For academics: What to do when your partner wails, ‘I never see you anymore!’

Work Life BalanceWhen you’re furrowed-brow deep in your academic project, and your partner suddenly blurts out “I never see you anymore!” it’s time to stop, look, and close your computer. After such outbursts, many of my academic clients with partners in my coaching and editing practice have found ways to manage the complaints and restore a harmonious home. Here are some of the major methods clients have used as they pursue the (successful) productions of articles, presentations, chapters for a volume, and dissertations.

Talk

Face the complaint head on, or you’ll be pawing the Internet for an attorney who handles the Big D. Don’t fall into the trap of reflexive “everything’s fine.” When either you or your partner nurses silent resentment and hurt, pretending everything is “fine,” that‘s the opposite of fine for both of you. Make time to sit down and let your partner talk and shout out the feelings, assumptions, misunderstandings, and accusations. You do the same. Allow each other the luxury of irrational feelings. You don’t have to agree, but listen fully.

Then point out the advantages of your current academic project (toward promotion, tenure, reputation as an authority, invitations for more, pleasant notoriety, expansion of your expertise, mo’ money). Agree to another session, if needed, for any renewed or residual negative feelings that surface. If you have to go over the same ground, do so. When you don’t bring up the negatives, they’ll just go underground, pollute the family atmosphere, poison your relationship, and contaminate your efforts in your project.

Give and Get

As in any good relationship, work out compromises. Offer to do three loads of dinner dishes for two hours of uninterrupted research time, an afternoon of yard work for a morning of library immersion, a trip to the auto mechanic for a day at that miracle-of-publishing boot camp. Or promise in advance: when your partner needs time and solitude for a special project, you will take over the babysitting.

Involve Them

The temptation is strong to hole up and become a library troglodyte or pace at home tight-lipped as you wrestle with the murky topic sentence and intellectual quagmires. Both approaches foster distance, bitterness, and grouchiness with everyone in your family.

Explain. Make time to tell your partner what you’re studying and writing about. Your partner may not really care or understand, but seeing your enthusiasm, will probably admire your dedication and the work. When you explain your study in layman’s terms, you may be pleased to see their eyes light up. Your explanation will also give them ammunition for friends who ask, when you habitually decline the dinners, barbecues, and community carwashes, “What is he/she really doing?” (You too will finally understand what you’re doing.)

If your partner is in an academic profession or occupation related to your project, you’re ahead. Partners who work in healthcare and social services can relate to your study of diabetes, diet, and dumbbells; the generational antecedents of domestic violence; or correlations between cognitive therapy, mental health, and positive outlooks. Partners who work in education can recognize why you are writing about student achievement and principal leadership. If your partner is not in a related field, plunge in anyway. Any partner can appreciate your passion for studying and writing about what’s obviously meaningful to you.

Invite your partner’s thoughts on your work. He or she will be flattered that you’re asking. Share some research findings (you don’t have to go into the convoluted statistics). Start a discussion. Your partner may contribute some real insights and raise questions or point out gaps you hadn’t thought of.

Ask for help. You may need help in certain aspects of your work—finding articles, setting up interviews, or sending out surveys. Ask. Your partner may have wanted to help but didn’t know how.

Accept the help. If you need to give explicit instructions (and I implore you to), give them beforehand. You may have to correct in midcourse or afterward, and do so tactfully. When you work together, your relationship will become stronger.

Special Dates

Plan special nonwork dates. Much as you may feel you’re tearing yourself away from more important scholarly matters, special dates are vital to maintaining any sense of family. In the end, what’s it all worth without your partner’s and family’s presence and love?

Suggest dates, ask for your partner’s ideas, and agree on specific times. They will motivate you to squeeze out another two pages beforehand, especially when you can’t face another erudite pontification or blank screen. Yes, the partner date is a time-honored, and maybe cliché, solution of marriage counselors—but it works.

My clients have successfully used these dates with their partners:

  • Decide on an evening of romantic cocktails or special intimacy (difficult to make time for, Lord knows).
  • Take a day of hiking and a picnic in the woods.
  • Sit down together for an open-ended talk about mutual meaningful topics (delicious vacation possibilities, revisits to happy memories, strategies for a needed renovation, subjects you both like exploring—my husband and I are fascinated by early Christianity).
  • Designate an afternoon together on a special project—reorganizing the garage, painting a spare room, visiting a new family down the block.
  • Volunteer at a shelter to serve dinner.
  • Get tickets to a concert or play (or musical, if you must).
  • Go go-karting (good for venting aggressions).

These suggestions should help you complete your current academic project and simultaneously keep intact your relationship with your partner, or at least avoid month-long icy silences. With these ideas, and other ways you may think of, you’ll not only keep your relationship healthy but also will help your partner weather your next all-consuming academic project.

© 2017 Noelle Sterne


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.