March 13, 2012

How to Survive Grad School: A Spouse's Guide

Here I sit. Alone, again, on a Tuesday night.  The Mr. is back at school preparing for his next big exam, after stopping home briefly for a quick dinner. And I am so extremely proud of him.
If there is one thing I've learned over the past two years, it’s that graduate school is difficult.  I have watched my husband stay up late, rise early, and study until he is cross-eyed.   He works so diligently and so hard; and, frankly, his hard work is paying off.  But it is still not easy.

I always believed people when they said that grad school was hard – but I just figured that people were referring to the student. Here’s a secret: it’s no cakewalk for the spouses either.  So, if your significant other is preparing to begin, or has already begun, the insanity that is graduate school, allow me to provide you with a few ways that I’ve learned how to survive – and thrive – through the adventure.

1.  Find a Hobby – While I know that I am fortunate that the Mr. does most of his studying at home, I have also found that I can be his biggest distraction.  The best way to remedy my desire to try to convince him to play this game with me or watch that movie is to keep myself occupied.   Whether it’s fitting in time for a long run or finally reading that book that I’ve been meaning to read, I’ve learned that I need to keep myself busy.

2. Pursue Other Relationships – This is an area where I could use improvement.  You know those quiet, and sometimes lonely, nights spent alone while he studies?  Well, what better use of my time than developing relationships with ladies around me or keeping in touch with old friends.  While no one can replace the sweet fellowship that I have with Cole, it can ease the pressure that he may feel if I am not looking to him to be the sole source of connecting conversationally.

3. Keep a Sense of Humor – Remember, school is difficult. And, you can be sure that he is not choosing studying over spending time with you because he wants to.  He chooses to study, rather than spend time with me, out of pure necessity. And, at the end of the day, I am so thankful for his incredible discipline.

4. Be His Biggest Cheerleader – All day long, he may not necessarily be receiving the most positive or encouraging feedback.  The last thing he needs is to come home to a bitter, frustrated wife.  Be the safe place to which he can run where he knows that he is still the hero.  And, as for my heart? Well, it’s harder to throw myself a pity party if I’m too busy throwing a celebratory party for him…. Which leads me to…

5. Be Selfless – This is not about me. This is the cornerstone upon which all the other ideas are built. I am here to help and support him through, well, his whole life, but especially through this time. Graduate school is hard enough; I need not make it any more difficult by being needy.  If there is a way that I can lighten his load – taking care of things at home, making his lunches, or sitting for endless eye exams – then I should joyfully do it.  I should - in all areas - be dying to self on a daily basis, setting aside my own agenda for another's. I joyfully kiss him as he heads back to school for a long night of studying, knowing that he is working for our future, for our best, for His glory.

Grad school is hard; but, I must say, I have a wonderful husband who does not shirk his duties at home when duties at school scream louder.  When he has any free time, he works to lighten my load. Such is the beautiful dance called ‘marriage.’

I'm sure there are a million other ways to survive and support your spouse through grad school, but I figured you didn't stop by to read a novel.  So, these are just a few things that I've learned in our journey.  Don’t get me wrong – I am extremely grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am incredibly amazed at the discipline, balance, and prowess with which Cole handles everything.  I couldn’t be more proud to be the one standing on the sidelines, cheering him on in this important adventure.  Cole is a man among men; and I am, among women, most blessed.

ALL is grace.

PS - How many of you have survived grad school?  Any tips??  :)


  1. I'm doing a PhD right now, and I can't really think of any great tips sorry. However I can say I'm really appreciative of how understanding my husband has been when I've had to decline spending time with him to do work. I definitely think there should be some sort of party not only for when someone graduates grad school, but also a party to celebrate how wonderful the people were who put up with them being in grad school!

    1. How great to have such a supportive spouse! I'm sure it makes all the difference! Best of luck with your PhD program!!

  2. Good post, Laura. I was in grad school FOREVER and I remember envying the MD's and Lawyers who had specific years-in-school as part of their program. Electrical Engineering Ph.D's stay in school until they defend their dissertation. I finished my M.S. in two years, on schedule, got married and then the Ph.D. took 5 more years. not according to (MY) plan. Or Lisa's plan but she stuck with me :).

    I don't blame Lisa at all for this extended time, but I devoted less time to research and studies after marriage than I did before. Marriage meant that I moved to a much nicer apartment (no cockroaches, owned a vacuum cleaner, etc) but it was 25 min away from school compared to 4 min. So I stopped going back to school after dinner and I took more weekends off. It's really good that you understand that the temporary affliction of 3 years of evenings alone will really be forgotten once you guys are done with school. Take the long view. In a few years, you will wish you had more time alone :). That's my biggest advice; Realize that you're in 3 years of focused study in exchange for the rest of your life.

    Getting my final degree really did make me feel like the pain and inconvenience and relative poverty of the previous years were somewhat forgotten.

    I really appreciate the fact that you both are not taking a break from serving God in ministry to a church body; I went about 4 years with nominal participation at church until I realized that I was going to be in grad school a long time and I should get more involved. "Don't Waste Your Life" includes grad school, retirement, and everything in between.

    I won't talk much about the fact that after a few years in the workforce, the job can tend to overlap into dinner/family time at night, especially if you're foolish enough to choose a job that deals a lot with Asia. :) A lot of times, I wish I was back in grad school. I could eat ramen every day with absolutely no effect on my blood pressure.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dr. Tim! I'm definitely take for granted the fact that we have a definite 'End Date'. I'm sure we'll look back on this time fondly - and I KNOW we'll look back and miss our wonderful church family. What a blessing YOU ALL have been! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some ramen to 'cook.'

  3. Great advice, Laura! Josh's three years in grad school taught me #1, but how I wish I had been quicker to learn the others! #2 and #4 are VITAL and I wish I had leaned them sooner! One thing to keep in mind (not to discourage you, but to prepare and encourage you!) is that it doesn't necessarily get easier. The habits you are forming now in your marriage with regards to how you spend your time will not automatically change once graduate school is finished. It was a hard reality check for me when Josh started his job here and was close to being as busy as he had always been, plus international travel was added on top! It took years and God's intervention for us to realize we needed to communicate very honestly and lovingly about our relational needs, stop letting our circumstances dictate the nature of our relationship, and be intentional and deliberate in both the quantity and quality of time we spend together.

    Hang in there, you guys are way ahead of where we were!

  4. This is a great post, Laura! I found you from blog hopping and love this post--although I have neither a spouse nor significant other, I work with a lot of graduate students who have spouses and this is a great resource! You're an inspiration!

    Love your blog!

  5. Thanks for posting this... I needed this reminder today! What an encouraging post when you feel defeated and turn to Google! We have an unexpected but very loved 6 month old daughter and he is only in year 2 of 7... and sometimes thats just a lot to carry. I appreciate the reality check of who I am to my husband...the ever present cheerleader! Thanks!


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