By Jason Janoian, SPAS 2018
“When the roots are deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” – Unknown
Grad school can be a frightening adjustment, especially when you have a spouse coming along for the ride. If you are anything like me, you are gazing at your tower of books wondering how you are going to read all that information, retain it, study for countless hours, and still manage to be the spouse you want to be. Well, that brings us back to the quote we started with. “When the roots are deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” Going into grad school married, or getting married during grad school, is a whole new experience with its own challenges. If you do it right, you have nothing to fear. In fact, your marriage will likely come out stronger than when you started. In this blog, I will share my own experiences with you and tell you some things that I learned along the way (or am still learning … according to my wife).
My wife and I got married just two months before I began this new adventure as a student at MBKU. We lived out those summer days traveling with no care in the world. As excited as I was to be married to my best friend, a part of me was still terrified that I may not live up to her expectations while being a full-time student. Luckily, I had a good friend that went into PA school a year before me, so I started taking notes early. Through my observations and experience, I have four “roots” to keep your marriage strong while still being a successful student.
1. Prioritize Your Life
“Marriage is meant to last a lifetime – thankfully grad school is not.” – Unknown
As important as this time is, remember that it’s not worth risking your marriage. Hopefully your spouse is as understanding as mine, and knows when you need to choose school first. It’s your job to know when you need to choose your spouse first. Through my experience, I learned that just a few minutes of my time can go a long way. If I devote some undivided attention to my wife as soon as I enter the door, she’s more likely to be understanding, because she feels appreciated and loved. Learn from me, when she is trying to tell you about her exciting day at work, take a few minutes to listen. DO NOT look at your watch and ask, “Is your story almost over?” Understand that your spouse has been waiting anxiously for you to come home and does not want to see you walk through the door and bury your head in the books. It’s healthy for you to take a break and healthy for your spouse to have some undivided attention. To be honest, a few minutes here and there isn’t going to hurt your performance in school, but it will help strengthen your relationship little by little.
2. Communicate Your Expectations
“Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it…it dies.” – Tony Gaskins
The root of all problems is unmet expectations. Both of you have your own expectations on how to spend money, how to divide household chores, how to spend free time, how much time to spend with family and/or friends, and how much time to spend together. Every couple is different but the most important thing is to communicate your expectations with each other to make sure you are on the same page. As a grad student you are going to want to communicate your expectation of your spouse to help you be as successful as you can. Do you need your spouse to take a responsibility off your hands to allow you to study more? Do you need them to plan things to help you relax? Whatever it may be, you and your spouse need to set expectations from the beginning and adjust them as needed. The strength of your marriage depends on your ability to communicate your desires or needs. This is just another root that will help your marriage last through this chapter of your lives and beyond.
3. Be Flexible
“Remain flexible; life is forever changing.” – Unknown
An important secret of being a good spouse and student is to be flexible. Often times, your spouse just finds comfort in seeing you or being in your presence, even if you can’t talk. Be flexible with your schedule and willing to do some studying at home rather than spending all your time in the library or Starbucks. There will be times where you can be more flexible than others. Obviously, if you have a big test the next day, your spouse will hopefully understand if you have to spend your whole day studying in a place where you can concentrate. When you can, give yourself a change of scenery. You can study at home, or you can surprise your spouse by taking your study materials to a more relaxing location like the beach or a park. This will help you spend some quality time with your spouse, avoid fatigue and still get work done.
4. Share Your Experience
“Life is about creating and living experiences that are worth sharing.” – Steve Jobs
This suggestion is simple and to the point. If you want your spouse to understand what you are going through, share it with them. Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse for help when you think you can utilize a skill of theirs. If your spouse is anything like mine, they will be overjoyed to help you. Lucky for me, my wife is a teacher with strengths that I lack. She has helped me with organization, test preparation and editing. Inviting her to help has allowed her to feel valuable and saves me time for other things. This helps strengthen your marriage by creating an atmosphere of understanding. Don’t just share your own experiences, but take the time to be a part of your spouse’s world too. When you have the time, offer to help with something they need, do something they want to do, or have dinner with their close friends. During my winter break I had the opportunity to spend a day in my wife’s classroom and share her daily life with her. Not only did I develop new respect for my wife (how she does that without coffee I’ll never know), but I was able to make a connection with her students that allowed me to be part of their lives. Now, when she talks about work, I can contribute to the conversation and be a part of her everyday life. Grad school is not a time for you to grow apart; it’s a time for you to grow your roots together.
Following your passion and attending grad school does not need to be a detriment to your marriage. Instead, you can use this opportunity to come out stronger than ever before. You may come to find out that my suggestions are spot-on or you may find that something else works for you. Either way, remember why you got married in the first place and allow that person to grow with you through this experience. There’s always room to grow, believe me, but your spouse will always appreciate that you are making an effort. Understand this – your life will not be on hold while you go to grad school. In fact, it will move faster than you could possibly believe. So, don’t allow your spouse to get used to a life without you. Instead, set the marriage you want in place now! If you take the time to strengthen your roots in the beginning, there is no reason to fear what is to come.
This blog post is wife-approved!
Shameless plug: MBKU Married Students Club is always looking for new members to connect and have a great time – families and spouses included!! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.