Three tips for navigating relationships during university

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Juggling love and midterms is never easy

Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

Relationships will always have their challenges, but for students with busy schedules filled with homework, class, jobs, friends, hobbies, and everything else in between, where do we find the time for love?

As someone who has been in a long term relationship from the start to the finish of her undergraduate (and still going strong six years in!), I’ve learned a few things along the way that might help other students manage stress, conflict, and change while they’re in a relationship. While I’m no expert, here are three tips that have helped me navigate love and school.

Language matters

Conflict is inevitable in relationships, even in the happiest of ones. In my experience, conflict that is managed productively leads to a deeper understanding of your partner, but if blaming and shaming rear their ugly heads, a small incident can spiral into something larger.

An important trick I’ve learned when it comes to handling conflict is avoiding the use of words like “always” and “never.” Sweeping generalizations will usually make people defensive, so it’s helpful to avoid statements like “You never do the dishes.” Instead, try saying “I feel like you haven’t done the dishes lately”— this will help create healthier communication between you and your partner. 

For the same reason, I try to make “I” statements instead of “you” statements, as “I” statements focus on your feelings without assigning blame. For me, this shift in communication strategy has helped me navigate conflict more constructively — and with fewer tears, as I definitely cry when I get stressed out. There’s nothing worse than having a midterm and fighting with your partner during the same week, and this tip has helped me avoid that exact situation. 

Gratitude journaling

Stress is a permanent state students exist in. After the semester, it feels so strange not to be suffocating from the pressure of endless deadlines that it takes me weeks to decompress. This is a tip that’s helped me feel happier throughout my relationship and my undergraduate — a gratitude journal. 

When I’m actively maintaining the process, I write a list of three reasons why I am grateful for my partner. Sometimes I’m grateful for the important things, like their ability to listen to me openly and without judgement. Other days, I’m just really grateful that they made me a grilled cheese when I felt overwhelmed. This practice has shifted my thinking into a more positive framework, and when I’m happier, it permeates into my relationship. 

 My journaling has helped me find the positives in life. Finding small moments of joy during a stressful semester has benefitted me throughout university, and it’s definitely strengthened my relationship. It can be hard maintaining a regular journaling practice, and I’ve gone through months where I forget to journal, but the blank pages are always there when I decide to return to it.

Accepting change

Change is usually a positive thing, but our minds and bodies rarely react to it as such. As psychologist Dr. Nicole Lepera discusses in her book How To Do The Work, humans have been hardwired to resist change. It’s what kept us safe for the majority of human history, which is why change feels so terrifying. 

When we’re in our late teens and early twenties, change is inescapable — we move out, make new friends, find ourselves. This can cause an overflow of anxiety. Change in relationships is inevitable too — individuals grow, values transform, goals shift. It can feel like a threat to our safety when a romantic partner changes. Maybe they want to move to a new city, maybe their career dreams evolve. 

My partner and I are entirely different people from who we were six years ago, and we both agree that allowing each other to grow and flourish has been one of the best parts of our relationship. That doesn’t mean change hasn’t come without some hiccups, though. 

When I feel myself resisting change, like when my partner decided to switch jobs and I was worried about spending less time together, I remind myself of these three things. First, take a deep breath. Second, the only constant in life is change. And third, be present. Learning how to accept change instead of resisting it has alleviated heaps of anxiety from my life, but it takes time. So be patient and forgiving with yourself. 

These small tips have had significant impacts in my life while navigating a relationship during a busy school semester. UVic can also assist students with advice and resources from health professionals, as their counselors can talk to you about university, relationships, and everything in between.

Relationship counselling can be accessed at the Health and Wellness Building.