While each person’s college experience is unique, many share common elements, such as: navigating difficult classes, dating, and living with roommates. The research of various FHSS professors speaks not only to the importance of building and maintain positive relationships with friends and roommates, but also provides ideas for how to do so.
Why are relationships important?
Psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad studies relationships and the effects they have on health. In a 2015 study, she found that loneliness is a precursor for early death. “The risk associated with social isolation and loneliness is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality, including those identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, responsible sexual behavior, mental health, injury and violence, environmental quality, immunization, and access to health care,)” she and her co-authors said. Loneliness can lead to death just as much as obesity and substance abuse can.
In an interview with Scientific American, the professor spoke on the importance of friendship: “[Friends] provide a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives.”
How can we improve relationships?
1. Understand that they may be struggling
In a recent Connections article, School of Family Life professors Laura Padilla-Walker, Jason Carroll, Brian Willoughby, and Larry Nelson identified the four top concerns of “emerging adults” (people between the 18 and 24) as:
- Identity: still exploring
- Parental involvement: transitioning to independence
- Sexual behavior/Relationships: in light of religious beliefs and newfound independence
- Religion/Morality: and how it relates to their worldviews
“Emerging adulthood is a unique time of life,” the researchers said, “complete with its own set of challenges and struggles, and it is important for parents, teachers, employers, and others to learn about these issues.” Understanding that your roommate may be experiencing these challenges can help you emphathize.
2. Talk with them
The Relate Institute offers the following ways to have a meaningful conversation:
- Don’t multitask: focus on your roommate when you’re talking to him or her
- Don’t pontificate: enter every conversation with the thought that you have something you can learn from it
- Ask open-ended questions
- If you don’t know, say that you don’t
- Don’t equate their experience with yours
Following these tips will allow you to meaningfully communicate with your roommate, which will lead to a better relationship.
3. Do something fun together