Carla had always pictured herself marrying a man who had his college years behind him. Her dream man had a steady job, a new car, and a home ready to move into. In short, she wanted him “ready for life.”
Then Carla met Rob. Rob had much the same vision as Carla did. He had planned to complete his college degree before he got married, but the prospect of life with Carla was more attractive.
Rob and Carla began their marriage like many couples who start with the challenge of the husband or wife finishing formal education. This situation is especially prevalent among LDS couples who have been taught to give high priority to both marriage and education. Many of these young LDS men and women also interrupt their college years to serve missions, making it even more likely that they will have schooling to complete after they marry.
Other couples may go back to college after many years of marriage.
In either case, finishing an education while married brings both rewards and challenges unique to the situation. But achieving success during this time is usually due to realistic preparation and planning and a willingness to sacrifice.
Too often when we think of the difficulty of obtaining education after marriage, we think only of the financial burden. Yet there are other challenges which can strain a relationship if not handled carefully. Three of these are role-strain, over-commitment, and lack of opportunities for personal growth.
Many newly married husbands and wives go through a period of adjustment while they explore their new role as a spouse. This is especially true of people in college. The husband who has been spending all his time working on his degree may feel frustrated at having to divide his time among his job, his studies, and his family. Likewise, he may feel guilty because he is not able to provide for his family as he feels he should. The wife often experiences similar frustration. She may continue her own studies and work part-time or go to work full-time while her husband goes to school. Adjusting to work, school, and her role as a wife at the same time may be difficult.
One husband expressed his feelings this way: “After marriage I noticed that all of my attention could not be focused on my classes. The first two months were hard, and I began to get depressed.” He also found it difficult to have his wife work while he went to class, feeling that his image as a husband was at stake and that others would think he was lazy or that he was taking advantage of her.
Wives have their own struggle. One who worked all day came home wanting to relax. But she felt pressure to fix dinner and clean the house. In trying to live up to her expectations of a “perfect” wife, she soon wore herself out.
These difficulties can be solved through communication and unselfishness. Talking about roles and expectations will help both people understand their personal demands and limitations and those of their partners. Then the two can plan a workable solution. The husband may learn to be content with a quick dinner and a less-than-immaculate house. Or the couple might use Saturdays to prepare meals for the coming week—meals the husband can then cook and have ready when she comes home from work. Both partners need to develop a willingness to help each other in all aspects of the marriage. The wife can keep the television turned off while her husband studies; the husband can help with household chores. The most important part of reaching a solution is to allow for the needs and concerns of both the husband and the wife.
Time demands are another source of frustration to the couple combining marriage with college. After marriage, each person still feels the same time commitments as before—work, Church callings, school, civic responsibilities, parental family ties, and recreation. On top of these demands, both feel keenly a responsibility to their marriage and to any children they may have.
Glen and Karen found these demands difficult to deal with. Karen reports that “it was go, go, go, and he worked hard! I had to take on extra responsibilities. Many of the chores I thought we would share became mine alone. I resented the time he spent on his studies and often felt lonely or unappreciated.”
Don and Rhonda encountered similar problems. Before their marriage, Don was a sophomore at a community college and deeply involved in school, Church, and civic affairs. He found it hard to balance these activities with those required by his marriage.
They had talked about potential problems before marriage. Rhonda laughs as she recalls their naivete: “We really didn’t know what we were talking about. It was going to be so much fun having kids and struggling with finances and growing together.”
Both she and Don are more practical now. They have two children, and he has learned that he must budget time to allow for family, work, and school. Their advice to others is to learn to talk things out before resentments build.
Couples who have lived through this time say that the greatest help in juggling demands on time is working together to establish priorities. We are taught that our marriages and families should be most important in our lives. President David O. McKay admonished that “no success can compensate for failure in the home.” (In Conference Report, April 1964, p. 5.) And President Harold B. Lee added, “The greatest work you will ever do is within the walls of your own home.” (Strengthening the Home, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973, p. 7.) While sacrifice may be necessary to get what we want, we need to be sure we don’t sacrifice the wrong things.
Keeping the family first means that it is important to make time for each other. Having one night a week that belongs just to the two of you will strengthen your relationship. These dates need not be extravagant. One couple exchanges babysitting with some friends so they can spend a few hours together each week while they go window shopping or for a walk. Another couple, who are both in school, go to the library for a date. Joint scripture study and family prayer also give couples a few shared moments each day.
If there are children in the family, time also needs to be made for them. One husband reserved the hours from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. each evening for his family alone. This way the children had a regular time to be with their father, and the wife didn’t feel overburdened with all the child-rearing responsibilities.
Church service is another important activity which places demands on time. Some couples share callings, such as Blazer B—Merrie Miss teachers or magazine representatives. These assignments give them additional time together. For other couples, meetings and preparations need to be scheduled into an already busy day. If Church service becomes an undue burden, the couple should counsel with their bishop. King Benjamin urged his people to be diligent but also said that “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” (Mosiah 4:27.)
Other commitments can be planned as the couple has the time and the desire. One wife tries hard not to discourage her husband’s spare time activity. “I do feel some resentment when he wants to play basketball and not just be with me,” she says, “but I know now it feels to be in that position. I know he needs an outlet.” A husband similarly supports his wife when he watches the children while she attends a class or social gathering.
Allowing Individual Growth
In a marriage, both partners need the opportunity to grow. That opportunity is sometimes difficult to find during college years, particularly for the wife who may have given up her own schooling to work at an unfulfilling job so that she can support her husband through his schooling. Between the demands of work and home, she may feel stifled and unable to pursue activities which would help her grow. At the same time, her husband is learning and growing through his studies.
In such cases, a husband’s sacrifices to give his wife opportunities for learning and development are well-rewarded. He will find his wife a better conversation partner and more lively companion if she, too, is developing her talents.
Some couples solve the problem by planning for both to complete school while each works part-time to support the family. Others find different solutions.
Jim and Louise, for example, planned for her to work, but they also planned for the baby they wanted to have right away. To support the family, she dropped out of college to take a job; he has worked part-time during the school year and full-time during the summers.
They planned in addition to meet Louise’s need for growth. She takes an institute class each semester, and an occasional class at a community college. They support each other in Church callings; he is content to fix himself a hot dog at times while she is at a Relief Society meeting teaching other sisters about exotic dishes they can prepare. They have also budgeted time and money for her to participate in the bowling league she enjoys.
Other couples find different ways to cooperate in meeting the wife’s need for personal development. The wife of a Ph.D. candidate in physics, who has her degree in English, keeps intellectually alive through dinner discussions. One night a week, she teaches her husband about literature; later in the week, he teaches her about science. They use other dinnertimes to discuss art, music, and the gospel.
In spite of the difficulties, many couples look back on their college years as some of the most significant and enjoyable of their marriage. These years of adjustment and sacrifice added to the stability and permanence of the relationship.
President Spencer W. Kimball has said that “young married couples can make their way and reach their educational heights, if they are determined.” (Ensign, Feb. 1975, p. 4.) Such determination carries couples beyond the discouragements, giving them courage to listen to each other and to solve problems in creative ways. Then, on graduation day, they have not only their degree, but a stronger, more solid marriage.
David K. Whitmer, father of five, is a counselor in the Sunday School of his Fair Oaks California Stake. He is institute director at Cal State Sacramento and is also a marriage and family therapist.