Tough Relationship Decisions
Photo: Nicole Pasia
Relationships with friends, family members, and significant others can be complicated, especially in college when you’re in the midst of tremendous personal development and change. It’s likely that you’ll deal with at least one tough relationship decision during your time at UW, and when you’re in that situation, you can feel pretty anxious and unhappy. Here are some ways to respond:
- Identify your limits. Everyone has limits — physical, mental, and emotional. There’s a line between what you can accept and tolerate and what makes you uncomfortable and stressed. Do you get irritated when your mom calls nearly every day? Use these feelings to identify your limits.
- Notice your feelings. Discomfort and resentment often signal that someone has crossed a boundary. In an article on boundary-setting, psychologist Dana Gionta suggests that resentment is often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves beyond our own limits because we feel guilty. Even if we don’t enjoy it, we might listen to a friend who’s always complaining because that’s what we think a “good friend” should do, for example, or we study all the time in order to be the “good student” our parents want us to be. Resentment often arises when we feel unappreciated or taken advantage of, or when someone imposes their expectations, views, or values on us.
- Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is a way to take care of yourself. Good relationships require space for individuals to be themselves and make independent choices; they aren’t about being inseparable. When you set healthy boundaries, you will be happier and have more energy for your parents, partner, or friends when you choose to interact with them.
Think about your limits when setting boundaries, then ask for what you need. For example, tell your mother you’d like to talk to her two times a week rather than every day. Let her know you’d like to find times when you can give her your full attention. If you don’t like to party but your friend does, you don’t need to join him; instead, tell him that you’ve noticed your interests are diverging, and invite him to join you on a hike instead.
- End a relationship if needed. Sometimes relationships need to be ended, especially if you are experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Other times, the decision to end a relationship is more difficult, particularly a romantic relationship in which you’ve invested hopes for the future. You may find yourself going back and forth on a decision about whether to stay or go. In some cases, you may want to seek counseling to see if you can improve the relationship. If issues can’t be resolved, or if this is simply not the relationship you want at this point in your life, you owe it to yourself and the other person to break off the relationship. Follow these tips to break up in a way that is respectful.
- Forge Your Own Path. Healthy relationships are those that support you and encourage you to live the life you want to live. You may have an idea for the way you want to live your life or a career you want to pursue that differs radically from others’ expectations for you or from societal messages of what you “should” be. Resisting the pressure to comply with those expectations requires courage. Margie Warrell who offers advice on forging your path suggests “building bravery in increments” – “Start by breaking some small rules and build from there. Make your own plans. Express your own style. Build your own life… As much as people around you may want you to succeed, no one else but you is responsible for your happiness and creating your own definition of success.”