A month before I met Joe, I started my college education. When we started hanging out, I told him that my plan was to complete my generals and graduate with my associates degree. By the time we got married eight months later, I had found a field of study that I was really passionate about and I changed my plans to pursue a four year degree instead. Even though you will never find Joe pursuing a college degree, he has been extremely supportive of me as I've pursued mine.
The moment he met me, Joe knew that a chunk of our income would go to pay for my schooling for the first few years of our marriage. We both committed to budgeting and sacrificing things that we'd really like so that we could pay for my education without going into debt. Every year when we sit down to do our taxes and we see the amount of money that we put toward school, Joe cringes a little bit as he thinks about all of the things that we could have done with those funds instead. For example, this year's total for tuition, fees and books was close to $10,000. That included a little bit of financial aid for the last two semesters, thanks to our cute little tax deduction. That money could have been used to pay for a fun vacation, purchase a decent used car or take care of some of the house projects that we are dying to get working on. We could have become home owners a lot sooner if we'd had that extra chunk of change to put toward saving for a down payment each year. Sure, we think and talk about everything that we could be doing with that money instead, but any time I've mentioned taking a few semesters off so we have more money for something that we really need it for at the moment, Joe has encouraged me to keep going.
This past year, the sacrifices that Joe has made have been even greater. I knew that taking care of Bensen while I was in class and doing homework was a lot of work, but I don't think I realized just how much work it was until a couple of weeks ago. I had a week without any night classes, so I got to be home with Bensen more. Joe had church commitments a couple of those nights and a project that he needed to finish for his lawn care company on another of those nights. I ended up being on my own with Bensen three nights in a row. My mom fed both of us dinner, so I really only had to be responsible for getting Bensen bathed one night and to bed all three nights. But after a full day of work, those few hours before bedtime were exhausting! I love my sweet boy and he's so fun to play with, but the bedtime routine is time consuming and a challenge, even with a baby who loves to go to bed. On the second night, I found myself appreciating Joe so much more for taking care of Bensen on his own three or four nights a week since January.
Whether you are currently supporting your spouse as they pursue an education, will potentially be in that situation in the future, or are the one in school and pass this article on to your significant other, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. As someone who has spent the last five years and eight months in college, I can tell you that having a supportive spouse makes a world of difference! I guess I don't know what it's like to have an non-supportive spouse in this situation, so I can't compare my situation to that, but I do know that without Joe, I wouldn't be graduating at the end of this week.
School takes up a lot of extra time and energy. Classes (online or in person), homework, group projects and other academic requirements are draining. They always take more time than anticipated and by the time you're done, your brain has lost all power to think. If your spouse has other commitments in addition to school, they are probably even more drained. Some days there might not be a homemade meal, some weekends your spouse might want to stay home and veg on the couch when you're excited about the idea of going out, and some nights they may go to bed early and not feel like talking or connecting with you. Be understanding and know that this might happen every once and a while. If it seems to happen more often than not, find out what you can do to help relieve some of their stress so that they will have more time to spend with you and not so many extra responsibilities.
Let them focus
When your spouse is engulfed in their studies, it can be a little boring for you. I promise, they would rather be spending time with you than writing papers and studying for tests. The homework will take three times as long if you keep begging for their attention. If you feel neglected, make sure you communicate that to your spouse during your family meetings. Come to an agreement on how you are going to balance homework and your time together. Maybe you could spend an hour talking and hangout out together every night before homework starts. Or maybe your spouse prefers to get homework out of the way immediately. In this case, you might set a time every night when homework is put away. You may also need to set a time commitment for that time. That way, if there is more that your spouse needs to get done for school, they know that they'll still have time to finish after your couple time. Also be sure to schedule a regular date night, void of all school responsibilities!
Make them take a break
Weekly date night, daily couple rituals, and regular family meal time are all great opportunities to take a break from homework and let your brain rest, but sometimes, you need more. If your spouse spends their entire Saturday working on a project, ask them if they would like to take a break to get out of the house for lunch or grab some ice cream in the middle of the afternoon. When there are deadlines to meet and you know that they can't afford the time to take a break, bring the break to them! Go out and bring home ice cream, lunch, a homemade meal or their favorite treat. You could also share a funny YouTube video or encourage them to take a walk around the block with you. Studying is important, but it can start to take over your life in college and it's just as important to spend some time away from homework.
When I was taking math classes the first couple of years of college (it took me a while to get through the classes), I would stop by Kneader's every time I took a quiz or a test. I didn't always pass them (you could take them over and over again until you got a certain school) but just spending the time and brain power on them was a big accomplishment for me. (Math and I have never been friends...) At the end of each semester, Joe and I would splurge on a more expensive than normal meal together. And you'd better believe there will be months of celebrating after I graduate this week. Some other ideas of what you might celebrate; a great score on an exam, passing a class that you know was difficult, completing a big project or finishing a long paper. Your celebrations could be big, like a fancy meal or elaborate date night or your celebrations could be smaller, like bringing home their favorite treat or letting them pick the movie for date night.
Help them study
I think this is one of the greatest things that you can do to support your spouse while they are in school. Not only will you be helping them out, you will be learning more about their interests and field of study. When your spouse has a test coming up, offer to help them study after they've put together their study guide or flashcards. You can quiz them, discuss the concepts at the dinner table, or text them reminders about the things that were toughest for them to remember. Be sure to wish them good luck before their test and find out how it went, what their score was and what they missed after the test. They'll know that you care, and you'll be able to help them study better for the next exam.
Take on extra household tasks
After my first semester in my Bachelor program, I noticed that my love language had shifted. Quality time and physical touch were still high scorers, but acts of service had moved up from low on my list to take first place. Coming home to a clean house and clean laundry on one of my longest days of the week made me happier than almost anything else. Having a clean house is something that I value. When my house is a wreck or even somewhat messy, it stresses me out and I have a hard time focusing on other things, like homework. Classes and homework take a lot of time, and your spouse may feel stressed or like they need to stay up late to take care of their normal household responsibilities in addition to the things on their plate as a student. If you know that your spouse has a lot going on and you have some down time, use it to take care of some of your spouse's chores. You might also consider taking on a few of their tasks on a more permanent basis, at least until this stage of life has passed.
Encourage them constantly
Celebrate accomplishments, tell your spouse that you're proud of them, make sacrifices to help them achieve their goals and do whatever you can to help them through their time as a student. Getting a college education is rewarding, but it has also been one of the hardest things that I've done. I really wouldn't have been able to push through without Joe there encouraging me from the sidelines. He celebrated in my accomplishments, was sympathetic when I wasn't successful in something and encouraged me to keep going, even when it seemed easier to quit.
Depending on what field of study your spouse is in and what type of degree they are trying to get, your spouse of a student stage of life could last a couple of years or even a decade. Education is important, but it can take a lot of time away from your marriage. Make sure that you let your spouse know that you love them and support them in their academic endeavors and be sure to sit down together and schedule time for your marriage so that your relationship doesn't get lost in the hectic pace of student life!