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Common Questions About Relationships, and Some Answers

I've never been very good at relationships, of any kind. I don't even know how or where to begin.

Relationships begin with you, because you are half of any relationship you join. So start with yourself! Don't count on a relationship to "cure" a poor self-image. It won't work. But here are some measures that can:

I don't think I have a poor self-concept. I feel pretty good about myself. But this is a big university, and it's easy to get lost in the crowd. How do I go about meeting people?

Your question implies that you see meeting people as something which requires effort, and you're right! No matter how stunningly attractive you may be, passively waiting for others to throw themselves your way not only doesn't work very reliably, it doesn't allow you to be very choosy. Here are some common-sense approaches which you may find helpful:

One thing that's difficult for me in relationships is "hanging on to myself." It seems that once I get close to someone -- roommate, friend, or lover -- I give in and accommodate so much that there's nothing left of me.

It's hard to experience fulfillment in a relationship which is not equal and reciprocal. The best way to avoid "giving yourself up" in a relationship is to develop some assertiveness skills. Learn how to express your feelings, beliefs, opinions, and needs openly and honestly. Here are some guidelines:

Won't I lose my friends and lover if I always insist on getting my own way?

Assertiveness is not about always getting your way. Nor is it about coercing or manipulating. Those are acts of aggression. An assertion does not violate another's rights, and it does not preclude compromise. But a compromise, by definition, meets the needs of both people as much as possible. If your friend or lover is unwilling to compromise or has no respect for your feelings, maybe there's not so much to lose.

My romantic partner and I seem to be coming from different worlds sometimes. It's pretty frustrating. What can we do about it?

It's normal for relationship partners to have different needs in at least few areas, such as: spending time with others vs. spending time with each other, wanting "quality time" together vs. needing time to be alone, going out dancing vs. going to a ballgame, etc. Differing needs don't mean your relationship is coming apart, but it is important to communicate about them to avoid misunderstandings.

Even when we're communicating well in other areas, my partner and I often get bogged down when it comes to talking about sex. I often feel we have very different expectations in this area.

First of all, it is important to be aware of your own feelings: how you feel about your partner, how comfortable you feel in his or her presence, what does and doesn't feel comfortable or desirable in terms of physical closeness or sexual contact. Trust your gut feelings.

I hear a lot about "co-dependency" in relationships. What exactly is that?

Co-dependency originally referred to the spouses or partners of alcoholics and the ways they attempt to control the effects of the other person's dependency on alcohol or drugs. More recently, the term has been used to refer to any relationship in which one person feels incomplete without the other and thus tries to control him/her. Some characteristics of co-dependency are:

A healthy relationship is one that allows for the individuality and growth of both persons, is open to change, and allows both individuals to express their feelings and needs.

A lot of your answers seem to assume we're talking about heterosexual relationships. What about same-sex relationships? Do the same principles apply?

All humans have the same needs for love, safety, and commitment. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are no different. All evidence suggests that same-sex attraction, while rarer than other-sex attraction, is simply a different orientation, not a "perversion," anymore than being blue-eyed or left-handed (also relatively rare) are "perversions." But there are some differences:

Why do gays and lesbians stay hidden so much? One of my friends didn't tell me he was gay until after I had known him a full year.

What about bisexuals? Are they for real, or just very confused?

For a long time, bisexuals were thought to be confused, "half-and-half" people. But there is growing recognition that while some people who think of themselves as bisexual may be in transition towards one orientation or the other, many genuinely feel strong attraction towards people of both genders. They're not so much "half" as "both" - they feel no confusion, and have no desire to change.

I hate ending relationships. Even though I look forward to summer vacation, saying goodbye to friends in May is miserable. And breaking up with romantic partners never seems to go well.

Saying goodbye is one the most avoided and feared human experiences. As a culture, we have no clear-cut rituals for ending relationships or saying goodbye to valued others. So we are often unprepared for the variety of feelings we experience in the process. Here are some guidelines many people find helpful:

I seem to get into the same pattern in all my relationships. I get afraid of losing my partner; then we get into a big argument and break up in anger. Sometimes I even think I may have picked a fight just because I'm scared to keep the relationship going. Does this make any sense?

Yes, it makes a lot of sense, and congratulations on recognizing a pattern. That's the first step towards change. People get into a variety of painful or "dysfunctional" patterns in relationships. Often, those patterns are based on old fears and "unfinished business" from childhood.

If you feel "stuck" in a pattern and unable to change it, talking to a professional counselor may help. Counseling Services offers a variety of individual and group services for all currently enrolled students. All services are free, voluntary, and confidential. Call 645-2720 or drop by 120 Richmond Quad to schedule an initial appointment.


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