With advancements in technology, the evolution of popular culture, and the increasing popularity of social media, dating and relationship dynamics have become increasingly complex. This fall, our second-year Sociology Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods class is investigating what constitutes a healthy romantic relationship today. We developed a set of research questions and each of the 120 students in the class interviewed a Carleton undergraduate student on campus. Our goal was to determine what undergraduate students at Carleton look for in a healthy romantic relationship.

From what we have gathered, the three most important qualities necessary in a healthy relationship are honesty, trust, and communication. When asked why these qualities are important, one student mentioned, “I think these things are important because in order to be with someone for such a long time, they have to bring out the best in you and they have to make you happy.” Other qualities students look for include respect, sharing of quality time, physical appeal, mutual hobbies, and maturity. Communication is also the top quality deemed necessary by students for effectively dealing with conflict in romantic relationships.

One participant commented,

“You need to be able to talk about what’s wrong in the relationship. Having that line of communication [and] being honest… You need to be able to sit down, listen to what the other is saying, be open-minded, and respond in ways that are going to help the cause and not just defeat the purpose.”

Students indicated that it is important to take a reflexive approach when dealing with conflict and communicating with a partner. This was specifically articulated as “… addressing the conflict rather than the person you are having the conflict with. Seriously consider what the other person is saying rather than dismissing them and returning to your points.” Honesty and trust were also overwhelmingly referenced in answers involving the importance of communication. According to participants, trust is dependent on honesty in any healthy relationship. In a healthy romantic relationship, this manifests as being honest about one’s feelings and feeling comfortable enough to share them without fear of judgment.

Students demonstrate reciprocity, or engagement and investment in a relationship, through commitment, trust & respect, being supportive, and making time for their partner(s). In terms of intimacy, undergraduate students at Carleton want to be able to connect with their partner(s) on a deeper level. Intimacy in a genuinely healthy relationship was described as physical contact, sex, and personal time spent together. Consent and a thorough understanding of one another’s boundaries regarding physical contact must be present for a romantic relationship to be considered healthy.

Being in a healthy romantic relationship can bring about feelings of happiness and security. However, not all relationships are healthy. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, Carleton University has a variety of mental health and well-being resources available to you. Carleton also offers confidential counselling services.

About the Course

The research question for our class project in this iteration of the course will be, “What is a healthy intimate relationship?” We will ask this question of other second-year undergraduate students at Carleton, reporting back to the Carleton community at the end of the term on our findings. During the term each of you will conduct and transcribe a 5 minute long interview. You will then work (in class) with a small group to select the themes that emerge. In week 7, we will identify and group the themes from all the interviews in class. A mid-term assignment will give you the opportunity to reflect on your findings in the context of the research methods that you have used. In the second half of the term we will write up and present our research findings to the Carleton community. Multiple presentation modes will be available (e.g. meeting with a student organization, doing a radio interview, creating an on-line presence, “tabling” in the university centre and speaking to students directly). Students will wo rk in small teams to accomplish this. It is my intention that most , if not all , group work will be designed so that (depending on the choices of the group) the group aspects could be completed in class time.

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