Support key to healthy bonds

Photo by Allyson Stone

Relationships are an important part of college life for many students, but no relationship is perfect. As Valentine’s Day approaches, for those traversing the minefield of romance there can be a great deal pressure to make sure that it is a memorable occasion.

Whether two people are taking their first steps towards love or in a stable long-term relationship, differences of opinion can emerge that could cause problems if everyone’s feelings are not considered ahead of time.

“It’s important to communicate about how you and your partner would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day, if at all, and not to make assumptions. What one person considers romantic and how they express love may be very different from their partner’s perspective,” said Dr. Irene Dalton, licensed psychologist and practicum coordinator for Tech’s Counseling Center.

Because expressions of love sometimes differ between partners, knowing these preferences can also improve the relationship experience overall.

“I think it’s important to consider all of the ways that people express their feelings—through quality time, touch, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts. If you can understand what the love language of your partner is, then you can better grow in your relationship with them,” said Audrey Meinders, a third-year CS major.

According to Dr. Dalton, the same can be said for gift exchanges, which many people take different approaches to. Knowing the expectations of a significant other can avoid misunderstandings on the day.

“If one expresses love through words, he or she may expect a card or a poem; however, if the other partner expresses romantic feelings by action, something as simple as fixing a broken computer could be considered a romantic gesture. Of course, the partner who expects a more sensitive gesture may feel slighted by such a ‘gift’, even though he or she thought that it was an act of love,””Dr. Dalton said.

Generally speaking, some habits that are made in the relationships that begin in college often affect the way relationships are approached later in life. In order to develop positive connections going forward, self-reflection can lead to personal growth and better connections going forward.

Dr. Dalton emphasized that when someone recognizes a pattern and explores the source, it can become easier to make different choices.

“All past relationship dynamics influence future ones. It can be problematic when we aren’t aware of the impact of past relationships because it then becomes easy to repeat old patterns. Being aware of them can help you take active steps towards healthier relationships,” Dr. Dalton said.

Coping with the end of a relationship can be a difficult experience as well, with the danger of reacting inappropriately or even dangerously, becoming depressed or behaving in such a way that could disrupt their academic and personal lives. Taking care of personal needs can be the healthiest road to recovery from heartache.

“Try to return to your normal schedule as quickly as possible, because it’s comforting to resume a familiar routine. Hit the gym—exercise can give you an immediate mood lift, energy, and a sense of accomplishment and well-being. Surround yourself with support, and take the opportunity to gain confidence in your abilities to function as a single, independent person,” Dr. Dalton said.

From another perspective, Dr. Dalton stressed the dangers of idealizing past relationships or exposing oneself to things that evoke sad memories, like listening to a song that reminds you of the other person, which could trigger a relapse into post-breakup melancholy and depression.

“Give yourself permission to grieve. It’s natural to feel a range of emotions and it is important to allow yourself to express them. At the same time, avoid contact with your ex-partner during the healing process. This could cause you to undo the progress you’ve made by potentially reactivating the pain,” Dr. Dalton said.

Still, when building and maintaining a healthy relationship, simply spending quality time together and communicating can be the foundation for a beneficial connection—whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any day of the year.

“Being honest and making the time to be together are both really important. It can be hard to put the other person first, especially at Tech with all of the other things we have going on in our lives. But rather than just giving a gift, setting aside an opportunity for quality time is the best thing you can do,” said Jamie Barnwell, a fourth-year CS major.