Relationships in Graduate School… And Beyond

Graduate school is a challenging time for many reasons – teaching, mentoring, designing research projects, managing advisors, spending hours writing and/or in the lab – and romantic relationships can be a source of respite or source of stress on top of all of that. In fact, they are often both at once!

Inspired by the part of graduate school that people don’t often talk abouthaving a romantic relationshipwe, the graduate program coordinators of the WCC, decided to host an event to promote open and honest conversation about pursuing a career while thinking about a partner. On November 4th, several graduate students were joined by two therapists from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)Meag-gan Walters, post-doc, and Sheila Levinto approach the topic of relationships. The conversation was deep and insightful, and we thought we would share a couple of takeaways from the evening. 

Flyer for relationship discussion event, Nov 4th

Communication is key:

This might sound cliche, but many of the issues that arise in relationships can be addressed or at least alleviated through honest and open conversation. This is especially true when agreeing upon expectations and values. Knowing your respective priorities can alleviate issues in the long run, especially when the personalities within the relationship are opposite. A partnership between a Type A person who prefers to plan and a Type B person who prefers spontaneity requires a communication strategy that takes into account the different needs of each partner as well as the needs of the relationship. It takes a certain amount of honesty and vulnerability to have an effective conversation, which might not be comfortable for everybody involved, but it is important to the health of a relationship.

Be aware of gender biases/implied relationship roles that may influence your relationship:

We are all influenced by societal pressures (including pop culture and our families) when it comes to expected roles and responsibilities in relationships. Sometimes, our own ideas about how things should be can get in the way of how things are. Locking ourselves or our partners into inflexible roles–for example, what roles we expect a person to fulfill based on his/her/their gender–can also be the root cause of frustration and miscommunications. If people don’t or can’t fulfill the roles we have set aside for them, it can be an unnecessary source of contention.

Being whole and happy on your own is the best foundation for being in a healthy relationship:

In the words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” Finding ways to know yourself, to make yourself happy will give you a fuller life and a better sense of self. If you don’t put all your “happiness eggs” in your “relationship basket,” you can appreciate the multiple ways in which you function and live in the world. It is important to remember that your romantic relationships consist of more than one person. It is not your job to fix your partner, and it is not your partner’s job to fix you. If there is something seriously wrong, seek out professional assistance.

The two-body problem is real, and requires both parties to know what they want for the future of the relationship and what they want for their personal development:

The “two-body problem” refers to the task of managing both partners’ careers in a way that maintains a cohesive life together while allowing each person to have a fulfilling career and opportunities for advancement. Some jobs within and outside of academia will negotiate contingencies for partners. If living in the same area is one of the values that you and your partner share, check with your employer to see if they can help you make the transition easier or more predictable for your partner. They may provide help with a job search or allow you to accept a position with the condition that your partner can find satisfactory employment in the same geographical area. Another aspect of the two-body problem is planning for a family. Figuring out how to bring up questions of relationships and children can be tricky when seeking employment. One thing you can do is find people who have similar experiences and ask them about their lives in a company or institutionit helps to go into a job or negotiations for a job knowing the kinds of experiences you should be prepared for.

TL;DR – Talk to your partner about your respective values, and pay attention to the way you treat them and yourself in a relationship. You will be happier for it.

If you need to make an appointment with CAPS, call 650-498-2336.

-Valerie Troutman and Vanessa Seals


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