‘Take the risks’: Married staff, professors share relationship advice


Image via LearningLark, Wikimedia Commons

A married couple holds hands.

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

When Ilia Murtazashvili first went out with his now-wife after seeing her at a coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin, he knew it was going to turn into something special.

“​​On our first date, I just said, ‘I think we’re gonna get married.’ And so it turned out,” Murtazashvili, a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said. “I mean, she thought I was just joking, but I just thought we had clicked and I just had this feeling and so, and it turned out to be true. Four kids and 20 years later and we’re still going strong. So it was a good intuition.”

While Pitt students learn about a variety of topics from their professors and seek out help from University staff, these people are knowledgeable in more areas than just academia. Many members of the Pitt community are married and provided wisdom to The Pitt News about relationships.

Murtazashvili has been married for 20 years after meeting his wife at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For him, listening is key. When conflict arises between partners, he said to make sure both people are actively listening to the other.

“The thing that I probably need to do more of is listen. Be an active listener, and I don’t do that all the time,” Murtazashvili said. “I just think listening and just trying to hear each other out is key. So I’m not gonna pretend here like I listen all the time. But it’s just something that if I do then everything ends up much better.”

Sabrina Robinson, a part-time instructor in the Slavic languages & literature department and 2005 Pitt alumna, has been married to her husband for 14 years. She met him when she was back in Pittsburgh for winter break while he was attending Pitt Law. They met at a bar and ended up forming a long-distance romance.

Robinson said she was offered health care when she got her first job — something her and her husband both didn’t have at the time. She said they ended up getting married in a courthouse a few days later and didn’t tell anyone.

“Both of our parents found out we got married and you did not tell us, and we’re like, ‘Well, but it was like paperwork,’” Robinson said. “And so I want to say that a year later to assuage my mother especially, I was later married by Jesus in the church. I have undergone technically the sacrament of marriage.”

To Robinson, communication is talking to your partner about their day, or what they did at work, even if it isn’t something that you’re interested in. She also places a value on honesty, and she thinks not being honest with your partner is a “red flag.”

“When something’s bothering you, you go to approach them about it,” Robinson said. “If you’ve heard me give you that advice, and you’d be like, ‘Oh, I don’t think we could.’ I mean that to me is a bad sign.”

But the solution to conflict is not always immediate confrontation, according to Murtazashvili. He said sometimes it’s okay to take space, and airing out grievances before taking time to breathe isn’t always the best way to handle conflict.

“The best tip is if you have a conflict, and one of you just says, alright, just give me some space. Shut up and leave and give the space,” Murtazashvili said. “And that’s also I think, hard to do, but just walking away, I think is a good thing in the short term.”

Lauren Wright, the director of undergraduate recruitment in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, said it can be easy to blame yourself for your partner’s mood, but you have to remember they are still human and have feelings that may have nothing to do with you. Sometimes being with someone means being there with them on their bad days, when something small gets them upset.

“Sometimes it’s not a conflict at all. I actually just had a bad day at work or I asked for no onions on my burger and I got onions. It’s not your fault. I’m just in a mood,” Wright, a Pitt alumna, said. “People have a ton of emotions. People are still human even when they’re married.”

Wright has been married to her husband for four years. The two met doing community service with the Urban League at the David Lawrence Convention Center, then he messaged her on Instagram and they started dating six weeks later. Wright and her husband got married in 2020, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, after about two years of dating.

According to Wright, effective communication is crucial to a relationship and the best way to talk through difficult situations is using a way they are comfortable with.

“I’m the person who sends like long double scroll texts, I have these thoughts,” Wright said. “My husband on the other hand would rather talk face-to-face. He is not going to stay here and scroll for days. So we both had to sort of adjust in that regard, especially for more challenging communication.”

Wright said while work and compromising is a natural part of established relationships, you shouldn’t have to compromise before you commit if you’re really looking for the right one.

“There’s enough people in the world that there’s no reason to compromise before you start dating somebody,” Wright said. “Like you’ll fall in love with somebody and have to make plenty of compromises, pre compromising, not necessary.”

Murtazashvili said economics and relationships have some overlap. For example, a sunk cost is an investment that you can’t get back. Murtazashvili told a story from one of his professors, where two students were talking about their own relationships and how they had been in them for a number of months, but it wasn’t working. He said they weren’t sure if they wanted to stay together, meaning their relationship was like a sunk cost.

“Those are sunk costs, you have to ignore those,” Murtazashvili said. “You just move on. Well, I’ve been in this relationship for so long, but the general idea is sometimes if you can’t get those years back or months or days or something just try to do what’s best going forward. Be forward looking, rather than backward looking.”

While it’s important to remain forward looking with your partner, Wright said joy and fun is important in a relationship, as well. To her, finding someone who will pick you up when you’re down and knows how to get you to laugh is key. She said something that is very important is to keep any relationship fresh and exciting.

“My husband and I will sometimes find ourselves playing tag, or just silly things like grown people probably shouldn’t be doing,” Wright said. “Life can be really hard, and so having a partner that’s very good and you have those fun moments, so long as you don’t expect them to be all the time.”

Robinson said while it is important to push yourself to go out and try to meet new people, when you meet the one, there should be a connection.

“I spent years before meeting him trying to make shit happen with disaster people. I’m like ‘No dammit. I’m supposed to be dating someone,’” Robinson said. “And just like trying to make things happen. And when I met my husband that wasn’t the case. It just kind of worked.”

But to find that right someone, Murtazashvili said you need to be yourself — stop mulling over the idea of who you want to be and be yourself — people will find that much more appealing. He also said you need to take risks. By being yourself and taking risks, even if you don’t get what you want, he said you’ll be in a much better place moving forward.

“Take the risks, a lot of us are just risk averse. And ask something, even if you know there’s a chance that you might not get whatever it is you were hoping for,” Murtazashvili said. “You got to just open yourself up a little bit. If you can open yourself up and be authentic. Usually, you’ll be in a pretty good position.”

Robinson said being in a serious relationship should feel right with the person. Don’t do it when it feels like everyone else is, do it when it feels like you and your partner are ready for whatever the next step is.

“I say never enter into a serious relationship because you think that’s like the next thing you’re supposed to do,” Robinson said. “Society very much has these ideas about, it’s time for you to get into a serious relationship. It’s time to get married. It’s time for you to have kids. So many people around me who you could see it was just like their light went on. You can do all of that when it feels right with the person, not when you feel like you need to meet a deadline.”