Relationships - whether family or intimate relationships with a partner - can be a great source of love, pleasure, support and excitement. However, they can also be a source of grief and anguish if they go wrong.

The issue is made more relevant for students by the fact that most people in a university are in a  period of personal change, which can make them feel less sure of what they want or how they can expect others to react.

Research into what makes relationships work successfully - whether family  relationships, friendships or partnerships- tend to come up with the same few things:

  • Acceptance of difference: People in successful relationships do not try to force the others to be exactly like them; they work to accept difference even when this difference is  profound.·       
  • Capacity for boundaries: People are aware that there is a point where they stop and the other person begins. Sadly, it's unrealistic to expect others to solve all our problems or meet all our needs - even though we may hope for this at times.
  • Operating  mainly in the present: Once relationships either focus on repeatedly picking over past events or  else are based only on the hope that things will be better tomorrow, they tend  to go off the rails.·       
  • Respect for individual choice: It is accepted that each person has the right to decide their own direction in life: the relationship then adapts to follow this.
  • Skill in negotiating: Once each individual has decided what they want, the couple or family are able to work out a way to fulfil these different goals without anyone having to compromise totally.
  • Sharing positive feelings: In a couple this maybe sexual intimacy; however it can also just be pleasantness and kindness, as it is in a family.
  • They have lost touch with this instinctive good sense and become over-anxious about our relationships. This may be because we have lost our own self-respect and sense of our personal worth; it may be because we are impersonal distress and so putting too much pressure on our relationships; it may be because we have had unfortunate experiences in past relationships and so have temporarily lost our ability to trust.

We may have been out of touch with our ability to make successful relationships for so long that we may doubt if we ever had it. However, most  people seem able to recover these skills if they put their mind to it.

Much work on improving a relationship can start with the individual. If one person is clear and reasoned about what they want and more consistent about how they ask for it, the whole relationship can begin to be put on a different basis.