Published: Feb. 11, 2019

Two people having a conversation.Our lives are built around relationships: significant others, roommates, family, friends and more. Regardless of what kind of relationships your student has, it takes effort to make them work. Consider these tips for supporting your student in building better relationships.

Knowing and sticking to one’s values

Have a conversation with your student about defining values—the aspects of our lives that we believe to be most important. It’s important to recognize that our values generally determine our priorities and influence our actions, so identifying them consciously can be helpful with making decisions. When our actions and our lives generally align with our values, we feel pleased and satisfied; and when they don’t, we can feel sad, stressed or conflicted.

Remind your student that while the people we have relationships with don’t necessarily need to have the same values as us, it is important that the relationship still supports our values. While we all need to compromise to keep relationships working well, these compromises should still be true to our values. Compromising at the cost of our values can put us in an unhealthy place that doesn’t feel quite right. Talk with your student about how to tell when this feeling is cropping up in a relationship.  

Be reasonable (and honest) about expectations

Understanding what exactly we’re expecting to get from a relationship is important. Support your student in acknowledging that each of us has a variety of needs, and we often look to our relationships to help fill them. It may take some introspection, but getting a sense of what we want and what we’re asking of others can help us find the kinds of relationships we’re looking for.

Sometimes we expect others to support us in ways that are unrealistic, or in ways that the other person isn’t aware of. By understanding our own expectations and reflecting on how we communicate our needs, we can avoid being let down. This also allows us to better support the needs of the other person.

Practice listening over speaking

Empower your student to become an active listener, and model the behavior yourself! Effective communication is more than just hearing and understanding the words someone says. While the who, where, what and when are important, understanding the why is vital. We understand the why when we really focus on being an active listener.

When a friend or family member tells us about their busy day, we may respond by telling them the million things we have going on too. If we focus on being an active listener instead, we might see that our friend is really stressed and needs our support. Then we can take a step back and be the kind of friend we’d like to have.

When we think about our relationships with others, sometimes we need to start by examining ourselves. When we know what we expect to get out of a relationship, we have a much better idea of what’s going to work in that relationship and what won’t. Effective and open communication helps both people feel like they’re on the same page and allows each person to ask for what they need, while staying true to their values. Take on the role of creating a safe space with your student to discuss values and expectations with you, so they can then bring this reflection and awareness to their other relationships.