–written by Alison, a current graduate
“What did you do today?” is not a common question I hear from Michael, my husband, at the end of the day. He typically asks, “How was your day?” And, while seemingly it is the same question, they imply different things–the first what I did and the latter how it affected me. Michael is not a “feelings” guy, so I do not believe his choice in question reflects a sensitive concern for my emotional well-being. However, I do think the question embodies his thoughts and feelings toward what I do.
I am the graduate student in our relationship and am in a field you couldn’t pay my husband to study: counseling. I can’t blame him for not wanting to hear a typical response to what I really did that day, because most of them would involve stories of substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, or people in crisis situations. Not quite the things Michael would prefer to think about while eating dinner or getting ready for bed. In fact, it’s often not quite the things anyone wants to think of.
When I began working on my masters in counseling, I was not good at explaining to Michael what I was learning. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell him about it or that I didn’t think he could intellectually understand it, it was more that I knew counseling was not interesting to him at all. Michael would be a terrible counselor (he would tell you the same thing). He has trouble grasping how I could want to listen to people emotionally vomit all day without simply telling them to “get over it.”
It can be difficult to explain to anyone, especially a spouse, a topic that can seem so foreign or uninteresting. A couple will marry because they are in love, and fit together perfectly. I forget sometimes the reason we work well together is because we complement each other, which, of course, is a nice way of saying that we are different. I certainly do not want to be married to my clone, but sometimes, I think it may be kind of nice to have someone understand me without me having to explain everything! When it comes to my studies, I would love to be able to chat about whatever I am reading and for that person to just get it. I admit I have been envious of my friends who are in the same profession as their husbands. It must be nice to not have to explain all the intricacies of the subject-matter or the professional career path.
Because of all of this, for the first semester or so, I did not share a lot of details about what I was learning, what was going on at school, what I was thinking about my future in this profession, etc. He knew general things about my studies, but I did not try to really introduce him to this new world I was entering. The problem that I did not foresee is that by not sharing that part of me, I was, in essence, hiding that part of me. A marriage can struggle when one spouse hides something from the other. Obviously, he knew I was going to school and working in the counseling field, but I hid how the things I was learning was affecting and changing me.
It hit me one day (later in my program than I would like to admit) that the reason Michael and I did not talk about counseling is simply because I did not do much to help him understand the overall profession. So, using some of my counseling skills on myself, I made a plan to make an effort to open up more about everything. When I came home from class, I would tell him about the discussion topic and things that happened instead of just giving an “it was fine” type answer. When I came home from work, I would tell him more about my clients and more details about what I did that day. And, to no one’s surprise, he became more interested in the field. I had not realized how much I needed to fully share that part of me with him, and it was great to feel the difference it made in our relationship.
I do have to be aware of when the counseling discussion has gone long enough or when I’m sharing too many details of my line of work. I would imagine that most graduate spouses appreciate when their wife or husband remembers that he or she is not in their program and saves the real in-depth exploration of their field for their classmates. We may share a life together, but that certainly does not mean he wants to discuss counseling theories all day!
To be part of my life, he is happy to talk with me about counseling-related topics. The same is true for me talking with him about his profession. It’s about actually taking the time to make an effort to open up about our interests and professions to help each other be part of those worlds. It is worth noting, though, that no matter how long or how often we discuss counseling, I am certain I will never convince him that “get over it!” is not an acceptable to response to my clients. :) So, while I can’t expect him to become a counselor, I can know that he now understands me a bit better.
How do you and your graduate spouse share worlds? Do you have any tips that you’d be willing to share in the comments below?