Side Effects of Maintaining Relationships in College


Illustration by Isabella Rios

   Relationships in college can be hard. It can be difficult to find time for yourself, nonetheless for others as well. It may seem like you’re already giving all of yourself in your work and school load. With the holidays around the corner, it can be daunting to think about navigating a relationship with your significant other. You may find yourself struggling with having to sacrifice either work or study time to spend time with your partner.

    Maybe you’re feeling pressure in your relationship, and the weight is becoming overwhelming with the already suffocating pressures of school work, or maybe you’ve been dodging a relationship altogether in avoidance of these pressures. The question remains; is this just heightened anxieties at play, or can relationships in college do more harm than good? 

    Dr. Tiffany Berzins, assistant professor of Psychology at CSU, informs that “dysfunctional relationships can adversely impact our well-being, especially if relationships are full of conflict or relationship partners pressure us into performing unhealthy behaviors — e.g., procrastinating, substance use, etc.” It is important that students recognize if their partner is becoming a bad influence on them, especially if it is affecting their work. 

   While Dr. Berzins warns against unhealthy behavior in relationships, her focus remains more on the positives of maintaining a healthy relationship while bearing the student workload. Dr. Berzins explains that there are mountains of evidence supporting claims that having a significant other can provide the resources needed to reduce both physical and psychological stress. 

    “It would actually be very unhealthy for students to cut out the time they spend with close others,” Dr. Berzins stated. An essay published by the American Psychological Association, titled “Advancing Social Connection as a Public Health Priority in the United States,” claims that “Humans need others to survive…social connection is crucial to human development, health, and survival.” Their research shows how “the presence of a supportive person or even thinking about supportive others can attenuate cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to stress.”

    The same essay explains that “being socially connected is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.” This prediction of life expectancy proved to outweigh when compared to other factors that affect life span such as obesity, levels of physical activity, and even negative health effects due to air pollution. 

    In addition, a relationship can positively or negatively affect more immediate physical health, with an evident linking of relationships-to stress-to immune health. “People literally get sick with the flu/colds when they are stressed — which is already higher during finals for college students and can be exacerbated by conflict in relationships,” said Berzins.  

    In another essay published by the APA, titled “Loneliness Predicts Self-Reported Cold Symptoms After a Viral Challenge” by Angie S. Leroy found that “those with less social network diversity —i.e., participation in different types of social relationships—experienced more objectively measured cold symptoms than those with more social network diversity.” It seems that without the support of a partner, or amid loneliness in general, a common cold can become increasingly uncomfortable. 

    While the health benefits of having a partner to share things with are evident, the holidays pose their own threats through relationship pressures. This can be a demanding season, and a partner with their own needs may add to that stress. Maybe you’re traveling with that person and/or spending an increased amount of time together. Dr. Berzins suggests that it is important to maintain the self during these times; find a moment to exercise, do yoga, watch television, or read a book, anything to de-stress on your own. On the other hand the holiday’s may leave you maintaining a relationship from afar, in which case you may find use of video chatting, and sending one another picture updates so you still feel involved in each other’s lives. 

    Alone time is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship, but too much may result in loneliness. Advancing Social Connection’s findings show that size of an individual’s inner social circle has significantly decreased with a decline of one third since 1985. In addition they claim, “widespread smartphone use has diminished the quality of interpersonal exchanges, so much so that the problem of being alone together has emerged as a meaningful cultural reference.” 

    With increasing use of technology, and the already declining size of inner circles, they predict that loneliness will inevitably increase along with ages of individuals of the current population. Battling loneliness in today’s culture may mean that you find time to put the phone down, disconnect, and be present. 

    Despite the decrease in social networks, and the increase of loneliness, much of society expects young people to find a significant other, get married, and have children. Health benefits aside, this can be damaging to college aged students, looking ahead to graduation. While romantic relationships can be highly beneficial to the mind, body, and soul, rushing into one can result in opposing these benefits, and likely lead to other turmoil and stress within. 

    Dr. Berzins recognizes that people marrying and having children later in life has become a growing societal shift, encouraging students that more importantly, “Being clear with yourself and others about where you are developmentally and what your personal goals are for work and family will help you navigate young adulthood and avoid pressure to make life changes you may not want to make.”

    In a culture that seemingly struggles with the navigation of relationships amid the overwhelmingly busy lifestyles that we all lead, it is nice to know that statistics show hope for love, that maybe it can conquer all like the movies say — or at least the common cold. Evidently, it is worth it to carve out fun time and do things with your partner, or even those within your inner circle. You shouldn’t feel guilty about spending your entire Sunday laughing, snacking and cuddling through an entire binge series with your significant other on the couch when maybe you should’ve been doing homework instead. Make that time, go on that date, hangout with those friends you haven’t seen in ages, be present, and enjoy your inner circle, especially your partner; it just may save your life!