“Being a graduate student is like becoming all of the Seven Dwarves. In the beginning you’re Dopey and Bashful. In the middle, you are usually sick (Sneezy), tired (Sleepy), and irritable (Grumpy). But at the end, they call you Doc, and then you’re Happy.” –Ronald Azuma
Grad school is not meant to be a walk in the park. The responsibilities associated with being a grad student involve completing coursework, providing treatment, conducting testing/assessment evaluations, working on research projects, teaching courses, fulfilling practicum requirements, preparing for supervision meetings, writing your thesis, dissertation, and clinical documentation, and involvement in professional organizations (just to name a few).
These tasks are doable. They require a lot of work and time management skills, but they are doable.
But what if you have a spouse at home who expects your time and wonderful attentive nature? You won’t be the only one who’s Grumpy. Being a spouse requires an even greater commitment.
As a spouse you provide:
- Emotional Support
Such as love, encouragement, kindness, and respect.
- Household Maintenance
Chores such as cooking, cleaning, and doing the dishes.
- Financial Stability
Perhaps your spouse isn’t in grad school and they are providing the majority of the financial support to the relationship – if so, thank them.
There is not any substantial research that examines the successes of married graduate students. Some older studies have reported that marriage during graduate school is inherently detrimental to the relationship , while more current research suggests that marriage can be a supportive factor that contributes to married graduate student successes .
Due to the lack of research, we’re currently left to the advice of married grad students to share their experiences with the goals of making it work. I don’t pretend to be the best grad student around, nor do I believe that I have the key to a successful marriage.
This advice stems from the musings and self-reflections of a married doctoral student who is somehow balancing the demands of becoming a clinical psychologist with those of being a good husband.
My Top 5 Tips to Strengthen Your Marriage in Grad School
(Attention Directors of Clinical Training and All Supervisors: See #4!)
So if you’re in grad school and thinking of getting married or you have already taken your vows, here are my Top 5 Tips to Nourish Your Marriage (While Still Being a Good Student):
1. Prioritize With Perspective
If like me, you are more in favor of putting your spouse first over various aspects of grad school, then you’re more likely to find yourself creating and maintaining a strong spousal relationship while learning the skills germane to your graduate program.
Marriage is meant to last a lifetime – thankfully grad school is not. With the average doctoral graduate program meant to last 5 years, and the average lifespan reaching 79, how much are you willing to sacrifice aspects of your most important relationship to appease a supervisor who only influences 6% of your life?
On the other hand, if you’re not married and you can’t possibly see yourself devoting your energy and attention to anyone outside of grad school, then maybe holding off on saying “I do” is a better option for you.
2. Learn to (Kindly) Say “No”
It’s unlikely that you would’ve gotten to grad school without believing that working hard would bring you success.
With grad school being a source of many great opportunities, it might be tempting to write that book chapter, take on extra patients, or teach that extra course. It’s important to keep in mind that saying “no” does not equal laziness.
Appropriately declining extra work demonstrates (1) that you are aware of your limits as a student and professional, and (2) that you don’t want the work you do to suffer as a result of over-commitment.
Saying “no” is key to balancing your grad school requirements and your marriage, and being able to balance various aspects of your personal and professional life is paramount in preventing burnout .
Kindly is certainly an important takeaway here. Remember, a spouse can be the buffer between you kindly declining someone’s request and feverishly hitting reply to that email only to later regret appearing unprofessional.
3. Create the Marriage You Want
We are all creatures of habit. From little things like needing to sleep on the left side of the bed, to larger patterns like trouble communicating with your spouse – routine turns into comfort.
It’s hard to think of life after grad school, but that time will eventually come. The habits that we develop during grad school are likely to stay with us after graduation.
It’s easy to get in the mindset of “this is all temporary;” however, the ways you manage your time, divide up household chores, and communicate with your spouse will turn into a well-oiled routine that is unlikely to change simply because you graduated.
Picture the marriage you want to have and start working toward that goal now!
4. Involve Your Spouse in Your Self-Care Routine
Self-care is such an important aspect for behavioral health students and professionals alike, and unfortunately, the current data examining self-care in graduate schools is deplorable.
For example, 82.8% of graduate students report that their programs don’t provide written self-care materials, 63.4% report that their programs don’t even support or promote self-care activities or practices, and 59.3% don’t even promote informal self-care atmospheres .
There are many ways in which you can incorporate your spouse into your self-care practices. Together you can:
- Cook healthy meals
- Work on puzzles
- Take on new hobbies
- Listen to music
- Visit farmer’s markets and/or garage sales
- Create art
- Walk the dogs
- Plan regular date-nights
- Go out with mutual friends
- Take periodic vacations
- Plan breaks in your day where you can both be together
Involving your spouse with activities that you both enjoy will help decrease the angst and resentment that many spouses may find themselves feeling as a result of being married to a graduate student.
5. Don’t Skimp on Intimacy
As a grad student you already schedule meetings, courses, and patients.
If you’re able to be spontaneous, keep it up! But if not, give your spouse the same care and level of importance and schedule times when the two of you can focus solely on each other. This means no TV, no cell phones, and no pets.
The more you incorporate intimacy, the less you will need to schedule it in.
I encourage you to share your ideas on nourishing your marriages while in grad school in the comments below as well as begin a discussion in your graduate program about implementing self-care practices and atmospheres!
 Brooks, A. (1988, November 03). For Graduate Students, Marriage Presents a Special Problem. Retrieved May 24, 2016. Price, J. (2006). Does a spouse slow you down? Marriage and graduate student outcomes [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 24, 2016. Rupert, P.A., Stevanovic, P., & Hunley, H. A. (2009). Work-family conflict and burnout among practicing psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 194-200. Doi:10.1037/a0011860 Norcross, J.C., & Guy, J.D. (2007). Leaving it at the office: A guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Carter, L. A., & Barnett, J. E. (2014). Self-care for clinicians in training: A guide to psychological wellness for graduate students in psychology. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
Schwartz-Mette, R. A. (2009). Challenges in addressing graduate students impairment in academic professional psychology programs. Ethics & Behavior, 19, 91-109. Doi: 10.1080/10508420902768973
- 5 Ways to Help Your Marriage Thrive During Grad School - June 7, 2016
This is a wonderful piece. My Fiance is in Grad School and my perspective is from the full time working soon-to-be spouse. The one thing that has maintained our relationship since she entered school was our ability to communicate. We have a clear standard and expectation then when something is not going your way, you need to say something immediately, rather than allowing it pile up amongst other things over time. We deal with one problem at a time and do so in a rational, productive manner. Sometimes tempers do flare, but at the end of the day, we both believe in one another’s dreams and aspirations, and have come to terms with the fact that life can sometimes be unfair and difficult. You must be willing to compromise from time to time so that both parties can chase their dreams, while also be able to give one another the attention they need to maintain equilibrium. Well-written piece.
Thank you for this. God bless you for sharing your perspective and this was a blessing to read. Grad school has been very trying on marriage and sometimes I have felt guilty for needing her to compromise so much, but she’s been amazing through the process and that’s so important.
Well written Anthony. Great advice to all, not just graduate students.
Thank you! !
I am recently married and well into my doctoral program. Ithe is comforting to know that I am not alone in the struggle. I try to include him in everything and I schedule date nights. It’s nice to see that we’re normal. ….