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In May 2014, I walked across the stage to accept my Masters followed by my husband accepting his Bachelors. My husband now comes home excited to talk about what he has done and the appreciation that he receives from his bosses. One day, he called me excitedly and said, “I want to go back to school”.
I had to reconvene and think about how to approach this discussion. I wanted him to make the best decision for his future and goals.
Here are my tips on having a meaningful conversation with your spouse who wants to go back to school:
Hear them out – ask important questions without making suggestions. Let your spouse express why they want to go to school. Ask logistical questions– what program are they interested in, what are their plans for work, what school are they interested in, do they have a back-up school. Go through all the questions you had to answer before you committed grad school. But recognize that this can be a very fragile moment for your spouse.
Don’t lean heavily on your own experiences … at first – this does not mean that you should not talk about the process that you went through – just don’t do it right away (unless they are asking). But recognize the dynamics that could play out. If you have more education than your spouse, they may feel that using personal experience could be “talking-down” to them or that you are taking away their opportunity to shine. Let them feel unique, this is their first time in a graduate program and they don’t want to feel overwhelmed or unsupported. However, this is a time to start giving a couple other options. In my situation I brought up three other graduate programs and how each could lend a hand in my husband’s end goal. Dream with them a little bit. Remember, when you were picking your school and program you looked at website after website and worried if you would do well or if it would get you where you wanted to be. Your spouse is no different.
Be encouraging but careful –if the possibility of going to school in not possible, for whatever reasons, right now – be positive. Let them explore the idea safely. Ask questions that get around to those difficulties. For example, “Do you plan to go full time?” “What do you plan to do for income while you attend school?” Realize that when ideas are new that sometimes important details may not have been fully considered. You’re there to help with that process and part of that is recognizing what is and is not feasible. This may mean discussing longer-term options like going back after your degree.
Have a serious conversation about any doubts/concerns you may have – This is hard. Sometimes our spouses worry us when they have new life goals and we focus so much on being encouraging to the new ideas that we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to express the doubts we have. This doesn’t mean to stone your spouse with doubts and personal flaws but it does mean to have a conversation about the doubts that you have. My husband is awful at multitasking, something I think is very key in graduate school. Our conversation went something like this, “How will you handle multitasking in this degree program? Graduate school is VERY demanding and requires that you be able to do a great deal of reading, writing, projects, research, and collaborating with others. I want you to succeed and I think it is important that you recognize some strategies to help you with this aspect.” Make sure that you pick an appropriate time to discuss this and that you give them time (even if it is days) to really think about and process what you’re putting out there. This conversation might not happen in one sitting.
Give them the chance to ask you question about your experience – but be aware of how you respond. Don’t act like a question is silly or dumb. This is a great moment to come together and start to feel a shared experience. My husband was really nervous to ask me how much time I “really” spent studying for a class. Be honest. You can start to lend some of your own advice at this stage but be careful not be overwhelm your spouse. They are just starting the process and you have likely seen the full admissions cycle. Yes, let them in on tips and tricks but you don’t have to do it all at once.
Myrah Stockdale is an Educational Research Methods M.S. student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who plans to continue her studies into a PhD. She currently holds a Master’s in Sport Administration from Eastern Kentucky University and a Bachelor’s in Marketing from the University of Kentucky. Myrah enjoys reading outdoors, weight lifting, and volunteering her time and expertise with the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Youth Services Department when she is not working or going to classes.