Maintaining Relationships in Grad School

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I made a request a week ago for blog posts ideas, and this was one that made me extremely excited to write because I struggle with this all the time. In fact, when I went to a therapist to deal with anxiety issues, this was probably the number one things that was talked about during our sessions.

What was the question?

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Well, Anonymous, I feel you. In fact, at the end of last year I felt so pathetically guilty because it seemed that my boyfriend and my mom (the two most important people in my life) got the worst end of this whole grad school deal. During my first year, I was constantly postponing dates with my boyfriend or lunches with my mom because I felt that I was just too busy. I felt like if I took the day off to spend time with either of them everything would fall apart, my boss and lab mates would be so disappointed, and even more I would fall behind on my work and totally fail at everything from there on out

Now, I think I may have been an extreme case and the word catastrophizing certainly got tossed about during my counseling sessions… But honestly, I would like to think I’m not entirely alone here. I feel that a lot of grad students try and make excuses as to why that relationship (romantic or otherwise) should be put aside for the sake of school and work.

Why? Because in your mind, you may just see it as an excuse to take a break from work. You might see it as a way to procrastinate. Or it may just be lower down on your priority list than the homework in a few days or the data that really needs to be analyzed before your PI starts pestering you via email. But is it really less important than your work? I’d like to say no.

I think the most important thing to remember is that you are more than just a grad student. Your well-being is greatly affected by maintaining the important relationships in your life. And when you don’t take care of these relationships properly, it won’t be long until you are upset and become distracted, which then affects your work, which makes you even more upset and distracted, etc. It’s a horrible cycle. Trust me.

So, here are the things I do to have some resemblance of a work-life balance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll get to have as many dates as I did in college with my boyfriend or I’ll get to see my mom or friends as often, but at the very least this will allow me to still maintain my relationships and keep open communication, while still succeeding in my work. Also, a nice reminder that these tips are not only for romantic relationships and that these are tips that (kind of) work for me (most of the time). So, take it with a grain of salt.

Plan Ahead

I try really hard to plan ahead. That means knowing when deadlines are coming and being sure I finish my work with time to spare. The reason I do this is not only for my sanity, but also because it makes me less stressed out on a daily basis. And a less stressed out Krystal means happy home for Boyfriend and pleasant visits for Mom.

Schedule Dates/Outings

Now this may seem like it takes all the spontaneity out of your relationships or friendships, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to make sure that your significant other or best friend isn’t getting the short end of the stick. I did this for a while during senior year of college and again during my first year of grad school when life decided to throw a lot of curve balls my way. I found that though it might be a little less fun this way, having scheduled dates allowed me to plan my work ahead (see tip above) and find a time in my busy schedule where I can take a break and forget about work for a while still giving my boyfriend the attention he deserves.

When You Can, Give Them Your FULL Attention

Bouncing off the tip above, when you’re with them (scheduled or not) try your very best to give them 100% of your attention. Believe it or not, they can tell when you’re still thinking about your research or that one homework problem that you just can’t figure out. It’s probably just as annoying as being on your phone the whole time. And I know that this may not always be the easiest thing to do. But again, try and kill two birds with one stone: give your significant other much needed attention and give your mind a break from work.

Communicate

Let them know when you’re overwhelmed. Let them know this week is going to suck and you probably won’t be around much. Let them know if you can’t schedule a date this month because you have a million deadlines to make. Let them know if your boss is being a little meaner than usual and so you’re going to try and work as hard as you can to get them off your back. Having an open communication with your significant other, friend, or parent about just how shitty grad school can be sometime will allow them to be prepare themselves for those hectic times and not feel ignored or pushed aside.

Don’t Forget YOU Time

As important as it is to keep up your relationships, don’t forget to have YOU time as well. Because it’s impossible to please and take care of other people if you don’t take of yourself first. In essence, don’t feel as if every free moment needs to be spent with your significant other or family or friends. You need YOU time as well. And that, is probably the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn.


Anyway, I hope that helps you, Anon, and anyone else that’s reading this. Please feel free to start a discussion in the comments if you have your own tips or struggles with this topic.

Hope you enjoyed! ❤

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