By Osage Ekue
College students have many obligations during their time on campus. Meeting the minimum credit hour per semester, participating in extracurricular activities, internships, and maintaining a good GPA are all essential, and have to be balanced with a new social life. The freedom students experience on campus can be challenging, particularly for students whose parents have instilled in them that their academics must come first. College students are forced to navigate life in a different environment than the one they are used to, and have to grow up quickly. This reality is difficult for many students, and can sometimes be very stressful.
As a rising junior at Howard University I have found social life on campus to be rewarding in that it helped alleviate some of the other stressors college living can bring. Students are granted the opportunity to meet new people, find themselves and make decisions without the consent of their parents. This is particularly true with regard to dating and intimate relationships. While in college it is very likely students will encounter someone (or many people) that will spark their romantic interests. Establishing healthy boundaries at the beginning of any relationship is key to understanding each other’s expectations.
Building a solid foundation includes: healthy communications, trust, honesty and respect. Developing a deep friendship with a potential partner prior to becoming committed is important because it allows two individuals to really get to know one another, set boundaries, deal with conflict in a healthy manner and address dislikes, or unhealthy behaviors before they become fully committed. It is vital that college students get to know their partner’s overall outlook on different aspects of life, such as social matters, political stances, or religious points of view. I have witnessed many arguments over these and other issues that could potentially negatively impact intimate relationships.
Initially creating a bond with a potential partner that is less intense or demanding is essential to the overall health of the relationship because partners learn how to properly treat one another while leaving space for other platonic relationships. Committing too quickly can be problematic because partners become too emotionally invested and dependent on one another. This could potentially produce toxic habits like jealously, disrespect, emotional and psychological harm and disagreements which could lead to additional harmful types of behaviors if left unchecked.
I have witnessed unhealthy relationships where both partners were too dependent on one another which resulted in isolation from their peers and serious disagreements. As a result, they both placed high expectations on each other that were unbearable and ultimately ended the relationship. Furthermore, there are couples that lacked trust and began to question their partners every move or motive which quickly escalated into a toxic relationship. Infidelity amongst college students is common and emerges from partners who do not feel fulfilled, immaturity, emotional negligence and, sometimes, pure disrespect. Students must know and believe in their self-worth, and establish clear boundaries to avoid on-going mistreatment and emotionally abusive relationships.
Honesty and communication are critical to keeping any intimate relationship positive and vital. Open communication allows intimate partners the ability to resolve personal issues and builds healthy connections. Having good communication skills will also allow intimate partners to feel heard and valued which allows more of their authentic self to be expressed rather than suppressed.
Recognizing the early warning signs of a toxic, and potentially dangerous relationship can reduce additional stress as students navigate their way through college. Ending a toxic relationship early or seeking counseling can also prevent further harm and promote healing. Check with your college to see what campus resources are available should you or a friend need help, and look for resources on healthy relationships such as SCCADVASA’s #REALationships101 campaign (http://www.sccadvasa.org/Healthy-Relationships-101/).
To learn more about SCCADVASA and their advocacy, awareness, education and prevention initiatives across our state, or to find your local domestic violence and sexual assault organization in your community, call 803-256-2900 or visit them online at sccadvasa.org.