With hundreds of thousands of students heading off to university this year, many couples will be embarking on a long-distance relationship for the first time, whether you’re studying miles apart or only one of you has decided to go on to higher education.
While cynics might assume the end of the relationship is almost inevitable, does this period always break rather than make a relationship?
Shae Vian, a psychologist and teacher, says it’s not uncommon for past relationships to start to feel “distant” when there is so much new “choice and opportunity in front of you.”
“Relationships tend to be at greater risk of breaking down at university because of greater choice and temptation ultimately,” she told HuffPost UK. “University is their first chance of actually having independent control over their choices as they move away without any social pressure from peers.”
Relationship counsellor Michael Kallenbach says lives and interests can “divert” and for some people breaking up is the sensible thing when two people want to go their separate ways.
His advice to couples who split, is “let your feelings happen and talk about it with someone who you feel will understand you and know what you might be going through.” But while many relationships do come to the end of the road, there are plenty that make it through uni and beyond.
“However, if a couple decides to stay together it is of course possible,” he says. “But a great deal of effort and honesty is required, especially since there are many temptations in the way. There is also this cliché that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so it can sometimes strengthen the bond between a young couple.”
HuffPost UK spoke to people who’ve stuck together, and those who broke up, to get their advice.
Cait, 25, and Beau, 26 - ‘Be open and honest with each other’
“I went to the convent school in the town and he went to the grammar school down the road and we met at a party, which was embarrassingly the first party I’d ever been to,” Cait Meredith tells HuffPost UK. “But I have a very good success rate at finding boyfriends, it turns out! I was 16 and he was 17, we were friends for a few months and then started going out and have been together ever since.”
Cait, 25, who now lives with her 26-year-old boyfriend Beau, said going through university was quite a “trying situation” - especially as she went to uni in Southampton and he went to uni in Exeter. She then also spent a year abroad in Brazil and lived for a short time in Madrid. What helped them to get through it was being open with each other when any doubts do crop up so you can tackle the feelings together. A problem shared is a problem halved, she says.
“We also realised pretty quickly that if we wanted to stay together it would take work (planning visits, keeping in contact, respecting the other’s time, space and decisions). I think it’s totally normal to worry that a relationship won’t last through uni but once I stopped worrying about the ‘what ifs’ and focused on how we felt about each other, it made it much easier!”
Becky Wells, 24 - ‘At school it’s easy because you have the same routine but it’s hard to maintain that in the real world’
Becky Wells, 24, broke up with her boyfriend after almost four years together when he decided to go to university. Preferring to go straight to work, she stayed at home and they split up in his first year.
“We got together when I was in year 10 and he was in year 11. We were down in Sussex at school and he went to uni in Leeds. I didn’t want to go to uni so I did my last year of school and then had every intention of moving up there and finding a job so we could carry on the romantic dream together. It started off fine, as it normally always does,” she says, but then she felt they were drifting apart. The crunch point was when he didn’t send a Valentines Day card and then they started drifting apart.
“As it happens with a lot of people who’ve gone through this your communication just sort of slows down. One minute you’re texting every day, FaceTiming, Whatsapping - the full works, and then you miss one day. And then that turns into a couple of days, and then it very quickly goes into not really speaking to each other.”
“When you’re at school you have the same interests and it’s so easy to fit into each other’s lives because there’s so little else. Whereas when you go to uni your schedule is completely different - out in the real world you don’t see each other every lunch time or at the bus stop. Now I’ve grown up I can see it was totally the right thing - if I saw him in person I’d definitely say hello but we’re not friends anymore. So much has changed that it doesn’t even seem relevant at all now.
“It can definitely work but as soon as one person stops making the effort it will fall apart,” she says. Her advice if you break up? Think of it as one small part of your life that you will move on from. “The world has so much more to offer.”
Charlotte Manning, 20, and Henry Saunders, 21 - ‘Relationships aren’t doomed when you go to uni’
“I’m going into my last year at uni and have been with my boyfriend since I was 17 in my last year of school. He’s at Surrey and I’m at UEA,” 20-year-old politics student Charlotte Manning says.
“We’ve made it work by putting in lots of effort and planning when to go and see each other etc. So we always have something to look forward and we try to talk on the phone or Skype most nights as well. We also send each other parcels and things, which is nice.” Her top tip is talking, and honesty.
“I would say you need to be prepared to put in the effort both ways because it is HARD - and always tell each other if you’re ever worried so you aren’t left behind. Talking is so important.
“There have been hard times, especially around exam season where we don’t have the time to speak as much or visit each other.
“I don’t think relationships are doomed when you go to uni, but I do think it depends massively on trust and putting in effort with each other equally. If one person puts less effort in than the other it is soon noticeable. If you don’t trust each other enough it will show straight away as well.”
Yasmin Dick, 28 - ‘Uni is quite an intense period for both of you’
Yasmin and her ex-boyfriend met at a house party when they were 16 but broke up during their first year at university.
“We got together when I was about 16 - he wasn’t at my school and we met at a house party. We stayed at long distance throughout, which was probably a contributing factor to the break up. He ended up at uni in Falmouth and I was at Cambridge so the relationship kind of limped on for at least the first part of uni.
“I think it’s really hard unless you have a really strong motivating factor to keep something like that going. When you go to uni it’s quite an intense period - terms aren’t really that long if you think about the length of time you’re at uni for any one stretch. You’ve got three years and you want to come out with a degree and hopefully a job.”
One particular challenge was trying to match schedules because each university has different nights for going out. “It’s not the same as when you’re at home with your parents and there’s not much socialising,” she says. “At uni my weekends sometimes shifted to be Tuesday and Wednesday. So to say you’ll speak to someone on Skype at a fixed time every week or whatever is practically impossible.”
As much as possible, the best way to get over a break up when at uni is to try to make close friends. She was lucky in that she made a “close knit” group early on. “There are a lot of people who are going through the same thing, so that helps,” she says.