Thursday, August 23, 2012

10 Things to Know about Marriage and Grad School!

I think that it is time I share with the world my advice for anyone who is going to be the spouse of a grad student.

So maybe your spouse is researching, preparing, applying, or anxiously awaiting to get into medical school you are wondering what it is going to be like.  I'm hoping you stumble across this post in your research.  My particular experience was when my husband went to get his Master of Physician Assistant degree.

I'll preface by saying that the PA program my husband attended was a three year program which is different than many others as others are two year programs and it was much shorter than a MD.  Also, my husband had to go back and level undergrad classes as his first Bachelors had nothing to do with the science or medical field.  So our adventure to complete the Master of Physician Assistant degree was a seven year process.  Leveling undergrad was not the challenge that was so easy I've never really considered it part of the adventure until I looked back and saw the journey full circle.

1. Everyone's experience is different!  Don't compare yourself to others because one phase you will think is super easy and someone else will think it is horrid and vise-versa.
For an example, I thought the first year was brutal (might not be a strong enough word).  I never saw my husband and when I did he was beat down and grumpy (so was I of course), all he did was spend time at school studying, in class or in the lab. It was dreadful.  Then we made it through the first year and second year was much better and when rotations rolled around it was like Heaven. But a lady I know whose husband is a year behind mine thought the first year was a breeze, the 2nd year was the WORST and is not particularly enjoying rotations.
2. Seek a support system- I'm not just talking about having those who love you support you, I'm taking about have close people in your life that know and expect to spend extra time with you. When my hubby started PA school we had been married about two years and I didn't have a close group of women who I could hang out with it was one of the worst times of my life.  You will need close friends, like the kind you had before you were married.  Find them somehow.
Join an exercise group, get in a church group, if you have young kids join a play group.  Make plans that bring you joy because being a cheerleader and supporter of your spouse is tiring hard work.
3.  Horrid happens have a hobby!  The worst part about your spouse perpetually studying is being ultimately bored. When you first get married I think you forget your hobbies.  At least I did.  My husband was my hobby and I spent all my time with him.  Then when he was gone I had to relearn what I enjoyed doing before it was spending all my time with him.
 I learned to sew.  I joined book clubs.  I did diet cleanses.  I ran. 
4. It's good to be you! If you are like me then you aren't in the medical field.  Many of the students significant others/spouses somehow are in a medicine/science field and that can feel exclusive.  When we would get together for happy hour or events I would feel as though I had nothing to contribute to any conversation. But take heart it's good to be different - you can offer a breath of fresh air for brains that are over stuffed with medical 'crap'. Also, as the spouse, you are watching and experiencing the change and transformation of your spouse as they change, learn, grow and pursue a passion.  This can make you feel insignificant, unimportant, un-passionate. You need to be alert to their changes so you don't end up living with a stranger but you need to be just as alert and reminding yourself what you are about.  What do you like?  What are you passionate about?  What do you want to do?  You may (and I would suggest should) be taking on more "roles" in the marriage but also do things that make you feel alive as an individual.
I took a Citizen Police Academy class through my city PD - it was awesome!  I also focused more energy into my freelance business.
5. Let's be honest; it would be easier if they were out of town or country! This sounds harsh but it is true.  Catering to a student who is only focused on the task before them is hard work.  Planning dinner is a headache, planning any event is nearly impossible, having a regular schedule is non-existent.  SO it would be much easier if you only had yourself and perhaps kids to plan for.
I attended many things by myself.  Friends birthdays, church services, holidays celebrations with family, weddings, etc. and this is okay.  It is only for a season.
6. Live close!  While I am quite thankful and know (and see) that God had a plan for us living an hour from school I still don't recommend it.  If you can live within at least 15 mins I would highly encourage it.

7. Know your love languages. You really do need to know how you show and receive love.  If your love language is quality time (as mine is) you are in for a tough road to walk.  If your spouses love language is gifts (as my husband is) making a banner saying "I love you" when they come home WAY TOO LATE will almost bring them to tears and help them to remember it will all be worth it.  You must communicate with each other if you are receiving the proper communication that you are loved.  If you aren't it is going to be a very discouraging time and your marriage will suffer significantly. I've posted about the book The 5 Love Languages before - check it out.

8. Being stressed or depressed happens.  You are BOTH going through a real challenge. As the spouse it just so happens to be one that truthfully you don't have much control of at all.  (You don't go to class, you can't study or write the paper or take the test) but your future rides on it just as much as theirs does.  So listen to your body, seek counseling (through a friend or professional) either way talk about it. Seek help/support in whatever way is helpful to you.

9. Encourage a schedule! One of the biggest hardships we went through in the first year was my husband trying to study ALL the time.  Well you just can't do that and be healthy.  Of course you can't force your spouse to set and maintain a schedule but you should do your best to lovingly encourage it.  I didn't know the significance in this and I truly wish I had.  Once my husband set a schedule of school 7am - 6pm we functioned as a couple much better and he functioned as a student significantly better.  He slept better hours he did better on tests, he was less irritable.  When he was done for the day he was done, he didn't have a nagging sensation that he should be studying because he knew he had put in his hours appropriately.

10. And lastly, to end with a little humor.  If your grad school adventure is in medicine be prepared for yucky topics. Gross pictures in textbooks, nasty PowerPoint slides, annoying rotation (OBGYN).  Something about being inundated day in and day out with medical topics tends to make the students desensitized to gross, embarrassing, and taboo topics.  While these topics to the rest of us are still shocking.  I guess they can't help it, and honestly who wants a doctor who is embarrassed to discuss a subject.  NO ONE!  Nevertheless no dinner is safe so try not to have a weak stomach ;)

Good luck to you!

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