Ask a Psychologist: Romantic relationship pressures

Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist for K-State Counseling Services, answers questions about sleep and how it affects school work and life. (File Photo by Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

Ask A Psychologist is a continuing series of advice and discussion from Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist at K-State Counseling Services, geared towards student-based questions and situations.

Entering college can be a time when students might feel new pressures to start a relationship or take relationships a step further than they did in high school. Society and what others are doing around us can have a lot of influence on what we think is right.

What is a good way for someone to personally know if they’re ready for a relationship?

Mailey: If you believe it. The challenge occurs if someone thinks they’re ready, but there are previous issues that make it more challenging. An example is if you’ve just ended a relationship and there are residual impacts from that. Another example might be factors that are present that make it difficult for you to have a healthy relationship. For an individual without those struggles, think about your experiences and memories, and if you think those experiences you’ve had would be enriched with another person.

How might students develop ideas for what they want in a relationship going into college, and not just what they think is expected for a relationship in college?

Mailey: When thinking about a relationship, think about the values that are meaningful for you. If you’re sacrificing those values to be in a relationship, it might not be healthy. For example, if you value being outdoors and being active, and your partner is more inclined to want you to stay inside, you might be countering to your values. If you enjoy getting out and socializing and being with a lot of people but your partner just wants to be alone all the time, again you might be countering your values.

As far as values and expectations, sometimes being open to things can be helpful as well. Maybe someone you’re romantically interested in is let’s just say, interested in spiders – is this a point where it means the relationship won’t work, or is it a place of compromise? Is it stretching your comfort zone? That’s the point where the relationship might not work.

How might you overcome the fear of not being experienced enough for a relationship with the person you really like?

Mailey: Think about level of comfort. For example, if there are things you’re being asked to do by your partner, you want to be mindful if you’re being pressured into something that isn’t really what you want. Relationships are supposed to be fun. Questions to ask yourself are: Does this person make you happy? Are there anxieties? And if there are, you should voice those anxieties, either to friends you can trust or the other person.

Other questions that someone might fear in a new relationship are, “How often should I call or hang out with the other person?” Well, the answer is however often you feel like hanging out with the other person. There is no right answer.

What if students aren’t in a relationship, how might they deal with the pressure that they should be? Or if they’re looking for a serious relationship while most others around them just want to have fun?

Mailey: It’s important to remember that the word “should” puts rigid and unexpected expectations on us. What do you want at this point in time? Think: What are you in college for? And what do you want in your life at this point in time? If you feel people are pressuring you, you can say to them that a relationship isn’t where you are in that point in your life. Maybe you’re trying to enjoy being single and don’t want that pressure of a relationship.

What’s your advice for someone who is questioning what the definition of a successful relationship is?

Mailey: Successful relationships are all about asking yourself if core values are aligned. The expression goes that opposites attract, and in many ways that’s very true. Things such as hobbies, likes and friends may be opposite, but core values should align. For example, tastes in music might totally misalign. At one point in your life, that might be a deal-breaker, but really it comes down to personalities and core values. When you really get to know the person, is that who you fall in love with?

If you’re looking for a healthy relationship idea, look at healthy relationships in your life … what are they demonstrating in their relationships? Maybe it’s your parents, and if not your parents, maybe your grandparents? Or even close friends that have been in a relationship for a while. You can even ask people, what has kept your relationship healthy for so long? And you’re going to get a lot of different answers, and that’s the thing is there’s no right answer, it all depends on their personalities.

You can send in your own topics or specific questions for future Ask A Psychologist columns through the Collegian’s social media pages, or email with your thoughts.