College students struggle with relationships

Some people enter their first committed relationship during college.

On the one hand, romantic relationships can be wonderful and bring out the best in two people.

On the other, even the healthiest relationship will have times when things are complicated, confusing and challenging.

Problems sometimes arise when two people have conflicting expectations of what their relationship “should” be like, are distracted by other academic or personal issues, or have difficulty communicating in ways that their partner can really hear and understand.

Each of us enters a romantic relationship with unique hopes and expectations. We dream that this other person might be the “one” for us. We have some notions about what we do and don’t want based on family relationships, the media, past relationships and, according to Iyanla Vanzant, author of “In the Meantime,” that is when problems occur.

While the early months of a relationship are often effortless and exciting, successful long-term relationships involve ongoing effort and compromise by both partners. Because relationship skills are rarely “taught,” sometimes one or both partners just may not know how to establish and maintain a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship.

“In the beginning I was on point, dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s trying to get my girl, but it’s like once I got her it went to my head and I kind of stopped doing what I was supposed to do to keep her,” said Zachary Lattimore, 19, a first year business student from Miami.

While it is easy and convenient to assume that your partner knows your wants and needs, this is not often the case and is the source of much stress in relationships. In healthy relationships, there is respect for each partner’s right to have his or her own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions. It is problematic to expect or demand that he or she have the same priorities, goals, and interests as you or to expect that your partner will “give up” other interests, activities, and friends “for the relationship.” “My boyfriend chooses to smoke, as much as I despise his habit and try to persuade him not to do it, he still does and it’s been this way for the past eight months,” said Sheena Hawkins, 22, a fourth-year pharmacy student of Jacksonville.

Most of us know that keeping a vehicle moving in the desired direction requires not only regular re-fueling, but also ongoing maintenance and active corrections to the steering to compensate for changes in the road. A similar situation applies to continuing relationships.

According to Gottman, John M. and Nan Silver, authors of, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” relationships benefit the most when partners recognize the expectations they bring into the relationship and consider the different ways these expectations are affecting the relationship. This task is often challenging for both partners.

The seven basic steps to maintaining a healthy relationship are:

1. Be aware of what you and your partner want for yourselves and what you want from the relationship.

2. Let each other 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 bet outside of the relationship.

4. Be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from each other.

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 each other 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 “coaching” early rather than waiting until it gets serious.

Also, If feelings of distress arise in a relationship, individual or couples counseling may be the answer. Counseling can help you identify problematic patterns in your relationship and coach individuals in future relationships.

Contact Terveris Smith at