Believe it or not, grad season is here. And while you might be tackling final projects, papers, and other academic to-do’s before the school year is up, there’s one, glaring elephant in the room that you may have been neglecting: your relationship after graduation.
Graduation is a big step in your life, and now that school isn’t tying the two of you together, your paths may diverge. Maybe you’re heading off to grad school in a different city while your partner is excited to work with their dream company a few streets over from your university. Or maybe, you have no clue where your relationship stands after the caps are thrown. Regardless of your plans (or lack thereof), communication is key in maintaining a healthy, happy relationship.
Her Campus spoke to Matthew Brace, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and relationship expert, on how to best communicate with your partner about your future post-grad.
Identify your priorities
A relationship is a two-way street. That’s why, before all else, you need to put yourself first.
Start by evaluating your relationship and thinking about whether or not you want it to continue: Did you come into this relationship knowing that you wouldn’t want to continue after graduation? Do you think they could be the one? Or, maybe, you just started dating and you have no idea what will happen in the next two months. No matter the scenario,figuring out your relationship priorities is the first step in actively communicating with your partner. Then (and only then!) can you get on the same page with your SO.
Talk to your partner
This is the hard part. I know it can seem overwhelming, but communicating with your partner about how you see your relationship post-grad is necessary to avoid a messy and confusing situation.
“If you are finding yourself wondering how your relationship is going to continue after graduation, it is important to turn to your partner with those thoughts,” Brace tells Her Campus. “There is no doubt that these conversations can be uncomfortable, but avoiding the conversation to not feeling a certain way will likely lead to other issues.”
When talking to your partner, Brace recommends taking some cues from these:
- How do you think our relationship will change after graduation?
- What concerns do you have about our relationship after graduation?
- What do you think our relationship needs to thrive after graduation?
- What do you need to feel supported in our relationship?
There are few more powerful words than, “we need to talk.” But the reality of the situation is: you really need to talk. So, take a deep breath and find a time to chat that works for both you and your partner. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely needed.
Listen actively to your SO
When talking to your partner, it’s important to keep their wants and needs in mind as it pertains to your relationship. Maybe they’re looking to take the next step in your relationship and look for apartments together in a new city, or perhaps they’re down to try out an independent, long-distance relationship. Or maybe they’re just not ready. And that’s okay.
“Your partner may fully support your individual dreams, but may feel unnoticed when those dreams are taking a clear priority over the relationship,” Brace says. “It is common that one partner will make sacrifices to support the other partner’s dream, but that comes with a lot of uncertainty and may lead to resentment.”
The important thing is to listen actively to your SO. That way, you can better understand how they feel about the situation and, in turn, you can communicate effectively.
“Adjustments and compromises in relationships occur all the time and it is important that couples check in with each other about each other’s relational needs and consider how they can improve to show up for their partner,” Brace tells Her Campus. “It is important to approach your partner with curiosity and care through open-ended questions about your relationship as a whole.”
Be realistic about how your relationship might change
No matter how the conversation with your partner goes, you’re sure to encounter some changes in your relationship dynamic, purely from the experience of graduating and starting life as newly-minted adults in the real world.
However, it’s important to be open to this change and realize that things happen as they are meant to. If the adjustment feels like it’s too much to handle, talk with your friends and family about it; chances are they are going through, or have gone through, the same things you are. It’s better to figure out what each of you wants now, rather than dragging out a complicated relationship for years into your young adult life.
Sometimes this talk will end in a breakup, which can be really painful, especially if you’ve been with someone for a few years throughout school. You’ve shared so much together, but now it’s come to an end; however, realize that this may be for the best as you start out a new chapter in your lives.
“Graduation is a great example of a significant life event that comes with excitement and feelings of accomplishment, but to a relationship it could mean it’s the end,” Brace says. “It’s important to be aware that life after graduation means decisions will have to be made, but through communication, these changes can only better you throughout your life and relationships.”
So, if you or your SO are graduating soon, it’s time to have a conversation to talk about the future. Identify where you stand, find a time to talk to your partner, listen actively, and you may find that talking it out can lead to exactly what’s right for your relationship. While it may seem like an intimidating topic to broach, you will be happy you did it sooner rather than later–no matter the outcome.