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The University of Southampton
Enabling ServicesPart of Student Services


At University, you have relationships of many kinds: with academic and other staff, fellow students, close friends and family.

Here we look at personal relationships, as problems with others can be a cause of distress and therefore also affect study. Personal relationships include partners, housemates and friends.

Sometimes relationships don't seem to be working. An intimate personal relationship can be a source of support, but may also be stressful and complicated. Friendships with housemates may be unpredictable.

If you are experiencing difficulties in a personal relationship that are affecting your ability to study, you can contact an Enabling Services advisor for a chat. The advisor may arrange a counselling appointment for you if appropriate. Alternatively, Relate is the UK's largest provider of relationship support.

It may help to read the suggestions here, and take time to reflect on whether there are things you can do yourself to improve a relationship. If you find these suggestions helpful, you may wish to share them with the other person in a relationship that is giving you cause for concern. Shared understanding can create a space for calm discussion.

Being aware of another person's needs and differences is a good basis for a relationship.

  • Accept that people are different. However close the relationship, two people will always think, feel and act differently. You can't expect another person to be exactly like you.
  • Don't expect too much. No one person can meet all our needs or solve all our problems, all of the time.
  • Respect the need to make choices. This is true for both small things and large. Your preference in ice cream is small but important to you. Your partner or friend's choice is important to them, whether it's ice cream or the way they vote.
  • Be positive. When things are difficult, it can be hard to recall good feelings and memories. Let the other person know that you have positive feelings for them. Don't be hard on yourself. No one gets relationships right all the time.
  • Speak and listen, listen and speak. Communication is the key, but it's a two-way process. Be open and honest about what you feel. When the other person is speaking, listen carefully. Try not to spend the time when the other person is speaking thinking about what you will say next.

Be aware that relationships change. A new relationship can be very exciting and absorbing. As time passes, the priorities and how you feel about the other person will change. Allow yourselves to adapt to these changes. Change does not mean a relationship is going wrong. Spend time relaxing together and doing things you enjoy.

Arguments happen. People have different views and expectations of each other, and arguments are a normal part of a personal relationship. When an argument happens suddenly, the feelings that arise can be difficult to tolerate: anger, fear, and jealousy are all distressing. Remember that the other person is also finding the argument distressing, even if they may be hiding it.

Learning to cope with arguments can strengthen a relationship. Allow each other time and space so feelings can settle down - though walking off may not be a great idea. Try not to be personal. It's easy to hurt and get hurt. Make eye contact. When the other person makes a good point, acknowledge it. This can start to build a bridge between you.

When an argument is coming to an end, see if you can both say clearly what you've agreed on - even if it's only to agree to differ this time.

When you decide to share a house or flat, you are taking a big step. The people you share with will influence your day-to-day life in many ways, and your state of mind, feelings and ability to study will all be affected. You will need to be able to empathise with others and at the same time stand up for yourself.

Before you commit, check that you are in fact compatible. Think about and discuss issues such as smoking, sleeping, playing music, food, sharing costs, and expectations about tidiness. Who will cook? Who will clean up? If basic aspects of sharing go wrong, life with housemates can become difficult.

If a problem arises, it's best to tackle it right away rather than letting resentment build up to an explosion. Talk to the person involved directly, and don't allow one person to feel that the others are excluding them, for example by discussing them in private. Accept that there can be different points of view, and aim for a compromise.

If there are serious problems with housemates, talk to an Enabling Services advisor, or contact the mediation team.

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