College is a time when students are having to balance and maintain many different relationships at once, with roommates, family, romantic partners, friends, and with faculty and staff. Relationship problems among college students are relatively common, and about one-third of college students report having problems in their roommate and romantic relationships. Relationship problems can also interfere with students’ academic success, making them important to address.
There are many different types of problems that students can have in relationships. Some may have verbal arguments or physical fights with others, some may have trouble trusting others, some may have difficulty communicating with others, and some may even be in abusive relationships. Common themes that come up among roommate conflicts are cleanliness, noise levels, or having friends over. These problems along with many problems that students may face in their friendships can be solved through talking with their resident advisor or a trusted third-party or learning some effective communication skills.
Some students have difficulty communicating with their friends, family members, or professors. While some students who have difficulty with communication can benefit from some simple communication skills, others may have larger problems with social communication that lead to significant impairment in relationships. Common signs of students with social communication problems or deficits include:
- Language or communication: using very literal language, difficulty modulating the volume of their voice, difficulty understanding jokes, metaphors, idioms, or other subtleties of language
- Social interaction: difficulty making eye contact, difficulty making friends, difficulty initiating, maintaining, or ending a conversation, difficulty understanding social norms, difficulty understanding other’s emotions
- Behavior: interrupts others, becomes tangential in answering questions, strong reactions to sensory cues (lights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch), may engage in self-soothing behavior, like rocking or tapping, and fixation on certain concepts, objects, or patterns.
As faculty and staff, you can support students with social communication deficits by meeting with the student privately if behavioral issues are disrupting the classroom. Work with the student to solve these problems in order to help the student succeed. If the student has classroom accommodations, make sure to respect them and talk with the student to make sure you are both on the same page.
Other students may be in abusive relationships. Abusive relationships may take many forms and can include verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. Some common signs that a student may be in an abusive relationship, include: excessive lateness or unexplained absences, frequent illnesses, unexplained injuries or bruising, changes in appearance, being distracted during class, drops in productivity, and being sensitive about discussing their relationships. If you are concerned about a student who may be in an abusive relationship, here are some things you can do to help:
- Meet with the student in private
- Recognize that the student may be fearful or vulnerable
- Remember that abusive relationships involve complex dynamics, including high levels of denial and may be difficult to change
- Refer the student to the counseling center
- Encourage the student to connect with people they trust
There are also some things to avoid when talking with students who are in abusive relationships. Try to avoid downplaying the situation, lecturing the student about poor judgment, or expecting the student to make quick changes.
Relationship problems for college students exist along an entire spectrum, and there are many different reasons that students could be having difficulty with others. As faculty and staff the biggest thing that you can do is meet with students privately, in order to understand what is going on and offer support.