School, Stress, and Healthy Relationships
I have been married for over two years. I met my husband the summer after my freshman year of college, started dating him my sophomore year, and married him the summer before my senior year. Most of my undergraduate and all of my graduate school experiences included juggling a relationship with this one person. Every challenging class, every difficult professor, every failed exam, every stressful week, and every exhausting semester – I had to work at my relationship as well.
Pursuing a degree and working a job and doing research all while trying to nurture and grow a relationship was a taxing endeavor and sometimes more detrimental than beneficial to my mental health. There were days when I simply did not want to talk to anybody, when my foul mood would lead us into arguments, or when the thought of spending time with him was more stressful than appealing. But, no matter how challenging things got, I knew he was worth it. We were worth it.
Looking on past relationships and interests, I can see where I wasted far too much time and energy. I now recognize where toxic men sucked time, money, and attention from my daily life and where being with someone whose interests did not align with mine was detrimental not only to my general happiness and well-being but to my education and pursuit of success. Hence, I would not say every relationship is worth pursuing on top of the stress of classes and work and research. Honestly, most aren’t worth pursuing regardless of other responsibilities. The challenge is identifying a relationship that is worth the effort, and once found, know that it is possible to be successful amid a demanding environment and have a healthy relationship.
My husband and I both work full-time as engineers and are pursuing our graduate degrees in engineering. Some days, and at times weeks, it feels like we hardly see each other. We stay busy, get home at different times, eat at different times, go to bed separately, and wake up separately. Therefore, what has been exceedingly important for us is being intentional in spending time together when the small opportunities arise. Whether we schedule our monthly date night, spend a Saturday doing chores together, or find time between exams and work projects to cuddle on the couch, we don’t allow ourselves to become strangers to each other.
We also strive to maintain our independence throughout our marriage. We will occasionally hang out with our individual friends and family separately, allowing me to stay home if I am particularly busy or allowing him to rest and recuperate if his social battery is spent. This helps reduce our overall stress and prevents resentment when one of us can’t stay home or can’t go out. After all, if we waited until both of us were available, we would hardly ever go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone. It has also been essential to communicate and be on the same page about the important things – time management, personal ambitions, and large purchases. While it is intuitive that shared money be discussed before it is spent, not many couples discuss how to allocate their time, energy, and resources. My husband and I have needed to consider whether finishing graduate school in two years was worth me taking two to three courses a semester, thus leaving me with little to no time outside of my classes and my job. We also have a mutual understanding and respect for the responsibilities of being an engineering student. If one of us is busy, the other doesn’t selfishly push for a little extra time or attention. Some plans must be flexible for the sake of sanity, and some desires can be delayable for the sake of peace. It is when one person holds little regard for the other’s responsibilities, ambitions, or worries that problems arise.
Compatibility is important. Independence is important. Respect is important.
It is too easy to sacrifice time and effort for the sake of a superficial or toxic relationship. However, with communication, respect, and planning, a healthy relationship can flourish even amid the high stress environment that is graduate school. I know this because I am experiencing it. Life is no longer just me versus the challenges of the world, but us together. Every challenging class, every difficult professor, every failed exam, every stressful week, and every exhausting semester – I have him to help me through it.
I love you, Roy Graves, and I am forever grateful for you.