Ask Alicia

Dear Alicia:

For the last two years, my girlfriend and I have been going through our ups and downs, but we have managed to make it through everything.

Now we have a new problem, and I’m dumbfounded on how to fix it. Since the semester started, I can tell that we’ve calmed down physically and are distancing ourselves from each other.

How can we improve our communication and begin to get our relationship back to where it was? Please help me if you can.

Sincerely,
Lost One

Dear Lost One:

What you and your girlfriend are experiencing is very common – if not necessary – in relationships.

People often get their notions of how a relationship should work from media outlets like TV and movies. But a study by Johnson and Holmes published in 2009 in Communication Quarterly notes that movies depict relationships on a rapid pace where couples seldom fight – except for one big argument that’s immediately reconciled. Most of the time, the partners are happy together without constant, necessary communication about wants and needs.

These misconceptions give real couples unrealistic and unachievable expectations that often end in disappointment. It’s normal to fight with your partner, and you’re right in assuming communication is the most important element of a relationship.

Studies about handling conflict within relationships find that the most important factors of getting through an argument are sincere listening, asking for help instead of demanding it and minimizing blame, according to a 2009 study by Domingue & Mollen published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships It is vital to avoid blaming your partner because there is always responsibility from both partners
in a disagreement.

Keep in mind: a relationship with someone is reciprocal – your behavior affects both parties

The second part of your question is a problem that many people struggle with: how to keep the spark alive? Avoiding one another and lack of positive commitment is correlated with relationship failure, according to a 2009 study by Birnie, McClure, Lydon & Holmberg.

The Web site for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, twoofus.org, suggests you should try and have weekly dates to keep the spark alive in your relationship. Go out, have fun and try new things. Sign up for a cooking class or go on a day trip through the Campus Recreation Center.

A study in 2009 by Gaine and La Guardia showed that partners who enjoy activities together and make a sincere effort to better their relationship increase the levels of satisfaction.

Still, as you mentioned, physical connection is important in a relationship. This is not limited to sex. All types of touch in a relationship – including backrubs, hand holding, kissing and cuddling – can create closeness between partners, according to a recent study by Gallace & Spence, so make the extra effort to give her hugs, hold her hand and brush the hair out of her face.

Be open with your girlfriend, listen to her with an empathetic ear and make sure you go out of your way to remind her how important your relationship is.

Relationships are hard work, but they are extremely rewarding. When times are tough, make an effort to remind yourself and your partner why you are putting in the work to make it last.

But also recognize that people change, especially in college. Twoofus.org encourages couples to constantly reevaluate who they are as individuals and as a couple. Make sure you are comfortable and confident with who you are, and the relationship will follow.

Best of luck.

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