Fall semester topics

Valentine’s day – commitment

Being a student and being in a committed relationship can present you with important life roles that sometimes feel incompatible and conflictual and at other times feel quite harmonious. Your relationship can provide you with important emotional support as you cope with the stresses of school and work, but at the same time represent additional responsibilities and demands on your time. Not surprisingly, trying to fill both roles can be a confusing and frustrating experience. As a couple, communication, and the way you handle inevitable "boundary issues" can greatly influence the quality of your life together and the quality of your student experience.

As a student, you may expect to lead irregular hours and drop everything else in order to do the "crash" project of the day. Also, you may place a high value on independent, spontaneous activity. In some way, you may tend to put your relationship on "hold," expecting that difficulties such as unequal divisions of labor will magically disappear once you have your degree. Your partner, on the other hand, may expect you to provide predictable time, to work together to common interests, to play, and especially to communicate. Expectations for attention, emotional support and affection carry implicit expectations of time together. You may feel that you do not have enough time to fulfill all of your partner's expectations. Couples who derive satisfaction from both their relationship and their academic pursuits, tend to understand what the other's expectations are, reduce or modify certain expectations as needed, and then learn how to establish fairly clear approaches and routines for fulfilling those readjusted expectations.

Maintaining quality in a relationship requires communication. Partners need to express positive feelings, negative feelings, complaints, needs, and above all, affection. In the academic context, where the environment so clearly emphasizes the importance and independence of academic activities and perhaps by omission deemphasizes relationships and connectedness, the obvious commitment to equality and the time needed to express that commitment require careful negotiation. The student partner may need to communicate that his/her partner's needs and activities are important, too; that the impact of decisions on each person is significant; and that each person has dignity and worth as an individual. This positive context is especially important when working out possible sensitive "boundary issues."

Boundaries, especially time boundaries, are important because in school there is always more to be done. That does not necessarily change after graduation. It is important to learn how to set limits now. Ironically, you will probably be more effective in school and in your career if you adopt a lifestyle that allows time to take care of your work and your relationships. Above all, schedule regular and specific times to spend with your partner free of school and household responsibilities. You may enjoy being together as you do necessary tasks, but that does not adequately meet your need for time alone as a couple. Try treating these scheduled times with the same respect you would a meeting time with a boss or an advisor…more, in fact, since your partner is more important than your boss or advisor. Similarly, each of you needs to learn to say "no" to outsiders requests for time that exceed the priorities the two of you have set. Relevant questions may include,

What am I sacrificing by spending my time this way?
Is it more important than time with my partner?
(Source of info above: Counseling Center at University of Illinois)

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