College of Veterinary Medicine

Counseling & Wellness Services

Preserving and Nurturing an Intimate Relationship During Vet School 

 Whether you're in vet school or not, relationships must be nurtured in order to survive.

 One way to assess the quality of an intimate relationship is to think of it as a bank account of good feelings. Those things we do to nurture the relationship are like deposits to the account. Adding to the account balance requires performing loving and caring behaviors as well as words. Generally, the higher the good feeling account balance, the better the relationship. Yet there are a whole host of negative behaviors towards our partner, including neglecting the relationship, that represent withdrawals from our “good feeling account”. Hopefully, our “relationship bank account” is not chronically overdrawn by the day to day small and large stressors or conflicts that deplete it. Relationships can survive for a time operating at a deficit, but without additional deposits, those relationships deteriorate. For vet school couples, because of the lack of time and other resources, it is easy to take the relationship for granted, withdrawing good feelings but not replacing them through positive experiences with each other. Maintaining and improving close relationships require intentional acts. The following are some suggestions for keeping your relationship bank account operating “in the black”:

  • Little things count for a lot……..E.g. offering a back rub, bringing a cup of coffee, a little “I love you” note left on the pillow, compliments, cards, a call during the day, asking about the other's day and LISTENING.
  • Every once in a while, take some time to talk about all the maintenance tasks and duties that are a part of your day-to-day lives. Take stock of who does what things and decide whether your individual work loads seem fair. Changes will probably be necessary from time to time. Be willing to let chores be unequal for a while. Over the long haul, these things may even out and you will feel a better balance between you.
  • Make regular time together to review your day and/or plan for the next day. Find at least 15 minutes/day without other distractions like television, newspapers, textbooks, etc.
  • Don't make time together just to talk about problems.
  • At least once/week set aside a short time together to just focus on each other. This is time for discussions about dreams and ideas, and for relaxation and romance. You need these kinds of “dates” regularly.
  • Don't let resentments build for too long. (Sometimes they do have to be put aside for awhile until there is a good time to talk.) Don't ambush your partner with a problem out of the blue. Instead, ask when he/she will be able to talk with you about it. Say “I'm having a problem and would like to talk to you sometime about it. When would be a good time?”
  • Remind yourself of the good things.
  • Use humor. But watch sarcasm, which can just be disguised criticism. It's good to laugh, play, and tease sometimes to relieve tension, but don't use humor to avoid talking about serious subjects.
  • Aim for “two-winner” solutions to conflict. This is not necessarily the same as a compromise, which sometimes results in a resolution that might not be pleasing to either of you. With a two-winner solution, each partner gets something he or she wants.
  • Remember that feelings of love, romance, and satisfaction ebb and flow. Enjoy it when feelings are warm, close, and affectionate, and just relax, be
    patient and take care of yourself when they're not.
  • Express and show affection daily. Make sure your non-verbal expressions match your verbal ones.
  • Look for other couples you might enjoy doing things with who may share some of the same struggles as you. Perhaps there are other ways you can support each other…..e.g. mutual baby or pet sitting.
  • Recognize there are some issues that will always be there and just represent personal differences rather than problems in the relationship. These differences are natural, normal, and expected in every relationship. They don't mean that you are wrong for each other. Examples of these kinds of issues are differing needs for space and togetherness, different standards for tidiness, priorities for spending money, styles and preferences for romance and sexual expression, and needs for being social outside the relationship. Sometimes you will need to just agree to disagree and try to work around these conflicts.
  • Each of you needs to have your own interests and passions in addition to your relationship. If you're the partner of the student, find things that you are interested in and want to spend time doing. Make some friends of your own. Realize that though you each impact the other, you will not be able to make the other happy. That's his or her job!

Special considerations for long distance relationships

  • In some ways long distance relationships are easier, as there's not so much guilt about not spending time together and there are not as many pressures on your limited time and energy.
  • Talk specifically about how to handle such things as communication, time together, paying for visits. and how you'll handle difficulties. For example you could regularly and routinely have a conversation centered around clearing the air or discussing difficult issues. You could agree, for instance, that you will raise issues through e-mail, using “I” language rather than blaming, accusatory “you” language. You can then give your partner some time to think before arranging a time to talk
  • Often, communication by phone or e-mail may facilitate the discussion of important issues that might otherwise be neglected…….e.g. one's
    hopes and dreams, values, expectations.
  • Plan for regular times to be together, but realize that there tends to be a lot of pressure on those times. Try to have reasonable expectations for visits. Couples naturally want to make up for lost time by spending all their time together, talking everything over, and resolving all their difficulties. But these times don't necessarily coincide with when the student's load is lighter and when his or her full attention can be given to the partner. Time, energy, and moods may not match up. Realize this and cut each other some slack.
  • Keep each other informed. Make agreements about how, when, and how much you will communicate. Agree to be flexible, but let each other know when your situations have to interfere with your regular communication.
  • Try to do some things while apart that you can also enjoy when you're
    together. Some examples might be exercising, reading the same books
    or newspapers, watching the same movie, learning a new skill, etc.
    These common activities help you feel connected and give you common
    things to talk about.
  • Choose to trust your partner. When there are concerns, assume the best of him or her rather than the worst. If unexpected events interfere with your plans, realize that your partner's actions are attempts to solve problems that are individually troublesome; they aren't necessarily about you.

Need Additional Help?

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY). For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:


Anne LaFrance, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
(509) 335-4607
135A McCoy Hall

NOTE:  The information contained in these self help documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care.  Neither the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information presented in these self-help documents
Last Edited: May 13, 2014 12:41 PM   

College of Veterinary Medicine, PO Box 647010 , Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-7010, 509-335-9515, Contact Us  Safety Links