-written by ML, a current graduate wife
I came home from work to find that my graduate student husband had spent the day playing video games again, instead of writing his dissertation. It would be so easy to yell, so easy to tell him off. Why? I’m at a job I dislike, we’re living in a town we dislike, so he can follow his dream…and he isn’t working on it. It would be so easy to lose my temper, so easy to run away, so easy to give up on this grad student wife life.
But I STOP. I stop before I yell. I stop before I even speak. I stop and think about, “WHY?”
Why isn’t he working on his dissertation? It isn’t because he’s lazy; it isn’t because he’s being mean; it isn’t even because he doesn’t want to. It’s because he’s hit a rough spot.
He loves to teach, he loves doing field work, and as a professor he’ll get to do both. But in order to get there, he has to do research and write a dissertation.
While he was initially researching, we set up a system of deadlines and rewards. Finish X research by Monday, and we go out to eat. Finish Y research by July, and we go to a soccer game. It’s a system I recommend trying if you’re in a tough spot, but it comes with a warning: I too want to go out to eat and go to games and the few times deadlines were missed and we didn’t get to go, I felt like I was being punished too. I remedied this by doing other things, say going to museum he wouldn’t want to go to on a day I had off while he was teaching class. I made sure to do things he wasn’t interested in so as not to pour salt in the wound.
However, when the research was done and it was time to write, I quickly saw that no matter what the reward was, the deadline was missed. You see, my husband is a perfectionist. When it comes to writing, he feels like every line must be perfect before putting it on paper. This led to basically zero writing getting done.
When you really think about it, it’s not easy to run or give up on this grad wife life. It would mean being without him, and that would be terrible! Since we live 2,000 miles from family there’s nowhere to run to. Thank goodness! Instead of hiding and continuing to be angry we are stuck in a tiny apartment together, forced to find a solution to get over our anger.
A quick search revealed there are actually books to help with dissertation writing, I chose, “The Dissertation Journey: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation” by Carol M. Roberts. Knowing that he wouldn’t read it because he had a lot going on, was bordering on depression, and just wouldn’t – I took it upon myself to read it to him a bit every night. He went from skepticism to wishing he’d read it at the beginning of grad school. First it pointed out that he isn’t alone in how he feels (much like this blog did for me). Then it explained the graduate process. Then it had some extremely handy lists as to what each chapter should contain.
It would be easy to treat him like a child—take away his video games, force him to sit at the desk and put something on paper or no dinner; ultimately though, that would make the situation so much worse. He’s already going through a rough time; he doesn’t need his #1 fan belittling him.
We still go through the book together (it’s not one you simply read through, it’s one that is read in parts as the dissertation moves along). I help him check things off the lists. I encourage him to just get something on paper and we’ll smooth it out later. I make deals like I’ll wash the dishes for him if he’ll write while I do it. I’ve gone from a pretty pessimistic person to his own personal cheerleader.
All-in-all, my solution is to STOP before you say anything, think about the real cause of why he isn’t working, try to find a solution together, and be encouraging instead of belittling and angry.
As a graduate wife, how have you dealt with a spouse who seems to be putting off writing or researching their work?