Maintaining Healthy Relationship Boundaries at College

By Victoria Robertson on March 22, 2020

When you and a significant other live in the same dorm, it’s difficult to keep things separate and ensure that you are leaving yourself with plenty of opportunities not to get too caught up in everything. Proximity can be a great thing for a relationship, but too much of it can be detrimental. For this reason, keeping proper boundaries at college is essential to ensuring your relationships withstands the test of time.

That all being said, this is easier said than done, especially when you are both living in the same dorm. So rather than fall victim to the typical pitfalls of college relationships, make sure you set up effective boundaries! For this reason, you should ensure that you’re following the below, eight tips in order to maintain healthy relationship boundaries while at college.

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1. Say “No” When Necessary

It can be difficult to say “no” to plans, but it’s essential that you do, at least on occasion. While it’s easy to get caught up in a relationship and want to spend every waking moment together, this prevents the both of you from exploring things for yourself, which can make you too dependent on one another, resulting in major problems in the event of a breakup. In addition, it can completely eliminate the excitement of spending time together, as it becomes habitual.

You don’t want to take this matter too far by continuously canceling plans or never saying “yes” to any plans, but you do want to ensure you are staying true to your beliefs and ensuring you aren’t spending too much time with one another, especially if you feel the relationship is impeding your ability to enjoy your college experience on your own.

If you feel that you’re spending too much time together, or that you both could benefit from doing things with others, you should certainly capitalize on that feeling. Saying “no” may feel harsh sometimes, but in the end, it’s the only thing that’s going to keep your relationship progressing and ensure that, when you do spend time together, it’s that much more special.

2. Do Things Alone

Spending time alone is never a bad thing. There’s a reason that modern society has coined the phrase “self-care,” as it’s so important to take time for yourself to really get to know yourself. While it sounds a little ridiculous, it’s true. College is your chance to figure out who you are, what you want to do and who you want to be. If you are dating someone, this is slightly more challenging, as you can easily get wrapped into someone else’s experience rather than venturing out and figuring things out on your own.

For this reason, not every experience has to be shared with your significant other. If you’re really interested in something on campus, you should go, but be careful about who you bring. You don’t want to involve your significant other in every event, but they can go if you truly want to spend the time together. Just make sure that you are really considering what things need to be done alone, and which experiences can be shared with the person that you love.

3. Do Things Together 

As previously mentioned, you do not need to do everything alone. Just because spending time on your own is a great idea, that is not to say that doing things together every once in a while is a mistake. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary that you spend enough time together to keep your relationship progressing in a positive direction. If you constantly say “no,” or never invite the other individual to do things with you, you’ll find yourself in a rut rather quickly.

Definitely make sure that you are keeping a nice balance on things that you do alone versus things that you do together. For instance, if there is a visiting comedian or band playing on campus, that’s a great date night for you and your significant other. However, if there’s a campus discussion on a topic you’re passionate about, it may be more beneficial for you to attend alone. While you do want to involve your significant other in things that you’re passionate about, you don’t want to overdo it, either. And, more importantly, you want to take the necessary time and set it aside for yourself. So just consider the options and make the decision that’s right for you and your relationship.

4. Maintain a Schedule

Living in the same dorm as a significant other poses even more challenges than living across campus would, and adds an extra consideration that you may not have previously thought of. While everyone’s aware that things can get awkward quickly in the event of a breakup, what individuals aren’t aware of is that you need to take extra precautions to put some space between you and your significant other in these situations, more so than anyone else!

With that being said, you should certainly set up a schedule for visitation. While it may sound extreme, constantly dropping in on one another can make you feel crowded or smothered, which is negative to your relationship. In addition, the ability for someone to stop by on a whim can leave you with little time to yourself, which can impact your schoolwork, your ability to connect with your roommates and build other relationships, etc. Basically, the more space and distance you can give one another, the better off you are both going to be.

5. Sleep in Your Own Beds

Sleeping in your own bed is a fantastic feeling, but, more than that, it’s important to maintain boundaries in a relationship. When you are constantly spending the night at one another’s place, there are a variety of issues that can arise. For one, your roommates (both of your roommates, I should say) will likely get annoyed by the constant visitors. In addition, spending this much time together really prohibits you from spending the time necessary to bond with your roommates.

In college, roommate bonds can go on to be lifelong relationships, and if you are never paying attention to this, you’re going to miss out on that experience. If you live in the same dorm especially, this is eliminating any potential distance the two of you could have, which is also extremely negative, both in terms of your ability to learn who you are and in terms of putting a negative strain on your relationship. In addition, spending the night at one another’s places too often can leave you both exhausted, preventing you from learning and fully applying yourself in your classes. While occasional sleepovers are always a good idea to keep the romance alive, spending every night together will likely do more harm than good.

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6. Respect Each Other’s Boundaries

While this is a staple of any relationship, it’s so much more important when you live in close proximity to one another. As previously mentioned, maintaining boundaries couldn’t be more important when dating, and respecting the other person’s boundaries is just as important. The element of respect is huge here, and you should both insist on keeping those boundaries.

This could mean something as simple as not bothering one another when it comes to schoolwork, or perhaps allowing each other to enjoy a meal solo every once in a while. Whatever works for both of you is the goal here, and that’s going to look different in every relationship. Still, you should certainly be respecting each other’s boundaries and appreciating that, while your opinions may differ, you each have the right to let the other know what you are and are not comfortable with.

7. Make Your Own Friends

Again, we previously touched on this element, but it’s important to reiterate it, as it’s one of the most important on this list. Making your own friends is a huge deal, as many college relationships actually turn into lifelong relationships. This isn’t to say that your college significant other will be in your life forever so much as it’s to mean that your relationships with your roommates and/or classmates can actually last just as long.

Don’t be the person that puts their relationship above all else and quickly finds that they have no friends of their own. While you should have mutual friends with your significant other, and more often than not are going to put those relationships first, you need to have some things for yourself, as you should still be your own person. You don’t need to have a whole group of friends, but rather a few close ones that you can rely on to have fun, to lean on when necessary and to ultimately support you as you embark on your college experience.

So, if you think about it, you should be putting a significant amount of energy into the relationships around you, inclusive of your friends. Many people can get caught up in their relationship, forgetting about and/or ignoring the other relationships around them. Don’t fall victim to this mistake! You should always make your own friends and keep those relationships alive and thriving, for as long as possible.

When necessary, make sure you are making plans and putting forth the proper amount of energy to your friendships, noting that they are just as important as the relationship with your significant other. Don’t let them fall to the wayside!

8. Keep Class Schedules Separate

Throughout this article, we have discussed keeping boundaries in your personal life, but not so much about boundaries throughout your school life. While in most cases you will find you’re in a different program than your significant other, this is not always the case. Additionally, there is the opportunity to take gen-ed courses in which your schedules overlap, either intentionally or not.

As a college student, your coursework will always come first. For this reason, mixing coursework with your significant other can be a bit of a challenge. As previously discussed, this isn’t to say you should never take a class with your significant other. Still, this isn’t to say that you should, either.

It comes down to this: you need to make your own choices. What is going to work best for you? Do you think you could truly concentrate with them there? Would you perform better if you took a course by yourself? Would it matter if a class or two was spent with them as well?

It’s difficult, but you need to answer these questions as objectively as possible to ensure you’re making the right choices, for both of you. This should be a discussion amongst the two of you to truly determine what the right move is, and you should both be in agreement when all is said and done.

Going away to college is a life-changing experience that is unlike any other. And when you share that experience in a relationship, the outcome can be even sweeter. That being said, it can also be much worse if you don’t take precautions and set appropriate boundaries in your relationship, especially if you’re living in close proximity.

While you don’t want to close yourself off to new experiences, you also don’t want to rely too much on your relationship, as college is all about finding yourself and building your own experience. You can bring someone along on this journey with you, but it’s essential that they are able to have their own journey as well.

With all that being said, the above eight tips are a great starting point when it comes to setting proper boundaries and ensuring your relationship lasts beyond your college experience. But, more importantly, this protects you from the negative impact of a college relationship that doesn’t work out, ensuring that, even in that situation, you had the time of your life and completed the tasks you set out to complete.

So enjoy your relationship, but don’t be afraid to set those boundaries to protect yourself and your significant other!

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