Relationship Issues Students Are Dealing With: Interview with Dr. Daniel Zamir

Dr. Daniel Zamir talks about issues that students face in relationships, both familial and romantic. He also described the highly valued traits of an ideal romantic partner.

 


Relationship Issues for Students (Both Familial and Romantic)

The following transcript contains part of an exclusive interview with the Editor of PsychAlive and Dr. Daniel Zamir.

Dr. Daniel Zamir: A lot of students come in with relationship issues.  And so relationship issues, that could be anything from relationship issues with their parents.  Often times, you know, some of the students who come in, I would say, have really conflictual relationships with their parents.  And, especially, I would say, undergraduate students often times, they’re kind of negotiating power and autonomy in those relationships.

Because a lot of parents, I think, have difficulty with the idea of their children, who are no longer children now actually, that are young adults, kind of growing up and being self sufficient and kind of achieving on their own outside of the house.  I think that’s difficult for some parents.  And so I have some students who are talking about this idea that they really want kind of a more equal relationship with their parents.  Or maybe not equal, but at least wanting to be respected and seen as adults.  And that’s not always the case. So that’s sort of one relationship issue we see.

There’s also a lot of romantic relationship issues.  Some people kind of in their first, their first romantic relationships and there’s a huge amount of emotion that gets stirred up in our first romantic relationships.  And especially when those come to an end, people often come into the Counseling Center so sometimes it’s that they have been doing a long distance relationship with somebody from, that they were dating in high school or from a previous college.  And when they’ve come to UCLA they sometimes decide to end that relationship just because of the distance.  Sometimes they’re dating people who are also at UCLA and there’s been some rupture in that relationship.

And I would say the norm is that people become really sad and they come in thinking that there’s something wrong or that.  So they come in because they’re suffering, but I hear often times people saying that, “My reaction’s too strong or I’m feeling – or I’m having an emotional breakdown.”  And when I dig into what that is a little bit, sometimes I’ll find that people say, “Well, I cried.”  And so I do I guess a lot of normalizing around this idea that, that relationships, and especially romantic relationships are intensely emotional and there’s these feelings of connection that get stirred up that are really primal and that when there’s a rupture in the relationship that a strong sadness and a strong emotional reaction – it could be anger, it could be whatever – whether there’s anxiety about not finding somebody else — that that’s really to be expected.

And kind of just helping them to accept their own emotional experience instead of labeling breaking down and crying or becoming angry or agitated or even, you know, having difficulty sleeping immediately after a breakup, that that’s not abnormal.  It’s not that they shouldn’t come in and talk to somebody about it because, of course, there are a lot of emotions coming up and it can really help.  But just not to blame themselves for having an emotional experience and to let go of this idea that they should be kind of stoic and kind of able to immediately move on with their lives.

So sometimes there’s this kind of slowing down and helping them to really be in touch with what their emotional experience is and the feelings that come up for them.  And one thing I tell people a lot, because they don’t want to feel their feelings is that if suppressing your feelings worked, I might be able to consider that with them as a possible option.  But it just doesn’t.  As people, as human beings, we’re really bad at suppressing our emotions and they tend to come out in other ways, whether it’s physical illness or aggression in other relationships, that they don’t go away nicely.

And so taking that as a given, a lot of the work is about helping them to notice their emotions, to be in their emotional experience when they feel it and to still do the things that they need to, to take care of themselves so that they can come out the other side.  But I really have to work with people, sometimes, around like accepting that having an emotional experience is not a bad thing in and of itself.  Even though it’s uncomfortable sometimes.  And with that, I guess, aside from the emotions is kind of the thoughts piece that we were talking about with voices.  And so people have a lot of self-critical thoughts around relationships — both when they’re in relationships, but especially when relationships end — about, “Was there something I did or could have done?  Am I making the right choices?  Am I going to be able to find another person who’s going to be attracted to me in that same way?”

And so, similarly, I’ll do a lot of work with people around kind of just acknowledging the thoughts that are coming up.  Because it’s similar to the emotions, people try to push away their thoughts and “I’m trying to go to sleep and I’m just going to force that thought of my ex-girlfriend out of my head.”  And, again, that doesn’t work.  When we try to push away thoughts and suppress thoughts, they tend to come up more strongly and it’s really difficult.

And so sometimes I’ll do some even experiential exercises around having people try to suppress a thought, like just picking a random thought – this comes from more kind of like acceptance and commitment therapy – approaches – like if you have people try not to think of a white elephant for 30 seconds, that’s all they think about.  Right?  And so this kind of demonstrating to people that this thought suppression is not effective and then talking to them about other ways of relating to their thoughts.

So things like just acknowledging their thoughts when they’re there, being kind of mindful of the thoughts and then if it’s a thought that’s very distressing and it keeps recurring, like allowing yourself to bring your focus back to whatever’s going on in your life right now, whether it’s your school work or even just what you’re doing in that moment, as kind of giving yourself kind of relief from the thought.  Not unnecessarily ruminating about it and obsessing about it, but just acknowledging, “Oh, I’m having that thought about my ex again and I’m going to bring myself back to my studies because that’s what I’m doing now and oh, there’s the thought again.”

And, instead of like, “I shouldn’t be thinking about my ex,” which tends to make studying kind of obsolete and that’s all you’re going to think about.  Just acknowledging like, “That’s probably going to come up for a while.  It’s probably going to bring with it strong emotions.  And that’s going to be the case for some time.  And, actually, the more that I approach it and am able to kind of do some processing and self-exploration around what those feelings are in me that that brings up, the less power it’s going to have over me and the more I’m going to be able to kind of heal and move on to whatever the next phase is.”


Students, Sexuality And Romantic Relationships

The following transcript contains part of an exclusive interview with the Editor of PsychAlive and Dr. Daniel Zamir.

Dr. Daniel Zamir: There’s a lot of different issues that come up in relation to sexuality.  So I talked a little bit about kind of sexual orientation issues already.  But even separate from that I think a lot of people, like I said, are in, if not their first romantic relationships, you know, an early romantic relationship.  That there’s a lot of questions that come up for people about performance and what sexuality is supposed to look like.  So, again, a lot of self-criticism, maybe around sexual performance or even, if they’re not in a relationship, how sexually attractive they are to the opposite sex.  And that ties into the body image issues.

So we see a lot of people who have concerns about sex for various reasons.  And, again, I try to do some normalizing around, this is a time, partially when people are first learning about themselves sexually.  Maybe they’re in their first sexual relationship and there are concerns about performance and worry about attachment is kind of to be expected, I guess.

And when it comes to attracting a partner a lot of people have a lot of concern about will somebody be attracted to me.  Will somebody want to have a relationship with me.  A lot of people are kind of questioning – I find, whether they want to be in a serious relationship or whether they want to kind of explore maybe having more casual relationships while they’re in college.  I think that’s something that people are trying to navigate.

Because this is seen, I think, in America often times as kind of a time for exploring relationships and for maybe being …  I think there’s this ethic about not being in one long term relationship so that you can kind of see what’s out there, maybe.  So I think that’s part of what people are facing.

But what I really encourage people often times is to kind of get out of the mindset of thinking about how they can make themselves the most attractive to the opposite sex and like find a partner.  Because I think that that’s a very anxiety producing place to be at, and people do all sorts of really self- destructive things to try to look the way they’re supposed to. People put a lot of time and effort into clothes and makeup and all this other stuff.  And what I really think is going to be more helpful for people long term is to think about what kind of partner do I want.  And who do, who would actually be somebody that I could be involved with in a relationship who would make me happy.

And I think it’s really rare for people to think about that beyond the physical and maybe some very basic personality issues.  So, you know, “I want to be with somebody who looks this certain way… or I want to be with somebody, maybe, who makes me laugh,” or something like that.… like people have some idea that personality is important. But I think there are a lot of things that get left out, especially early on.  And so especially with people who maybe have just gotten out of a romantic relationship that really wasn’t what they wanted, and that became very apparent towards the end — whether it was abusive or just unfulfilling — I really encourage people to think about what have they learned from this experience about themselves and about what they’re looking for in a partner and what they’re really not looking for.  And how would they see those things early on.


HIGHLY VALUED TRAITS IN A ROMANTIC PARTNER

The following transcript contains part of an exclusive interview with the Editor of PsychAlive and Dr. Daniel Zamir.

Dr. Daniel Zamir: There are things about somebody really caring about you and not kind of being overly jealous and controlling.  These are some of the themes that I hear people saying a lot about what they want when they actually think into it.  Having respect for their autonomy while also kind of valuing them and nourishing the healthy parts of them.  And then, somebody who is also kind of affectionate, and shows that they care and like them on a regular basis.

These are some of the things that I think are really important in a partner.  Just kind of like being a separate person and also have a really deep connection and nourishing the other person.  I think also like shared, having shared interests.  I think sometimes people undervalue that and have this idea like, “Oh, opposites attract and we’re such opposite personalities.  And that creates this real energy.”  And I think maybe in the beginning that’s true, but often times that that becomes more conflictual, or more problematic as you start to get more serious.

So I think that fundamentally, though, aside from what the specifics are about what somebody’s looking for in a mate, which vary, helping people to shift into this idea of — instead of, “ I’m just trying to attract anybody who will take me,” to moving into this idea of like really having kind of a more clear idea of how would I know if somebody really was worth having a relationship and investing with in this way and being vulnerable to.  Because there’s a lot that goes into relationships and I think having more of, more of a filter is really useful.  Just for finding somebody who’s compatible with them.

About the Author

Daniel Zamir, Psy.D Dr. Danny Zamir is a clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, CA. He practices psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara and teaches at Pacifica Graduate Institute. In addition, he has a private practice where he conducts individual therapy and couples counseling, specializing in the intersection of physical and mental health as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety disorders.

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