For any couple that started dating in college, graduation can feel bittersweet. On the one hand, it can mean embarking on an exciting new chapter in which both of you will be able to pursue your passions and support each other through your professional journeys, all without the stress of studying for exams. On the other, however, it can mean making major life changes that can potentially impact your bond, depending on how you handle them. If you’ve found yourself worrying about how to make your college relationship work after graduation, fret not: experts say it’s totally possible for your love to survive after you snag that diploma. You and your partner just need to have a few important discussions to prepare yourselves for this significant transition.
"Even if you know that your intimate relationship is solid, sustaining it after college graduation requires special care," says Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, noted psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition.
According to Dr. Wish, the important thing to keep in mind is that you'll both be dealing with a major shift in priorities after graduation. Whereas during college, your focus may have been on your classes and grades (and perhaps socializing as well), post-college life means focusing on your work responsibilities — and furthermore, earning an income.
"Now, you have new issues such as choosing a place to live and managing your finances, especially if you have loans to pay," she explains. "Then add in adapting to a new job, boss, and colleagues."
Certainly, these factors can put a strain on any relationship, even if it was healthy and happy all through college. But before you panic, consider this: dealing with those stressors with your SO by your side can actually make your relationship stronger.
Dr. Wish says the key to making your relationship work in this new phase of life is not only to address all the potential changes you'll be facing together but also talk about how you might deal with all possible scenarios as well as any concerns you might have.
You might start by telling your partner that while you're stoked to navigate post-college life with them, you want to make sure you're both on the same page about where your relationship is headed.
"As graduation approaches, you’re often experiencing intense feelings of uncertainty and apprehension about your future," says Jill Vandor, Executive Matchmaker at LunchDates. "Before graduation rolls around, it is so important to have ongoing, open, and honest conversations about the future of your relationship. There are many challenges to discuss."
The more open you can be, the better, so don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Are you applying to jobs in the same city? Have you decided whether it's time to move in together? If one or both of you gets a job in another city, are you willing to make long-distance work? Are you feeling pressure to get married? Are you willing to endure financial hardships if your partner can't immediately find a job? These are some of the topics Vandor suggests digging into. You might also talk about how adjusting to new schedules might affect how often you see each other, and how you'll cope if one of you is making significantly more money than the other. Answering these types of questions can help to reduce the mounting anxiety around how your relationship will evolve after graduation by bringing clarity to some potential scenarios.
Additionally, Dr. Wish suggests keeping a diary where you can explore your thoughts, feelings, and fears regarding your relationship after graduation. This will not only serve as an emotional outlet, but a way to become more aware of what's worrying you so that you can bring it up to your partner and hopefully resolve it together before it develops into a bigger issue. Dr. Wish notes that tackling certain questions can shed light on how you should proceed in your relationship. You might ask yourself: What was my initial attraction to this person? Do I see a future with them now that we're out of college? Are there any doubts that I'm avoiding or minimizing? And what have I learned about this person post-college that I didn't notice before?
"Post-graduation, keep that line of communication open throughout all the growing pains," adds Vandor. "And make time for each other. You can easily get caught up in trying to balance family, friends, the new job search, etc. Don't put your relationship on the back-burner."
If the stress of graduating starts taking a toll on your relationship, Dr. Wish recommends seeking counseling. An unbiased licensed professional can help you to unpack your fears, as well as come up with healthy coping strategies.
"Don't break up as a way to relieve your anxiety," says Dr. Wish. "And also, don't stay together out of your fear of being on your own."
Of course, not every relationship is meant to last beyond college. As Dr. Wish points out, sometimes entering this new stage of life sheds light on your incompatibility (due to mismatched life goals) or your partner's shortcomings (like a lack of ambition, for example). There's no way of knowing whether you'll grow out of your relationship, or whether it will grow with you. Ultimately, Vandor says it comes down to your level of commitment, as well as whether your college relationship was based on convenience (or other superficial factors) — or you truly do see a future together.
Here's the thing. Every relationship will be put through the stress test at some point. Even if you didn't deal with it post-graduation, you and your partner would inevitably face it via another life change down the line. So, you might as well view this transition as a valuable learning opportunity — one that will allow you to see your SO from another angle, and furthermore, find out just how strong your bond is. Chances are, you'll probably be surprised at what your relationship can handle. And once you've survived graduation together (and everything that comes after it), you can probably get through just about anything.
Jill Vandor, matchmaker
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and relationship expert