Georgia State students address warning signs and boundaries in college relationships

Photo Illustration by Azam Lalani

Balancing college and a love life can be tricky, especially if you are maneuvering through a toxic relationship. Many people will experience an unhealthy relationship at some point in their life, and many of them fail to realize it early on. Based on a study taken by Knowledge Networks, 57 percent of college students who experience dating violence and abuse said it occurred while in college.

Georgia State’s Disability Services and Student Victim Assistance recently hosted a discussion with students about how to maintain a healthy relationship and sex life. It was a very open and intimate conversation where students felt comfortable speaking candidly about their experiences in order to recognize what a healthy college relationship should and should not look like.

Avoid the cycle

Without any qualms, physical abuse was the first topic discussed. Dr. Lenore Walker’s theory of the Cycle of Violence brought to light how a person in a questionable relationship might feel before reaching the point of physical abuse.

The cycle starts with a phase where tension is constantly building. It can feel like walking on thin ice to avoid angering your partner. Eventually, the ice becomes so thin that you fall right through. The next phase is usually connected to a major verbal argument where one or both sides are acting solely on rage. From there, the “honeymoon phase” starts, filled with apologies and promises that brush the incident under the rug.

The more often someone is in that cycle, the shorter the cycle becomes. The slightest offenses can cause huge arguments, and the honeymoon phase disappears because your partner knows you won’t leave. The deeper into the vicious cycle you get, the more likely it is that verbal arguments can turn physical.

Ask yourself if your partner has a temper, and if you ever feel scared or threatened by their words or actions. If you do, the first step is to try to get out, or seek help from campus resources like Victim Assistance, who offer couple’s therapy to help sort through those issues.

Sensible sex

Sex, of course, eases its way into any talk about relationships. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 11.2 percent of students experience sexual assault or rape in college. College women are especially at an elevated risk, being three times more at risk for sexual violence.

College is often a time of fun and experience for students, but that can bring on pressures of sexual exploration as well. Even with someone you have been previously intimate with, it is imperative to respect their boundaries every step of the way.

Parties where alcohol is involved, for instance, can blur judgement. RAINN also reports that more than 50 percent of the sexual assaults reported happened between August and November, at the peak time for partying in college with sports and the zeal of a new school year.

Let’s be frank about it. The reality is that after any amount of alcohol, no one is legally fit to give consent. No perceived ideas about their intentions or alcohol tolerance can make them reliable to give consent. Engaging in sexual activity with someone who mentally cannot grasp the reality of the situation at hand, or did not provide consent, is considered rape. A feeble yes can mean a strong no, but a feeble no is never a yes.

Balancing business and pleasure

Tackling issues like these are important because they bleed into our school life even when we don’t realize it. Even healthy relationships have the potential to negatively affect your school life.

Bradley Young, a Georgia State graduate student, was very willing to share his views on relationships and how they have affected his school life.

Young addressed how even in his mutually happy relationship, it was difficult to balance life outside of his girlfriend. He stressed that they spent a lot of time together in the beginning of their relationship.

“I don’t think we were aware of what we were doing at first,” Young said, referencing how the relationship affected their school life. He mentioned that sometimes they would skip class to spend extra time together.

“We had to understand—with maturity—that we don’t have to spend every second together,” Young said.

In the moment, things between Young and his girlfriend had escalated very quickly. They both felt the need to reevaluate their relationship and the choices they were making.

Young suggests that students try to be understanding of the time constraints their significant others may have, and support them through their journey toward success. Mutual support ensures that school or work won’t falter during the relationship.

“Support the person you’re with,” Young said. “You’ll probably get more in return than what you’re trying to do to control any of their behaviors.”

How to get help

Break the Cycle reports that 38 percent of college students admit to not knowing where to get help on campus if they are struggling with an unhealthy relationship. However, knowing how to spot and address qualities of your partner or your relationship that could turn toxic is key to avoiding an unhealthy situation.

If there are recurring tendencies that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then that’s a good sign you are in a unhealthy and potentially abusive situation.

Communicate your boundaries in areas like sex, school and work and a good partner will never chastise you for those or push against them.

If you or a friend want more information on maintaining a healthy relationship, or to seek help with a harmful situation, visit the Counseling Center at 75 Piedmont NE Suite 200A or Victim Assistance in Suite 239.


Red flags and warning signs of a toxic relationship:

  1.     Obsessing over your whereabouts
  2.     Pressure to hangout only with them instead of your friends/family
  3.     Isn’t supportive of your school/career goals
  4.     Puts you down
  5.     Doesn’t respect your boundaries
  6.     Dishonesty
  7.     Often makes you feel scared/threatened
  8.     Often accuses you of cheating