Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part II}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the second post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here.


Work:  When my husband and I made the decision to go to graduate school, I committed to support us. I have worked the entire time we’ve been in school, and have had some really wonderful (but often difficult) jobs along the way.  It’s not easy putting your other half through school, either emotionally or financially. There’s a lot of self-sacrificing involved.

I’ve had several fellow graduate wives work some pretty incredible jobs to be that financial support – everything from clown, journalist, nanny, and lawyer. Usually when I hear their stories, my respect for them, no matter what they do, triples.  If you are working, and your other half is in school AND working, how do you find the time to support each other? I don’t know about you, but time is a precious commodity in our house.

Here are some things we’ve done over the course of the last few years:

  • Be supportive of each other. When my husband has a deadline coming up, I know he’s going to be incredibly stressed. I’ve learned the best way I can support him is to step out of his way, and give him the space he needs. (This means not nagging him whenever he hasn’t taken the garbage out or vacuumed)! He does the same for me whenever I have a deadline at work.
  • Work as hard as you can…then let it go. There are never going to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. Decide what it’s important, and do that. Let everything else go. (For this perfectionist personality, that was a hard one)!
  • Communicate. When we first started school, almost every night we watched television while eating dinner. We both soon realized that with our jobs (in addition to my job, he was going to school full time and working three part time jobs), we weren’t seeing each other. Why were we wasting time doing that, when we could be spending it with each other? We finally turned the television off. We don’t even own one now.
  •  You will be living in different worlds. Unless you are working at the school your other half attends, then more than likely you’ll be in a much different environment than he is. Case in point: during our masters’ program, my husband had friends who were keeping their air conditioning off (in Florida), because they were worried about paying their bill. I, on the other hand, worked in an office where colleagues were buying yachts. Nothing is wrong with either of those scenarios, but it meant we had to work doubly hard to understand and be patient with each others worlds.
  • Celebrate the little things. When you’re both working, hardly seeing each other, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate a good review at work, a good meeting with a supervisor, or a deadline met. So put your work aside, pop open a bottle of champagne, have some chocolate covered strawberries, and celebrate!


Avoiding Pitfalls:

I do love the sense of adventure that the graduate journey has brought us, even through the most difficult times. One of the things I haven’t particularly enjoyed is moving. I don’t like having our ‘stuff’ strewn through two States at parent’s homes; I don’t like not knowing where things are (even though, I did at one point have all our storage boxes labelled by number that corresponded with an excel spreadsheet – so literally at any time, I could go call my Mom to say, “Will you go to box 16 and mail me ____?” I obviously had too much time on my hands before we moved); and I really don’t like the fact that nothing in our current flat seems like it’s ‘ours’ right now.

When you move and start over, there are always pitfalls to avoid as you wouldn’t want to end up in a crappy apartment with black mold growing down the walls or a neighbor whose favorite past time is playing Jay-Z’s new song, Glory. At 3 am. To full volume. (No offense to Jay-Z, or to Glory).

How do you plan accordingly for moving to a new city? A lot of this will seem like common sense, but there are some things on this list we didn’t do before we moved, and paid a dear price for later on.

  • Research. Seriously? Yes. Research the heck out of your new city. Take the time to learn its quirks, even before you arrive. Pick up every piece of information you can find, from the internet, to the library, to a book store. Buy a special book or journal, and make that your “New City” book. Keep any key pieces of information you’d like to have on hand in your new book.
  • Learn from other people’s experiences. My husband and I are contemplating another move at the moment. I am in the process of meeting or communicating with several people (some I’ve never met) who have lived in the city (or nearby) we are considering. It seems strange to start an email with, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m friends with blah blah blah…” but you know what? Most people are eager to help you on your journey, because they were in your shoes once. The information they pass on to you will be priceless…and perhaps something to put in your new book! MC and I met over the phone, and spent 8 months talking about Oxford before she actually moved here.
  •  Plan carefully, but be willing to take a risk. Plans are never foolproof. Something will always go wrong. There are going to be times you’re going to have to make a decision blindly. When you do, roll with it. Chances are, things will turn out just fine. If not, then you’ll have a wonderful story to tell your grandchildren someday.

Traveling:  Hands down, the biggest regret that my husband and I have since living here is that we haven’t taken the time to travel more in the UK. We have an intimate relationship with Oxford, but haven’t made the time to visit very many other places in the UK. (We have managed to travel through a bit of Europe).  Now with a toddler running around, it makes things even more difficult.

With all the groupon coupons, living social coupons, etc you should be able to afford and make the time to travel to other places in the area, State, or country you live in. Get to know the city you live in – visit the museums, hang out in the coffee shops, visit the restaurants. When I first worked in Oxford, I visited a news agent so frequently, that I became friends with the owner.

Our excuse for not traveling was my husband’s schedule. Looking back, would it have mattered if it had taken him another month or two in the long run to finish his dissertation? The answer is NO! So pack your bags and go!

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known…{part I}

Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are staring a three part series on “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Mandy and Julia have almost 16 years combined experience of being graduate wives and they have moved almost 8 times to different institutions between the two of them.  Today’s post focuses on ‘intangible’ things they wish they known to expect, Thursday’s post will focus on more ‘tangible’ things they wish they had known to be aware of, and finally we will close next week with a post sharing a bit of both.  I have read through this and am incredibly encouraged and thankful for the advice.  I hope it speaks to you on the journey as well! – M.C.

Uncertain Future: The world of academia is a chasm of uncertainty. Open posts are few and far between; our other halves constantly compete for posts against their friends, and inevitably watch their friends win; and most of the time, 250 applications (or more) will be filled out before one interview is granted. I can attest to the fact that most of time, our lives feel like one big question mark after another.

For you graduate wives just beginning your journey, the ‘end’ is the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the present that’s difficult as you try to make it through with a husband, fiancée, or boyfriend who spends way too many nights in the library with his new mistress, the dissertation.

For you graduate wives ending your journey, you’ve proudly watched your other half step across a platform to be granted a degree, your heart nearly bursting with pride. Now, you’re watching him slog through application after application, and you have no idea where you’re going to be living in six months.

 How in the world do you navigate that?

I wish I had an easy answer. This was only supposed to be a three-year gig when we began our journey (sometime I’ll tell you that whole story). Instead, we sit here eight years later, with no idea of what’s around the corner for us. The best reminder that I’ve received from an older graduate wife is this is just a season of life. And it is. Sometimes, when I am incredibly weary, I get tired of hearing it, and I worry that my husband will never find a post, and that none of my dreams will ever be actualized. But, you know what? Something WILL inevitably work out. It will more than likely look completely opposite than what we had in mind, but it will be right for us. And, it will be right for you.

Remember this as your graduate wife story is being penned: This is only a season of your life.


Familial Alienation: For me, it initially felt easier to leave the stories of our European adventures in Europe when visiting family back home. My rationale went like this: “If I tell them about all the beauty we’ve taken in, I come off as bragging and just plain old obnoxious. Worse, if I tell them about the weekly ritual of scrubbing mold from our furniture, clothing and walls, won’t they just think I am simply ungrateful?”

This way of thinking may have worked for the first year or so, especially when I had one foot in Target and the other just teetering on the edge of Tesco’s (a big grocery chain in the UK) doorstep. But then my marriage, my children, my career – my life – rooted and blossomed here. What then?

I had to get over my insecurities about sharing our world with our families so that our families knew us. It’s hard enough to leave your loved ones behind physically – don’t fall into the trap of leaving them emotionally as well.


Community: If you read this blog, you know we harp on building community. We do that because MC and I have seen the benefits of what happens when you’re willing to share your life and story with other people traveling the same journey. We’ve previously focused on how you cultivate community, but haven’t really touched on the emotional why parts of it.

The first part of our graduate journey was spent rehashing that lesson again and again and again; I refused to put down roots in our new city, and in the first year of school, I (we) went back to see our friends in Atlanta six or seven times. I had one foot firmly planted where my heart was, and the other foot planted because it’s where I had to be. It wasn’t healthy.

After many discussions (I use that term loosely ha ha) with my husband, we agreed it wasn’t emotionally healthy or balanced to try to maintain a life in Atlanta when we did not live there.  It seems like a fairly simple concept now, but at the time I truly felt like, once again, my world was being ripped from my hands. We made the decision together that we would not return to Atlanta for one year.

By investing in the city or community you live in, you are choosing to live in the present. If you spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, then you may miss an important part or piece of your life’s growth process. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’d rather be somewhere else.  When I began the process of actually getting to know the Orlando community, I discovered it wasn’t such a bad place to live. When I started investing in relationships, I realized there were some amazing people that were worth getting to know. I look back now, and often wonder what life would be like today, if we hadn’t made the decision to cultivate community and plant our feet firmly where we lived. When we moved from there in 2007, we left some wonderful friends that I was genuinely sad to leave.

I do think it has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned along this path: Live in the present and invest in those around you.

Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey



Hoola Hoops.

Hoop earrings.

Hooptie Hoop cars.

Shootin’ some Hoops.

Yep. Lots of hoops out there.  Sadly, this post isn’t about any of those.  It’s about the kind you have to jump through…

… from about 300 yards away … and it’s spinning … and it’s on fire.  In other words, the kind where your form doesn’t really matter; you just have to get through it somehow.

My husband recently came out of the ‘dark phase’ of his PhD journey (so perfectly captured in Laura’s post here), and I’m glad to say that we can see some light at the end of the tunnel!  Woohoo!  But then just last week, we found ourselves saying, “Hold on a second.  Is that the light up there?  Really?  We are getting so close to the end of all this labor, turmoil, exhaustion and it’s all been for this?  This finished piece?  Is this really all it’s adding up to?”

I know that many people’s DPhils and PhDs go on to be incredible works – books published that continue to shape and inspire the minds and lives of many around the world.  However, I am also just now realizing that many of those dissertations are also considered – gulp – just giant hoops to jump through.

We had such lofty expectations going into this DPhil program.  My husband was so excited to finally have this sacred time to think, write and explore.  And better yet, it was all funded!  And yes, it has been an incredibly rich and fabulous journey.  There have been many times we’ve pinched ourselves and said, “Ha, we’re living the dream life!”  But after year one, we realized that the time was flying by, and that the program wasn’t quite what we had so idealistically envisioned, and now at the end of year three it’s started to feel a bit like it’s all been a big hoop to get through.

Now, I know that for many, this isn’t the case.  But if you happen to find yourself in a similar spot, here are some tips on how to deal with the whole ‘hoop’ thing as you work your way to the end of your journey:

1.)  Get some perspective:  Yes, it’s true.  As you near the end of the PhD journey (and start searching for jobs) it might start feeling like your spouse’s research has been nothing but a big fat hoop to jump through, especially if you can’t find a job that doesn’t require another sort of degree or a post-doc in addition to the degree you’ve been working on.  But hold on, step back, and look at the bigger picture; recognize that the work put into this PhD is indeed something to be proud of.  It’s taken a long time to get where you are, and even if it doesn’t look like what you had hoped it would look like at the beginning, survey the long haul and be thankful for where you’ve come.  Also try to look at it in terms of the future – like putting puzzle pieces together as your life fits together before you.  The PhD was and is a necessary and crucial piece getting you from point A to point B.

2.)  Be honest about change: It might be your case that you have to help your spouse let go of the ideal that was envisioned for this thesis when he/she started out on this journey. We have to accept in our hearts and minds that change is inevitable, and it’s through change and flexibility that we grow stronger and more complex and able.  The work might have taken a different turn, but that is okay.  Help your spouse focus on the good of where it is going now and help them to articulate and hold onto the desire and dream of its original vision.  Maybe one day you’ll have time to go back and explore further areas that didn’t make it into this work.  The thesis doesn’t have to be a closed book.  It can be something that is worked and built upon in years to come.

3.)  Be realistic:  Okay, so maybe X years really is an incredibly tight time to actually research and write a work as lofty as your spouse set out to do?  Maybe not.  However, just as I stated in number 2, let go, cut yourself some slack, and finish in stride.  This is an incredibly powerful work that has in so many ways been at the center of your hearts and minds for so long…but then again, it is simply just a thesis.  It will speak on your spouse’s behalf for years to come, but then again it doesn’t have to define them.  It’s a crucial step.  An incredible badge of honor.

I think if can help my husband relax, finish well, and be proud of what he has accomplished, then we don’t have to look at the next few months/year as an annoying ‘hoop’ to finally get through.  As I see it, it’s more like a stepping stone on the journey – a rather tedious and difficult one, but nonetheless a step sending us onto the next one.

What are your thoughts?  Has your PhD or D.Phil journey felt like a ‘hoop’ at times?  How have you dealt with this feeling?



Expectations · Vocation/Gifts/Calling

His “Work”

his work

So I am not a big fan of books that seem like ‘self help’ books.  And I am also not a big fan of books with cheesy titles or even worse, cheesy cover designs.  So when I was first married and someone handed me a copy of ‘The Power of a Praying Wife’ (with an awkward picture of an open window and a lily on the cover), I cringed.  However, after a few months of marriage I quickly learned that it’s not quite a piece of cake and I decided to pick the book back up.  To my surprise it was really indeed quite ‘powerful’ and offered a lot of insight and good food for thought.

I know many of you might not share a similar faith as I do, but I do think we probably all share a desire to support our husbands and to be together as a team on this crazy journey of marriage, especially through this season of graduate school.  So when I recently stumbled across my old copy of this book and began to thumb through the pages, I thought I’d share.  There are around thirty little sections or chapters in the book that each focus on a various topic to pray through for one’s husband.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) the first topic listed from this extensive list is ‘His work’.

In this section titled ‘His work’, the author begins by illustrating two differing extremes.  In one situation the husband is quite lazy and the wife does all the work and then some.  The second situation describes a husband who is a workaholic and doesn’t ever take time out for his family or his health.  She goes on to describe a healthy balance between the two and says, “What causes a man to go to either extreme can be, oddly enough, the same reason: fear.  That’s because a man’s identity is often very tied up in his work.  He needs to be appreciated and he needs to win, and his work is often a means of seeing both happen.  It frightens him to think he may never experience either.  If he is doing work that is demeaning to him, he feels devalued as a person.  If his work is not successful, he feels like a loser.”

I started to think about how my husband would consider ‘his work’ and how I consider ‘his work’.  I find that sometimes I write off ‘his work’ as just ‘school’…or I tend to sometimes just picture him chilling out in the library drinking lattes and being all cool and philosophical.  I am almost continually reminding myself about how exhausting and challenging his PhD work actually is and I have written about that here.  I have to remind myself how much his work affects him and how the excerpt above really does apply to his grad school work.  His work doesn’t look like say… a big shot businessman’s right now, but it is very much the same thing.  It really is something that shapes and fuels and defines him in so many ways.

So to conclude, if their work really is all that important and actually does offer them so much identity (and there about 9,000 journal articles out there that suggest this), then we should be taking this seriously, right?  We should be thinking about how to make sure our grad school spouses are feeling fulfilled and encouraged, and we should be thinking through how to help them keep a healthy balance and perspective on their work.

What do you think?  How does your spouse/you view their ‘work’ in grad school? 

How have you handled this work-identity issue when dealing with your grad school spouse?  (Especially if one of you is working full time outside academia, so that you can support your spouse who is in school.)


Expectations · Marriage

Love Languages

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 11.53.57 AM

Happy Valentines Day!

For me, Valentines Day is another day to celebrate and give gifts to my husband! Woohoo!

My love language is ‘giving’ and I can’t tell you how much joy and delight I get from selecting or creating a gift for him (or for anyone else on any other holiday for that matter).   I’m not kidding: I spend at least half our budget (ok maybe that is a bit extreme) on mailing packages to friends near and far.  Giving gifts is definitely the way I give love. And it’s the way I feel loved as well.

This took some time for my husband to figure out.  Our first Valentine’s Day rolled around, and I think he might have gotten me a box of chocolates, but not much more.  I, on the other hand, had made him some ridiculously intricate, hand-made something, bought him a new shirt (charity shop find of course), and cooked him his favorite meal.  It was then and there that we realized, “Hey, wait a second, I think we give and receive love differently.”

Light bulb.  Have you heard of the New York times best-selling book called The Five Love Languages?  We took the Five Love Languages test found here (wife) and here (husband), and we’ve been so much better in tune with each other’s love language ever since. It’s simple but incredibly profound.  (Here is the site with more information.)

The languages broken down are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Acts of Service
  • Gifts
  • Physical Touch

Taking the test and talking it through with each other might be a fun way to spend your V-day!


Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part IV

Check out the first installment in this series here.

Written by Laura, a current graduate wife

Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in –  and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.

Stage five:


You can see it: the tiny glimmer of light at the end of the inky, bleak tunnel. You finally (finally!) have measurable results from the months and years you trudged through your research. Anticipation, relief, tentative signs of optimism – like daffodils or crocus muscling their way through thawing ground and announcing the arrival of spring – mark the beginning of your final stages as a grad student.  There are now a finite number of tasks to complete before graduation and you start to see the final checklist forming: finish writing a certain number of chapters, defend your dissertation, take a final examination, complete residency, do final lab write-ups or submit articles to journals for publications, whatever it takes to reach the finish line (and breathe a deep sigh of relief).

Many students gain momentum and experience a second wind in this stage, but sometimes the race to the finish line includes lingering exhaustion. In addition to completing necessary degree-related tasks, you are likely attempting to pave a path to the next stage of your career – applying for tenure-track jobs, postdoctoral fellowships, clinical placements, positions at law firms, hospitals, or your local Starbucks. That cloying sense of insecurity and self-doubt may rear its head once again as you grapple with anxiety about the unknown, and as you imagine the worst case scenario:  “Mom, I know you wanted to turn my old bedroom into a yoga studio, but……”

It might be safe to say that never before have so many elements of your future seemed quite so far out of your control.  For some this gives rise to a new degree of motivation; for others, it feels like a wet blanket of anxiety and fear.

How do you live with the uncertainty? How do you emotionally balance your excitement as you begin to see the culmination of your academic diligence with the foreboding fear that your career as an academic might be coming to a screeching halt?

  1. DON’T panic.  Plenty of grad students have tread on this steep terrain, and most would tell you that these are simply the final pains of post grad life.  You will be wanted, you are employable, you are going to make it.
  2. DO build into your life plenty of healthy distractions as you await news of interviews or potential job matches so the waiting won’t unravel your nerves.  Plan a mini-vacation, start a new physical activity (your mom seems to be really enjoying yoga, might give that a try?), or join a group of people doing something active and lively and interesting and that has nothing to do with academia.  Maybe you don’t feel up to beginning something new so close to the end of your stay, but anything to keep you physically, emotionally occupied is invaluable during the long silence.  Just step away from the computer and start doing something enjoyable – it will sustain you.
  3. DO share the process with your spouse or significant other and don’t immediately dismiss their encouragement.  They may not know the exact statistics of your program’s placement records or every detail of your field’s current available openings, but they care (heck, they made it this far too!) and want to support you.  And likely, they are waiting on pins and needles just as you are.  Determine not to fixate on the process and instead start to mend some of the distance that might have necessarily developed during the dark stages of your program; focus on celebrating even the smallest joys, and cultivating a renewed connection.
  4. DO your best during your workday, and then walk away.  Try – try! – to enjoy time with your partner, friends, or family and remember that this is the end of a long and treacherous journey; you are truly staring at the final tasks required to reach your goal. You are almost there!
  5. DO cultivate spiritual resources- prayer, mediation, involvement in a religious community; If these have ever buoyed you before, now’s the time to draw on that strength.
  6. DON’T give up – the end is in sight!

Stage Six:


You’re a Master, or a Doctor, or So-and-So, Esquire.  It is finished. You have reached the summit.  Additional letters will forever accompany your name, and rightfully so; you have completed a great work.  In this stage, however, it is natural to take a look around, count the costs of having earned your new title, and ask the question, “Was it all worth it?”. Enjoy your successes, mourn any losses, and take a deep breath. Place your feet on a new path; on to the next journey…

Readers may contact Laura at LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com or check out ThinAirTutorials.wordpress.com

Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part III

Check out the first installment in this series here.

Written by Laura, a current graduate wife

Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in –  and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.

Stage Four:


After you have adjusted to the academic rigors and you finally have gained some confidence and mastery in regard to your workload, it is time to enter the phase of work that will transition you from neophite to near-graduate. It might be dissertation-or thesis-writing, doing clinical hours, collecting or analyzing research data, or working for a company doing the hands-on (but grunt) work of your chosen profession. Here is the part of the journey that is most likely to usher in a severe sense of isolation. You have had colleagues and classmates with you in the initial stages of coursework, and you have had the support of seasoned guides who have climbed this mountain before you; however, you have finally hit the treacherous trail that will lead you to the top of the mountain, but you must plod on alone.

You are asked to create something innovative or learn things that must become so habitual and natural you can perform them in your sleep, but this part of the journey must be done alone, in large part. No one can spend the seemingly endless hours of research required to set the stage for your writing or learn a whole new area of the discipline in order to set the stage for your dissertation. No one can do the clinical rounds or chip away at the incessant hours in the lab on your behalf, but they must be done.  It can get dark in this tunnel – the long hours, the challenge of mining through academic sources to find the tiniest spark of inspiration, the sense of being buried under infinite possibilities.

It can be dull, it can be monotonous, and because it is done alone and in relative darkness, it is nearly impossible to feel the passage of time or success or any markers of progress. There is no one who can tell you when you have completed enough research to begin your writing, there is no way to predict that today’s reading will ignite the spark of an idea that tomorrow becomes the next chapter of your thesis. There is no way to sense that the clinical experience or observation of tonight will be the seed that grows into passionate expertise in a certain area of your field. There is no guide; each step must be taken blindly and with seemingly impossible faith that you are indeed moving toward something, that you are progressing – it just doesn’t feel that way.

You can no longer build on the excitement and enthusiasm present at the beginning of the journey, and you can’t quite glimpse the finish line. This feels like no man’s land.

At home, this is the stage where many students find themselves so tangled internally they withdraw emotionally or mentally, and it can be a painful experience for spouses, partners, and children who stand by and see their formerly passionate and driven loved one depleted and exhausted. Many students in this stage experience depression or anxiety, a sense of doubt or a loss of motivation and direction. Partner, this is a time when you have to watch your grad student flail in the water, nearly drowning, and you cannot offer a lifeline – it can leave you feeling utterly helpless.

Here is what you must remember:  

1) This is not forever. Grad student, you may not remember why you decided to start this journey in the first place and you may be dizzy with the tasks before you, but you will get there if you keep plodding on. Partner, you may doubt that you will ever see your loving, light-hearted or impassioned spouse again, but that is not so. This is just a stage, and one of the final stages of this journey to boot, so you simply must keep putting one foot in front of the other and tread on.

2) Partner or spouse, you may not have the loving, connected, attentive man or woman you bargained for at this point, and demanding it would just lead to deeper guilt and isolation, so this is a temporary season during which you must keep your head above water and maintain your own life’s breath. Take up a new hobby, join a class, get together with friends on the weekends, take a short trip, make good friends and spend time with them, get support from others who have been in this stage before and have survived it. Be encouraged and hang in.

3) Grad student, you are almost there. You might not feel the progress, but if you are working diligently, you are moving toward the goal. Get whatever support you can – meet with fellow students in this same stage or just beyond, read blogs, run, enjoy an outing with a friend or spouse or loved one. Exercise and a good diet are helpful, spiritual resources are necessary, and don’t be afraid to allow yourself to rest when you can. You are almost there.

This is a period that requires great grace for your partner and a changing of the rules – the goals and measures of your relational connection should get smaller, and each person’s gratitude must become greater. Everything that can be celebrated should be, no matter how small the cause for celebration may seem. It’s a time when you have to will yourself to be gentle with each other, apologizing often, knowing that this is just a season. It is not a time to allow bad habits to seep in, but to allow new habits to develop which support you in this stage without worry of what others’ think or what conventional wisdom might say. Reach out to friends, invest in a solid community, and please do not focus on results in this stage; there won’t be any yet, so it’s futile. Take the long view, and don’t evaluate things too much; just keep moving and do whatever is healthy and loving and brings joy. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then it just happens. One day, a tiny glimmer of light cracks through and you squint….yes, the summit is in sight. You are somewhere, no longer lost in the dark. You’re finally arriving at an actual, identifiable place in your program, and things are about to change. Take a breath and fill your lungs with much-needed oxygen; you’ve made it through the dark tunnel. Things are going to look up from here on out….

Readers may contact Laura at LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com or check out ThinAirTutorials.wordpress.com
Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part II

Check out the first installment in this series here.

Written by Laura, a current graduate wife

Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in –  and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.

Stage Three:


It is likely late summer or early fall at this point, you have arrived at your campus – your new, if temporary, home – and in the span of just a few weeks, it seems like a wrecking ball has taken a swing at your former life, leaving you shocked and excited by the initial phases of your new life as a grad student. It’s untidy and grueling work – relocating, shaking hands multiple times a day and answering questions about where you were previously and what area of the discipline you wish to master, but it feels purposeful and powerful. It’s exciting and terrifying, and it can feel like you are cyclically overwhelmed and euphoric. For some new grad students, an immediate sense of doubt appears – Did I choose the right program? Am I cut out for this? Were my motives pure? Is this really what I want to be doing? For some, this is temporary, for others, they must spend a season grappling with these questions and weighing various opportunities.

Ah, but the glorious sense of satisfaction as you start to gain the tools necessary to make it in this treacherous journey, the sense that you have found your life’s passion, this is worth the price. You buy a load of heavy new books and eagerly crack them open, after a few rousing rounds of get-to-know-you activities at the initial orientation meetings you start to bond with classmates and colleagues, and the halls of your institution (and the stacks at your library) become like a comfortable, well-worn second home.

Emotionally it is common to feel like you are diving and crashing, cycling between overwhelm and enthusiasm. Many students experience a sense of identity-rattling insecurity and intimidation in this new academic setting because it appears that every classmate has read more, prepared more thoroughly, gained more experience; it is common to hear students report that they feel like frauds, fearing the admissions committee might have mistakenly allowed them entrance to the program. Grad students often feel they are living a lie – while pretending to feel confident – all the while fearing they will be discovered as a sham, as someone who doesn’t belong in this rigorous environment. The good news is, to a large extent this fades somewhere after the first marking period or first successful Socratic dual with that dreaded professor, when you finally receive much-needed feedback and gain a sense of your bearings.

If a grad student is married or partnered, the initial enthusiasm for this new adventure might fade as the realities of the long hours in the library or the lab are starting to set in. Relational roles have to shift, and this is not often an easy change. A partner who used to help at home is now physically absent for long stretches (and mentally absent even when they are home after the drain of the academic work has taken its toll) and the connection points you used to take for granted have sometimes disappeared – catching up while cooking dinner or folding laundry, or watching a movie after a long day, running or biking together or just doing household chores side by side. The needs of the non-student spouse can feel overwhelming to the student, and the student’s fatigue-induced emotional withdrawal can be painful and bewildering. What seemed like a joint venture now feels more like a lonely climb, and the isolation can be brutal because at this point the new environment may feel comfortable and supportive to a certain extent, but it is still new and lacks the deep roots of home and loved ones, history and shared experience; it is difficult to lean into a new support network that lacks the robustness and depth that can only be cultivated over time.

This is where a couple’s mettle is tested. How creative are you? Can you find new routines to share that don’t require long stretches of available time? Instead of a lengthy dinner conversation, can you share a single morning cup of coffee? Can you create new and meaningful rituals on less time and nearly no sleep? Partners, ask your grad student what is possible rather than demanding old routines to remain in place. Grad student, ask your partner to think of one or two ways you can show you still care – practical and specific and attainable ways – and follow through with the request. Think about each individual segment of your day, likely things that used to seem like mundane tasks, and transform them into connecting points. Infuse the mundane with meaning! Fifteen minutes of rich connection can go a long way in maintaining the cement of your relationship. Plan dates  – knowing you will have time together in the near future can sometimes help with the long days. You have to be more intentional than you were, but it is possible. You can emerge a new, sleek, refined couple if you can make it through this stage of paring-down and streamlining. It will challenge your patience, creativity, energy, and resolve at first, but your future success as a couple will in part be determined by how flexible and adaptable you can be here.

Finally, support, support, support. Each partner must be investing in some kind of support system, no matter how worn out you feel or how intimidating it might seem at such a fragile stage. Some supports can be shared – e.g. participating in a religious community, joining new friends for get-togethers – but likely each partner will also need to forge their own groups or relationships, specific to their needs. Grad students: join a study group or occasionally go to a pub with classmates. Spouses: enjoy social time with colleagues after work or join a social group (book club, running group, volunteer organization). Parents: get out there and connect with other parents and make every effort to get your kids connected to a friendly network.

Sometimes this stage involves sadness as the honeymoon period finally comes to an end and the recent losses are deeply felt – missing loved ones, old belongings, old homes, etc. Give yourself grace and permission to grieve these losses – they are valid – and then figure out what energizes you and start creating a new support system around that. Sometimes easier said than done, but it still needs doing. Draw on spiritual strength, relational resources and old friendships, hobbies and life-giving activities, both individually and as a couple.

And remember, this is part of the demolition and reconstruction zone; it will not be easy, but something beautiful and substantial can emerge, maybe you just can’t visualize it yet. This is often one of the two most painful stages of the graduate journey, but things can turn around quickly and suddenly in this stage, and it is likely that one day you will wake up and realize this new environment feels like home and this is an experience you wouldn’t trade for anything – the adventure, risk, and challenge will refine you and change the course of your life, relationships, and character in ways not possible if you miss the opportunity to take this journey. Stay the course!

Stay tuned for Stages 4-6!

Readers may contact Laura at LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com or check out ThinAirTutorials.wordpress.com

Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part I

written by Laura, a current graduate wife

Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in –  and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.

Stage One: 


Only those souls fueled by a passion to pursue something as valuable as greater knowledge in a particular field, those individuals driven to succeed in the pursuit of excellence and opportunity would willingly submit themselves to grueling hours of study, academic gymnastics, and personal discipline required to complete any grad program.

Yes, but let’s be honest; at this stage grad school can look kind of sexy and enticing. I mean, really, you picture yourself delving into fascinating research or meaty historical writings, prying open heavy volumes of famous theoretical musings and drinking in centuries of esoteric wisdom which ignites your imagination and your inner nerd. You can just smell the newly-sharpened pencils and freshly-brewed coffee as you daydream about what you will look like as a graduate student. What’s not enticing about joining the stream of smoky, tweedy academics who over the past centuries have wrestled with the material you are ready to savor?   Whether philosophers really do don the requisite black turtlenecks and law school students tote leather briefcases, who knows for sure, but one thing is certain: even if a program is only a few short years, it will change everything. There is no going back. It will have an impact on your finances, it will shift your relationships with immediate and extended family (you might return home with changed political loyalties causing many a tussle at thanksgiving dinner), and you will require some major shifts from your immediate family if you are partnered or a parent. Your mental and physical health will be affected, your sense of self will be forever altered, and of course you will change the trajectory of your career. But on the day you receive the acceptance email or letter, none of this is yet a reality and what you know is that you cannot imagine doing anything else. The path has opened before you, and it is beckoning you to tread on.

Stage Two:


You are now surrounded by a buzz of preparation and anticipation; this stage is infused with hopefulness, eagerness, drive, motivation, fear, doubt, and passion. You’ve poured over the academic requirements, researched housing availabilities, finagled some level of financial aid, and you are weighing whether you are willing to take the risk to follow your dream with all the cost-benefit comparisons in front of you. If you are asking a partner or spouse or children to join you in this, you are all contemplating the necessary losses and pleasant expectations, fears and excitement. Some grieving may be rising to the surface as you begin to shed connections to the familiar and cut the ties to your old existence. You are dealing with the reactions, both positive and negative, of loved ones, colleagues, and friends as you share the news of your exciting adventure. They might be responding with discouragement or encouragement, and you are left to sort through the layers of emotion ricocheting around you as you finally go public with your dreams and aspirations. It may feel freeing to leave unencumbered and start fresh, or you might experience deep terror at the thought of severing the familiar moorings which tether you to your home and all the familiar comforts. You google the location of your grad program obsessively and try to piece together some picture of how life in your new hometown will be. Much like setting up base camp when you are about to begin a high elevation mountain climb, this stage requires establishing good foundations, support, and supplies.

Stay tuned for Stages 3-6!

Readers may contact Laura at LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com or check out ThinAirTutorials.wordpress.com
Depression · Expectations

My parents always said, “Life’s Not Fair”

Did you know that October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness month? In light of this, and the recent stories in the news of students who have been or are currently being bullied, we’ve asked a graduate wife to bravely share her family’s journey of bullying, and what they did to combat it. If you are being bullied or your spouse/partner is, we hope this will encourage you to seek help. You are not alone.

–Mandy and M.C.

-Written by Stephanie, a current graduate wife

Tweed jackets with elbow patches, respectful intellectual debates, advancing the field of science, grooming the next generation, and above all a just/transparent system. These are all things I had in mind when I excitedly accepted my first job at a public university. A product of public schooling myself, I arrived at my new home feeling quite content with these expectations and looking for a tweed jacket-wearing fellow to complete the new chapter of my life.

He didn’t come with elbow patches, but instead my soon to be husband turned out to be a graduate student. That was fine by me, and we enjoyed several blissful months together immediately after meeting. Unfortunately, the bliss soon began to dissipate (and not just from the end of your normal “honeymoon phase”).

It all started when a professor basically hijacked his lab project. With my husband being a foreigner, I explained to him that in my country, this is unfortunately not all that uncommon in academia. Although it shook my idea of a fair university system a bit, I brushed it aside as something necessary for my husband to advance in his field. After all, he did get a chance to contribute to the research, didn’t he?

Over a period of years we slowly started to discover that the same professor had been telling lies about my husband in public. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we later learned she had committed several other indiscretions against my husband (some of them illegal). The worst part was that we learned about most of this through third parties, or when my husband had to clear up major problems and misunderstandings as a result. It felt like we were surrounded by a fog and were being slowly smothered by it. Bullying is for third graders to deal with, right? Not for grown-up professionals?

We had to decide what to do. Would we run or fight for my husband? We decided to fight in our own way, but in hindsight my husband wishes we would have run. He compares the situation to being in a bar where you find yourself threatened by a six foot five muscle man (who can never be fired from his bouncer position) with tattoos and a gang of friends behind him. Is it smarter to pick a fight or to run? Definitely run. And after looking back, this is what he says he should have chosen today.

However, back then I was convinced we were operating within a fair system. After all, it was my taxpayer dollars at work funding the university, open records existed, and ombudsmans were in place to assist students with any problems. Surely this couldn’t be happening.

But it was.

Even after we talked to supervisors, department heads, and assistant deans, nothing was done about the situation.

Finally after years of trauma in our home, the professor was slapped on the wrist. After my husband’s graduation. I could hear my parent’s age-old cry, “life’s not fair.”

Life is definitely not fair, but thankfully we have moved on and are now at a different public institution. Even though there was hardly anything done to reprimand the bully in our situation, we hope the notation in her personnel file will equip others in the future to fight back. That fog I mentioned is slowly lifting for us and things are getting better every day, but the psychological affects of the bullying still remain. I’m not glad it happened to us, but I am glad it helped me realize some important lessons:

1. A graduate degree is not more important than the happiness and health of my husband.

2. The systems we take for granted as being just may not be just.

3. Standing up for justice may not be as easy as it is in the movies.

I wish all graduate students who are being bullied can quickly escape from their situations, and my advice to the spouses/partners who are supporting them is this:

1. Encourage your spouse to seek professional help. Most universities have a counseling center, so this may be an affordable place to start. If it’s possible, try to find a psychologist who has experience with bullying. (Additionally, if your spouse is a foreigner, try to request a counselor who is foreign as well.) And don’t be shy about making the appointment yourself or going with your spouse, if necessary.

2. Listen as much as you can, but not at the expense of your own sanity. Your partner may relive the traumatic experiences over and over. During these periods, it probably won’t help to try to reason with him/her about the illogical or paranoid thoughts he/she may be having. Sometimes it can be helpful if you listen without trying to “fix” the situation. However, this can take its toll on you; make sure to spend time away from your spouse once and a while doing things you enjoy.

3. Fill your cup first and nourish others from the overflow. Realize it’s okay if you are not in a good place to help your spouse on a particular day. If you are feeling exhausted, remember it is okay to tell your partner you cannot help them at that particular moment.

4. Encourage your spouse to widen his/her support network. No matter how strong you are, you shouldn’t allow yourself to become his/her sole emotional support. Suggest that your partner talk to close friends (outside the university) or family members. These people should be chosen carefully and trusted 100 percent. Your spouse shouldn’t have to worry about committing slander when sharing with them.

5. If your spouse decides to fight, remind him/her to:

  • Inform his/her supervisor but remember academic supervisors are usually not trained to deal with bullies;
  • Document everything (make sure to email summaries of conversations afterward);
  • Remember if he/she decides to take the case to court it can be very difficult to prove slander or libel, it will be very expensive, and even if he/she wins, it can damage his/her reputation more than it already is (even if the case is successful).

6. Get training in suicide prevention. I was certified through the QPR program for work and it came in handy a few times at home.

7. Encourage your partner to exercise in order to relieve stress.

8. Remember you are not alone. Bullying in academia is more prevalent than you think.

In your graduate wife journey, have you had to deal with bullying in academia? What have you done to combat it?