My wife, Mel, will graduate from college this summer. We have been married for 11 years, and this will be the first time neither of us will be in college. We were both 21 when we met, and Mel had just finished her associate degree and had no intentions of going back. I had finally decided to begin college. During my last year of graduate school Mel decided to go back and finish her undergrad. By then we had two children. We have three now. I’m not sure what to expect from marriage without college, but what I do know is how to survive college as a married couple. Here are a few tips.
At some point you will feel neglected: This winter Mel took a genetics class that, more or less, ate up her life. When I wasn’t at work I spent most of my time cleaning the house, running errands, and taking the kids places, while Mel studied. I took the majority of the night shifts with our toddler because Mel had been up late doing homework. About a week before finals I started to feel tired and picked on and neglected. This was not the first time Mel had been faced with a challenging class and I ended up feeling this way. When I was in college, Mel often felt neglected while I took challenging classes. We have grown to expect it. This doesn’t make these difficult time any easier, but knowing that they will happen, and realizing that they are temporary can make it easier.
Don’t feel like a break in school is all about you: Whenever I received a break in school I felt like I deserved some time to myself. Mel felt the same way about my breaks, and we often ended up arguing because we both felt like we deserved something from the other.
Take advantage of breaks in classes as a family and couple: Now, with Mel in school, during breaks in classes we usually have three goals. Get caught up on sleep. Spend time with our children. Spend time together. Sleep usually happens first. We spend at least a day sleeping in shifts. Then we do something (or a few somethings) with the children. Then we do something together. This tends to make our breaks more about the family and not about the individual.
It’s easy to resent the parent in school: Sometimes it feels like the parent in school owes you something. Try not to feel that way. Take a moment and realize that the person in school is making a sacrifice for the good of your family, same as the one not in school.
Be sure to appreciate the parent not in school: When I was in school Mel and I got into several arguments that seemed ridiculous to me at the time, but most were because she didn’t feel appreciated for taking on the brunt of raising the kids. She often said she felt like a single mom while I was in graduate school. We used to laugh about that, but what she really wanted was for me to acknowledge what she was doing and appreciate it.
Realize that it’s temporary, but it’s a long temporary: college as a parent and spouse doesn’t last forever, but it can feel like it does. It’s a serious test of endurance (we have been at it for 11 years. Trust me. I know). It’s going to take a long time to get through school. It’s going to mean sacrifices on both ends. It’s doable and it has an end. But it’s going to take time, so be patient with each other.