I got married one week before I started Ooligan’s graduate program. Needless to say, the reveling in my bridal bliss was cut short when I started to juggle work and school and a new—gasp!—husband. A couple weeks ago we celebrated our first six months, and I realized that I have made these past six months about school, reading the right books, applying for the right internships, and figuring out what to do with a new degree. I haven’t really made our first year of marriage about our marriage. Oops.
But how do you do that? As someone in grad school with a thousand new deadlines and a thousand more opportunities at your fingertips, how do you make time for the other parts of your life that are important? Sure, there are lists and tips on how to stay sane in grad school, how to be organized, and how to simply survive. But how do you be a good partner, one who is caring and devoted and gives undivided attention, when you’re being pulled in (a minimum of) ten different directions at any given time?
Being in a committed relationship has helped my grad school journey in so many ways. The stress and politics of academia aren’t waiting for me at home; instead there’s a fully-stocked refrigerator. When things go wrong, I have a built-in support system who has promised to be with me till death do us part. I also have someone who is working full time and is better financially disposed to generously pick up the bar tab (thanks, hun!).
But on the other hand, while he has free weekends to go adventure and take a short trip, I have a never-ending list of things I should be doing. While he clocks in and out at work, I face the white-noise anxiety of all the work that could be done. I continually steal our precious time together and give it to homework, events around town, and reading to stay on top of the field.
Now I am by no means a relationship expert. But we’re still married, and even better, we still like each other. I must be doing something right. Here are a couple things that we have found worked to help us stay connected:
Talk about your schedule. Always on the edge of overwhelmed, I easily assume that my husband (and really, anyone who asks) knows about the many things I am juggling. Fact, they don’t. Unless we talk about it, there is no way for my partner to know I’m trying to squeeze in five errands between classes, or that my appointment has changed and now I need to drive across town, or that I can come home an hour earlier to spend more time together. When everyone has as much information as possible, there’s less chance of being disappointed.
Make your time together an accomplishment. While I know time spent together is more valuable than whatever homework I need to get done, I don’t get the satisfaction of crossing it off my to-do list. I have to remind myself that taking care of my relationship is worth my time and attention, even if it comes at the sacrifice of yet another edit to some copy or a pitch letter. I’ve started to block off the hours we overlap at home to resist the temptation to squeeze in one more thing. I can’t promise that helps with the anxiety of your impending to-dos, but fake it till you make it has worked for me thus far.
Say yes. Sometimes. My days are a lot of no: No, I don’t have time to watch a movie; no, I can’t skip class and go to the beach; no, I don’t particularly want to hang out with your family and explain for the hundredth time what I’m studying in school. But saying yes to a spontaneous walk, to going out to dinner, to dropping everything and taking a break to just be with the person I love makes that whole to-do list a whole lot easier.
So those of you balancing school, work, relationships, children: How do you do it? What helps you stay balanced and centered and a lovingly devoted partner?