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Sam Davidson's blog

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Don't Let Your Marriage Fail When Your Spouse Goes to Grad School

In two days, my wife finishes up her second master's degree. This one's in counseling. In some ways, I feel like I'm graduating on Friday. The past two years were downright hellacious at times, and stressful at others. But, through the exams, papers, class projects and reading assignments, we managed to make it as a couple.

To me, this is no small achievement. I've personally known of at least three marriages that didn't survive grad school for one reason or the other. Grad school wasn't necessarily the only thing to blame, but it doesn't make anything easier.

My marriage survived grad school. So can yours.

When one spouse is in grad school, the other feels like he or she is on the outside looking in. Someone they deeply love is (ideally) pursuing something they're passionate about, devoting time, money and energy into learning new skills or ideas in order to find employment that will help the couple maintain a certain standard of living for the next season of life. Likewise, the student is also changing. As they encounter new ideas and have new experiences, the spouse is often clueless, not knowing how this new knowledge is shaping or changing his or her spouse.

And then, before you know it, it's like you're married to someone else. The person you knew before school started may now have different perspectives, work habits, viewpoints, friends or goals. And unless you're clued in, you're in danger of not knowing who you're waking up to each morning.

Likewise, if the spouse is studying something that you're not interested in, something you can't help with, or something that's simply out of your league, you're generally of no use to them academically. If my wife were getting her MBA in marketing and had to come up with new brand campaigns, I'd be all over it, doing market research, staying up late, you name it. But because she instead had to write about the effects of childhood interaction when it comes to developing personality disorders in adolescents, I'm as useful as my cat (which usually curls up on my wife's lap when she's trying to write said paper).

So, what's a guy or girl to do when their loved one is studying away on an advanced degree? Below I share what worked for me and Lynnette, and hopefully you'll be able to weather the wretched storm that is higher education:

  • Learn how to cook. I made my wife's day a million times better by having a hot meal ready when she came home after a long day of class, clients and crises. Whether I simply heated up a frozen pizza or perfected my veggie quesadillas, a warm delicious meal made her happy and showed my concern for her day.
  • Change your schedule and get more done. As an entrepreneur, my schedule's flexible, so this may not apply to everyone. And, my wife's school schedule consisted mainly of evening classes, which again, may not apply to everyone. But, by moving my schedule around to work late when she was in class until 8, I was able to get more done, go more places, meet more people, work on more deals, and develop more ideas. This also meant I didn't spend chunks of time on the couch doing nothing, waiting for her to get home. I used that time on my business. For you, that may mean you can take up a new hobby or learn a new skill. Whatever you do, use the time wisely and be productive.
  • Make friends with a couple – preferably one where everyone likes everyone else (the students like the students; the spouses like the spouse; and vice versa). This one is tough, but I will tell you this on the onset, especially as someone who has started two different grad programs: the people you hang out with the first month are not the people who become your better friends. When school starts, everyone's trying to meet everyone else. Therefore, you'll go hang out with nearly anyone until you realize who you like and who you don't. For example, twice during the first month of my wife's program, we went to a bar and out bowling with people I haven't seen since. It took a while for everyone to find their appropriate social network, and once we all did, it was all gravy. Now, my wife and I have a few other couples that we hang with. When the students in each relationship are studying late or working on a special project, the guys (yes, we're all guys) will go to grab a drink or catch a game. And, all eight of us can also get together for dinner or Apples to Apples when needed. Everyone's happy, and it's a great way to take a load off. Also, while my wife's out making new friends, so am I, and that's important for each partner.
  • Take a load off. When your spouse goes to grad school, congratulations. Yo'’ve just become a concierge. Because I want my wife to succeed in school and in her job search, I handle all non-school related items. I grocery shop. I wash clothes. I pay bills. I take the cars in for oil changes. I feed the cat. I plan dinner. I'm not trying to baby my wife – I'm just happy to do those little things to make her stressful time a little less so. In a good relationship, you should be doing little things for the other person anyway, but when someone's in grad school, they've got enough on their plate. Besides, I kind of like going to the grocery store, anyway.

This list isn't comprehensive, and it's also not foolproof. It's what helped me and Lynnette make it, and hopefully there's at least one thing you can do to make sure that you stick together when your spouse goes back to school.

Marriages and degrees are both technically just sheets of paper. But good ones are treated like so much more.

Leave a comment! Is your spouse in grad school? What do you do to make sure your marriage succeeds?