There are many useful books and websites that outline to the embryonic PhD student how the process works and what to expect from there doctoral journey. However there is a dearth of sites aimed at telling the partners/spouses/friends/families just how it will be for them, this helpful blog post aims to remedy that.
1. There will be emotional instability; this may come early on in the doctoral journey when your partner convinces themselves that they are totally unable to do a PhD. They may be angry with you for encouraging them in thinking that they could do one in the first place or for not being encouraging enough. Or both. Often at the same time. It may come mid-way through when the three thousand questionnaires that were sent out, at great expense and envelope stuffing inconvenience to family and friends, show a response rate of 1% or it may come toward the end of the PhD when coming home to tempestuous tears, incoherent sobbing and a three hour temper tantrum that appears indicative, at the very least, of massive family bereavement/trauma or loss of the family pet or the cancellation of ‘The Simpsons’ is eventually discovered to have been caused by the printer cartridge running out. You can’t predict when it will come; the only thing you can be certain of is that it will.
2. Sooner or later they will need their own space; I don’t mean this in a ‘I need my own space so I’m leaving you’ kind of way, I mean it literally. One day you’ll realise that there are so many text books and journal off prints in a specific order that ON NO ACCOUNT must be disturbed scattered across your bed that your only option is to sleep in the cat basket. This may be a time to think about finding space for your partner that belongs exclusively to them, it doesn’t matter if it’s a proper study, the cupboard under the stairs or a corner of the dining table. They need to know they have a work area of their own and you need to know you can turn over in bed without dislodging 3 months worth of important data.
3. Re-think what constitutes ‘romantic’; no matter how much you have used fine wine, back rubs, chocolates and flowers to express your devotion in the past, nothing says ‘I love you’ like Tabachnik and Fiddell’s classic text ‘Using Multivariate Statistics’ or Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’. Knowing which expensive text book to buy and when will get you massive amounts of supportive partner points and fulsome praise in the acknowledgement section of the finished thesis. In extreme cases, it may even save your life
4. At some point your name and who you are will escape their memory; If this happens in the first six months of your partners PhD then you have a big problem...at any time after that, relax it’s quite normal. It just means that your partner is analysing focus group data in their head or trying to remember if a ‘p’ value of .001 is good (hint - it is, be impressed). This will happen more and more as your partner becomes more immersed in their studies so it’s probably a good idea to introduce yourself to them and remind them of your place in their life at the start of each interaction that you initiate (NB – especially important during sex). Take solace with the thought that this memory loss is quickly reversed once the thesis is submitted
5. Some one new (and possibly dead) will join your relationship; As your partner becomes increasingly obsessed with their PhD you will often find then with the sort of dreamy/concussed expression on their face that you recognise from the early stages of your relationship when you were both falling in love with each other. You may fear your partner is falling for someone else and your instincts would be right. It may be Heidegger, it may be Strauss, Spearman or Cohen , but get used to it – someone else has joined your relationship and there is nothing you can do about it. When your partner talks incessantly about Martin, Anselm, Charles or Jacob don’t be threatened, yes they are important to your partner but take comfort in the thought that this infatuation will not survive completion of the thesis. Plus they are all dead which gives you a massive overall advantage.
6. You will learn new things; not just because your partners sole topic of conversation will be about their thesis – my beloved knows more about post-menopausal osteoporosis than any man in a non-healthcare related profession needs or wants to - but also because sooner or later many of the things they do as their part of an equal relationship will become your responsibility. Doesn’t matter if its topping up the oil in the car, filling and/or emptying the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, cooking, shopping, feeding the cat, once they are in ‘the zone’ and furiously writing it’s easier just to pick up the slack yourself than risk the inevitable physical and psychological trauma (did I mention emotional instability?)
7. Nothing that happens will be because of you but everything that goes wrong WILL be your fault; sometimes you will feel that you are little more than a supportive spectator as your partner careers down the doctoral route but be warned – on no account allow yourself to believe that your non-participatory observer status means that you are exempt from blame for anything and everything that can go wrong throughout the 3-6 year doctoral journey. This will be hard but do not waste your time and effort in defending yourself or trying to point out that your partners PhD is grounded in field about which you know little and care less. In the long run it’s easier just to apologise.
I realize that this sounds as if the PhD process is a complete nightmare for the partners, family and friends of the doctoral candidate and this is because it is, but hold onto the fact that this is really, really important to them, you will be SO proud of them when you see them in their gown and bonnet at graduation, their career prospects will be enhanced giving you the option of becoming a kept man/woman and most importantly when it is all over they will love you more than they ever did before, even if it’s only to make up for the hell they just have put you through.