyfriend/girlfriend attends a different college than me. Can a long distance relationship really work?"
ABSOLUTELY! Long Distance relationships can be tough, but with effort, can be successful. Horrific phone costs, obsessions with mailboxes, saying good-bye over and over, all play a large part in romance across the miles. Dating with distance, however, gives you time and space. Who was it that said that distance makes the heart grow fonder?
Here are some Dos and Don'ts to consider which may increase your relationship's chance for success:
- DON'T blame each other for not feeling okay about the distance
- DON'T assume that love by itself will carry you through. DO put an abundance of hard work and creativity into your relationships.
- DON'T feel apologetic about your academic work. DO be sure your relationship is at least equal in priority to your school work.
- DON'T hesitate to bring up whatever is bothering you, no matter how trivial it may seem. DO share your feelings with your partner, fears as well as joys.
- DON'T get angry or clam up if your partner voices concern about your love and fidelity.DO talk about his/her concerns, and find new ways to build trust and assurance. (And if you're having an affair, recognize that it's often a diversion from dealing with your relationship).
- DON'T take the telephone off the hook during a lover's spat.
- DO learn how to effectively and frequently communicate when the two of you have to be apart.
- DON'T expect a fair-tale romance. They don't exist, even for couples who are together all the time.
- DO believe that love and plenty of hard work can result in a great relationship - even if the two of you have to spend time apart.
"I feel attracted to other people of the same sex, how do I know if I'm a gay/lesbian?"
You may not know what to call your sexual feelings. You don't have to rush and decide how to label yourself right now. Our sexual identities develop over time. If you think you might be homosexual, ask yourself:
- When I dream or fantasize sexually, is it about men or women?
- Have I ever had a crush or been in love with a person of the same sex?
- Do I feel different than from other men/women?
- Are my feelings for persons of the same sex true and clear?
If you cannot answer these questions now, don't worry. You will be more sure in time. You and only you know how to label yourself correctly.
"My boy/girlfriend and I are constantly fighting. At times it has even become physical. I think our relationship is abusive, but I'm not sure."
Ask yourself the questions below. If you can answer yes to more than one of them, you are most likely in a relationship that is not healthy and could eventually become dangerous. Remember that love shouldn't hurt.
Are you dating or living with someone who...
- is jealous and possessive toward you; won't let you have friends, checks up on you, or won't accept breaking up?
- tries to control you, gives orders, makes all the decisions, or doesn't take your opinion seriously?
- is scary, threatens you or uses/owns weapons?
- has frequent outbursts of anger, is touchy, or brags about mistreating others
pressures you for sex; is scary and forceful during sex; thinks women are sex objects; manipulates you into having sex with statements such as "If you really loved me, you would....."
- abuses drugs or alcohol and pressures you to use them?
- blames you for his/her mistreatment? says you provoked the incident?
- has a history of bad relationships and blames others for his/her misfortunes and problems?
- hold to the belief that men should be in control and that women should be submissive and passive?
- makes your family or friends worry about your safety?
- threatens your life or the life of someone you love?
- is destructive of your personal property?
If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, the first step is to get help. Call (757) 683-4401 or stop by our office at 1526 Webb Center (north wing) to schedule an appointment.
"I know my relationship is not healthy. I want to end it, but we always seem to get back together. I'm starting to think that I'll never get out of it."
It is often very hard to end a love relationship even when you know it is bad for you. A "bad" relationship is not the kind that is going through the usual periods of disagreement and disenchantment that are inevitable when two separate people come together. A bad relationship is one that involves continual frustration; the relationship seems to have potential but that potential is always just out of reach. In fact, the attachment in such relationships is to someone who is "unattainable" in the sense that he or she is committed to someone else, doesn't want a committed relationship, or is incapable of one. Bad relationships are chronically lacking in what one or both partners need. Such relationships can destroy self-esteem and prevent those involved from moving on in their careers or personal lives. They are often fertile breeding grounds for loneliness, rage, and despair. In bad relationships the two partners are often on such different wavelengths that there is little common ground, little significant communication, and little enjoyment of each other.
Remaining in a bad relationship not only causes continual stress but may even be physically harmful. An obvious harm is the physical abuse that is often a part of such relationships. In a less obvious way, however, the tensions and chemical changes caused by the constant stress can drain energy and lower resistance to physical illness. Continuing in such bad relationships can lead to unhealthy escapes such as alcohol or drug abuse and can even lead to suicide attempts.
In such relationships, individuals are robbed of several essential freedoms: the freedom to be their best selves in the relationship, the freedom to love the other person through choice rather than through dependency, and the freedom to leave a situation that is destructive.
Despite the pain of these relationships, many rational and practical people find that they are unable to leave, even though they know the relationship is bad for them. One part of them wants out but a seemingly stronger part refuses or feels helpless to take any action. It is in this sense that the relationships are "addictive."
Robin Norwood, in her excellent book Women Who Love Too Much outlines a ten step plan for overcoming relationship addiction. While this book is directed toward women, its principles are equally valid for men. Stated here (reordered and sometimes paraphrased), Norwood suggests the following:
- Make your "recovery" the first priority in your life.
- Become "selfish," i.e., focus on getting your own needs met more effectively.
- Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings.
- Cultivate whatever needs to be developed in yourself, i.e., fill in gaps that have made you feel undeserving or bad about yourself.
- Learn to stop managing and controlling others; by being more focused on your own needs, you will no longer need to seek security by trying to make others change.
- Develop your "spiritual" side, i.e., find out what brings you peace and serenity and commit some time, at least half an hour daily, to that endeavor.
- Learn not to get "hooked" into the games of relationships; avoid dangerous roles you tend to fall into, e.g., "rescuer" (helper), "persecutor" (blamer), "victim" (helpless one).
- Find a support group of friends who understand.
- Share with others what you have experienced and learned.
- Consider getting professional help.
"My girlfriend/boyfriend and I just broke up and I don't know how to deal with this. Will I ever get over him/her?"
There is no one best way to cope with the breakup of a relationship. Each of us is different. Some people find that it helps to lose themselves in the company of friends. Some don't want to be around people. Some people find it helps to get away to an entirely different set of conditions. Some immediately try to look for a new love interest. Most who try this find that until they get over a previous love, a new relationship is impossible. Nevertheless, there are some important guidelines for coping.
First, don't try to immediately repress the hurt. You may only succeed in pushing it beneath the surface where it will eventually make itself manifest in some undesirable, hard-to-uncover form--a general mistrust of affection, a lowered self-concept, general hostility, or whatever. So the first step is to accept your hurt as normal and expected. Confront it openly and honestly, but in small, manageable doses. It's perfectly all right to feel totally miserable. You are not "weak." You don't have to apologize or explain to anyone. In short, accept your hurt as normal and expected, and allow yourself the opportunity to openly work through it.
If you feel "stuck" in a pattern and unable to change it, talking to a professional counselor may help. The Office of Counseling Services offers a variety of individual and group services for all currently enrolled students. All services are free, voluntary, and confidential. Call (757) 683-4401 or drop by 1526 Webb Center (North Wing) to schedule an appointment.