Preserving and Nurturing an Intimate Relationship During Vet School
Whether you're in vet school or not, relationships must be nurtured in order
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
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
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
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
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
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
Often, communication by phone or e-mail may facilitate the
discussion of important issues that might otherwise be
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
Try to do some things while apart that you can also enjoy when
together. Some examples might be exercising, reading the same
or newspapers, watching the same movie, learning a new skill,
These common activities help you feel connected and give you
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
135A McCoy Hall
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