The couple that plays together stays together

Denise Wright

Psychology professor offers advice for long-lasting relationships

Freshman physics major Justin DeVaughn and Krystle Formosa, junior fashion merchandising major, have been dating for 6 months. Caitlin Prarat | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Krystle Formosa, junior fashion merchandising major, and freshman physics major Justin DeVaughn met while running a table together at a Circle K event in Spring 2007. This month marked their six-month anniversary.

Formosa and DeVaughn make up one of many couples on campus. With so many students being “involved,” both in relationships and in activities, they may need advice, whether basic or beyond, for maintaining their relationships.

Spend time together

While spending time together may seem somewhat obvious, Manfred Van Dulmen, assistant professor of psychology and a specialist in adolescent romantic relationships, said this is often overlooked in relationships.

He recommended couples spend time on a vacation together.

“This enables you to see the person outside of their normal environment and allows you to see if it could work out long-term,” he said. “Either way, when you do things together with someone, you’re going to learn more about them.”

Share mutual interests

Along with spending time together, Van Dulmen said couples should try to find activities both partners enjoy because it could help in avoiding arguments.

Formosa and DeVaughn share a passion for cooking and enjoy making meals together.

Along with cooking, they enjoy dancing and going to clubs. Formosa said DeVaughn teaches her different dances, the latest being the cha-cha, which she was able to use at a recent Biloxi benefit dance.

While sharing interests is important, Van Dulmen also stressed the importance of making sure these shared interests are still present by adjusting the way one phrases questions.

For example, he said to ask “What would you like to do tonight?” instead of “Would you like to go to the movies?” This allows for discussion instead of a simple approval or denial.

“Sometimes people assume that people maintain the same interests over time,” Van Dulmen said. “That’s not always the case.”

Communication is key

Van Dulmen said that communication is essential to any relationship.

“When you’re starting a relationship, you’re trying to learn how to communicate with the other person,” he said. “Make sure you listen to your partner, and beyond that, you need to take the perspective of your partner.”

He added that while age is not particularly linked to communicating effectively, other factors, such as how long the individuals within the relationship have known each other and how the individuals communicate in other relationships, play a role.

“Some of the best predictors of success in a relationship are how relationships with parents and friends have worked out,” Van Dulmen said. “How you solve conflict in those relationships can indicate how you will solve conflicts in your romantic relationships.”

Alone time and away time

Van Dulmen stressed the importance of establishing a balance between being a couple and being individuals within a couple.

Formosa and DeVaughn said they do well with this.

DeVaughn likes spending time with friends, playing video games and visiting with his family on the weekends.

Formosa also enjoys spending time with friends. In addition, she spends her time working out and competing in beauty pageants, which she said DeVaughn attends.

“For one of my pageants, I didn’t even know he was there,” she said. “He told me after.”

“I just wanted to see her,” DeVaughn added.

Van Dulmen said spending time together benefits romantic relationships by relieving tension, while giving the individuals within the relationship more time to spend with others. He added that even if the relationship ends, this mindset of spending time with other people will enable the individuals to turn to other people, instead of relying on themselves or thinking they need their ex.

“Most relationships that work well involve individuals with strong networks,” he said. “Relationships will work better if you’re not solely relying on your partner.”

Make it work

Formosa said relationships are definitely not easy and require some work, especially with school and other responsibilities on the side.

DeVaughn agreed, but said they are able to endure all the work that comes with it.

“The reason we’re still together is because we both have the idea that we want to be together,” he said. “That overrides everything.”

Overall, Van Dulmen said maintaining romantic relationships is similar to maintaining friendships.

“There’s a different dimension to romantic relationships, but there are some common elements,” he said. “After all, isn’t your partner supposed to be your best friend?”

Contact features reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].