My husband Sam has been in school almost the entire time we have been married. And I’m still learning the best ways to support him as he is in school.
When we met we were both in undergraduate school; I was a freshman and he was a senior. He took a year off school while we were engaged and I finished my AA degree, but a few weeks after we got married he began a Master’s program. I finished my Bachelor’s degree online after we got married, so for a while, we were both in school.
Sam completed his Master’s degree and graduated in May 2019, finishing his coursework in August 2019.
He had a few months break from studying and writing papers, and May 2020 he went back to the books for his PhD.
Spouses in School
The percentage of married students in undergraduate school is low, but the number greatly increases in graduate school. I struggled to find any exact numbers or percentages, but high percentage of students in graduate school have spouses.
Studies abound on the effects a spouse has on a graduate student. Does a spouse hinder or help one finish a graduate degree? Some studies show declines in completion due to marriage, while others demonstrate the value of marriage.
Why Does Graduate School Kill So Many Marriages?
This is the title of an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education.The author is struggling with the fact that so many relationships around her have failed, and graduate school was a large factor in the relationship’s demise.
She cites students saying graduate school “is a crucible that strengthens relationships and can expose unknown cracks in [the] foundation.” Another student explained that graduate school nearly destroyed his marriage, while another said graduate school was a never-ending loop of marriage issues and grad-school issues.
Women who get married in graduate school are often encouraged not to change their names, because the relationship likely won’t last.
Professors encourage their students to consider your work over your marriage, just until this next goal, then the next, then the next.
Must it be This Way?
I believe that it absolutely does not have to be this way. Starting a graduate program does not have to be the funeral for your marriage.
Graduate school may be difficult on a marriage, but it also may be a blessing. Older studies report the definite detriment of a graduate school program to a marriage, but more recent studies show marriage may support a student to success.
We grow stronger by getting through hardships, and strengthening your marriage during graduate school will leave you with a better relationship than when you began.
Strengthening your marriage during a difficult time will not happen by chance. It takes intentionality.
5 Ways to Support Your Spouse in School
I am not an expert on this subject by any means. Even though Sam has been in school for over two of the three years we have been married, learning how to support him is still a learning process.
There have been times in our marriage that school made things very hard, but there have also been times that our marriage has thrived.
These are some tips that I have found to be helpful. These are things I am learning and trying to do to support my husband as he pursues his degree.
Have a Good Attitude
I asked Sam what was the best way I could support him, and the first thing he said was my attitude.
It makes a big difference if I am happy for him and willing to help, or if I am constantly nagging him to stop studying.
This does not mean I ignore the problem if there is one, of course. But I need to be positive and encouraging as I give Sam time to study.
Whenever I begin to resent Sam studying so much, I need to check my attitude. Am I truly in need, and I need to ask him for help? Or can I be happy for him, encourage him in his studies, and move on with my responsibilities?
The outcome in certain situations will be different, but attitude is important.
Be Aware of Their Schedule
At the beginning of the term I asked Sam to send me his syllabuses so I could be aware of big due dates. I usually ask him at the beginning of the week what his schedule looks like, but every now and then I can refer to his syllabus to know when his papers are due.
Knowing these deadlines can help with attitude and understanding as well. I know when Sam’s two huge papers are due, so I am trying my best not to schedule anything for him on the days leading up to those deadlines.
If I am aware that he has Zoom discussions on Monday nights I can make certain preparations during the day so I will not use any internet during that time and I have dinner ready on time so he has time to prepare.
Some interruptions and responsibilities cannot be changed, but being aware of your spouse’s schedule can help things flow more smoothly, and it can be a way for you to support your spouse with their school.
Ask How You Can Help
In addition to being aware of what is coming up in their schedule, you can simply ask your spouse what you can do to help. They might need help, but it may not be related to school.
Sam may ask me to proofread a paper or discussion post for him, but he also may ask me to run an errand for him or clean up his office.
I can try to be aware of what Sam needs, but the best way to know is just to ask.
Make Time to be Together
Sometimes a good way to support your spouse in school is to make them take a break. Be intentional about giving them study time and supporting them, but bring them away from the books every now and then.
Having purposeful time together will strengthen your relationship, and may also give your spouse needed time away from the books.
Sam and I try to have a date night every Friday. It doesn’t happen every week, but we still manage to find time together. We try to eat dinner together every night, and we like to go on walks together a couple times a week. Some evenings Sam studies until bedtime, but some nights he needs a break and we will watch a movie together.
It doesn’t have to be anything special or long, but intentionally setting aside time to be together will help both your spouse and your relationship together.
School can be hard on a marriage. But marriage can help a student, and you can both grow though a difficult time.
You can support your spouse in school by:
- Having a good attitude
- Being aware of their schedule
- Asking how you can help
- Making time to be together
Do you have a spouse in school, or have you had one in the past? Have you been in school while married? Let me know what worked for you or your spouse!