The secret to successfully navigating college while maintaining a happy, healthy marriage is that there is no big secret. Marriage is a partnership, and the decision to earn a college degree – like everything else in married life – is a matter of compromise, teamwork and supreme patience.
That said, there are a number of practical steps a married couple can take together to help mitigate the additional challenges that arise when one partner is enrolled in school.
Before we get to those tips about how to be a good student and a good spouse, you ought to know a couple of things about school and marriage.
First, there is strong evidence that marriage and a college education are compatible – especially for women.
A 2015 study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and cited by the Pew Research Center concluded that eight in 10 college-educated women are likely to remain married for at least 20 years (overall, 50% of marriages in the United States fail before the 20th anniversary).
Also, people who are married and in college often find that they are eligible for more financial aid assistance than those who remain tethered to their parents’ income as legal dependents. Some grants and scholarships are available only to married students, so it doesn’t hurt to check out what’s available. In addition, the federal government offers financial assistance for college to military service members and their families.
It is recommended that all students complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine whether they are eligible for assistance from the federal or state governments, the applicable college or university, or a private institution.
In most cases, marriage certainly should not be considered an impediment to attaining a college education. Still, as with everything in marriage, successfully navigating a college career requires a great deal of individual effort combined with conscientious teamwork.
No married person needs to be reminded that maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse demands a considerable time commitment. And taking college classes, even with the convenience of an online classroom, places an even greater emphasis on time management skills.
Here are a few practical tips to help a married couple maintain a healthy relationship as one of them pursues – or they both pursue – a bachelor’s or master’s degree or a graduate certificate:
Talk it out ahead of time – Before anyone enrolls for classes, both partners need to be on the same page regarding goals and potential obstacles. Make a plan, and make sure to answer these questions:
- Why do you need (or want) to take college classes?
- How will we pay for it?
- How will we divide household chores?
- When and where will you watch online lectures, communicate with classmates and instructors, take tests and study?
Be as flexible and patient as possible – Know going in that even the best-laid plan can (and probably will) be derailed by real life. Mentally prepare yourself for the challenges life can put in your path, such as:
- Job loss
- A family member or friend in need of extra assistance
Make time for each other – A full daily calendar means it might be more difficult to find those moments of spontaneity that keep a relationship fresh, so the solution is to schedule time together. That could be simple as:
- Conversation together over morning coffee
- Meeting for lunch at least once a week
- Setting aside an hour a night to watch a favorite TV show
- Sending thoughtful text messages to each other throughout the day
Be kind to one another – If resentment begins to creep in, don’t allow it to linger. Just try to remember why you got married and why you chose to build a life with your spouse. Remember, too, that you both agreed ahead of time that pursuing college was the right decision for your family, and you did so knowing that it would not always be easy.
Keep talking – Communication is vital in any marriage, and this is especially true when the couple is undergoing a major life challenge such as pursuing a college education. Just because you made a solid plan before classes began doesn’t mean everything is settled. Don’t assume that because you are satisfied with the way things are going that your spouse is, too.