How do relationships fare?


Hi all, what a great forum this is and very reassuring for those in the thick of it. I'm just about to start my PhD (next month) - straight into the fire judging by the various posts on here. I'm just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on how relationships fare during the 3/+ years. Specifically, with you doing a PhD and your partner not? My boyfriend is very supportive and strongly encouraging my PhD but has a full time very high powered career-type job and already doesn't understand a word of my subject, let alone how it will be down the line! Anyone have any tips on how to navigate the murky waters of the PhD while maintaining a relationship?? Also with friends and family? My family are totally anti-the PhD because it's not a "proper job", "spiralling debt" "uncertain postdoc prospects in a competitive academic world" etc (Pah! ,-) ) and my friends are great but also not very academic and don't understand it either. I don't want to alienate them with this 'being a doc' thing. As we all know, the perception is that PhDers are the world's smartest people on every subject, etc etc, when really it's just about having a particular talent for writing and researching, and a particular passion for one topic just like other people are skilled at other jobs. Anyway, just interested to hear your thoughts!


Hi Bismarck!

Well I just wanted to get in with a happy response first. I am a first year PhD preparing for my upgrade and I have just returned from a 3.5 week break for the Christmas period during which I got married to my partner of 5.5 years. We went through undergrad years together and now he works while I study and although he doesn't always get what I'm on about he is very supportive. Another good part of having him with me throughout this is always having him about for switch-off time, when we can relax together and watch some crappy movie or just talk plain rubbish. It's great to refresh and relax with him.

Good luck for next month!


I want to reassure you as well.  I know some people have a hard time of it but my perception of it is that you have to grow together as a couple (oh my gosh, I'm making myself sick) and if you don't grow together then the relationship perhaps wasn't meant to be.

I'm almost halfway through, moved in with the boyfriend 3 months after I started and have been together for 6 years now. He has a job which I don't understand and he's not all that interested in my PhD topic.  But to be honest, when we talk about work we live in the same world, I moan about being rubbish and procrastinating, he moans about his boss giving him an even bigger workload. I don't know many people who moan about the intricacies of their work.  Everyone seems to have the same issues!

I also think it helps that I try and maintain a working pattern, i.e., I don't do weekends (mostly) and try not to do too much in the evenings after 7. I know that's not possible for some people but worth considering.

Take care



Thanks for the kind replies. Wookie, congratulations! And A116 I think you're right, it is a case of growing together and I can see that structure can really help with it. Also I can imagine that being in different situations might actually help rather than hinder. If we were both doing PhDs I can see the possibility of mad implosion at weekends, whereas with the different job etc there's at least a refreshing new focus to moan about! Thanks guys - go forth and conquer!


I've been with MR catalinbond for 3 1/2 years, and we moved in together just before my PhD started. Things have been fine between us and I'm now in my second year. I often get home late in teh evening, but he is now doing a PGCE so often has work to do too. PLus if not he's pretty happy to amuse himself on the x box! I don't think a relationship has to suffer just cos you're doing a PhD. :)

As for friends, they'll probably foget what it is you do unless you mention it all the time. the friends I have who aren't academics have their own things going on and we just tend to talk about other stuff. It is nice to have people who do understand, but you'll probably meet some other PhDers when you start who can be supportive for that side of things.


I can understand your concerns. I'm in my first year and moved in with my boyfriend just before the start of the academic year. He doesn't understand my subject at all though he does at least see the appeal of the PhD, and like your boyfriend he's in a full-time business job. To be honest I'm really pleased we do such different things - I think it would be maddening both to be studying full time. He's doing a part-time distance MSc for work and that's quite enough! I don't really understand the details of wht he does and vice-versa, although it doesn't stop us supporting each other. In fact I prefer it that we don't talk about work much or at least can't do it in detail! I like the fact that he keeps me grounded in the 'real world', plus of course his income is rather better than my funding! As for my friends, I suppose it's helpful that I have quite a few who have done PhDs but for many it's still really alien, although that's never mattered so far. They just know I'm doing something a bit obscure but that I'm really passionate about it. Plus of course you're bound to meet and make friends with other academic types along the way. My family have similar outlooks to the PhD as yours but they seem to have come round to it a bit. I found the key thing was to keep telling them in the first term how well it was going, how inspired I was, etc (all true!) and that helped them to understand why I'm doing it! Good luck!


I am in the third year and my relationship is suffering. They are a PhD student too. Everything is so confused and scary. Not a good place right now. Must concentrate on writing. :-(


I think if your partner/family are supportive and flexible, then there should be no problems. I met hubbie soon after I started the PhD and we got married in my second year. We've had arguments but hardly ever to do with the PhD. It helps that I rarely did work on the weekends so this would be "our" time.


Hi Bismarck,
I'd agree with a lot of the posts here: a stable relationship should be able to cope with the stress' and strains of a PhD, by which I mean the long hours, the "wierd science-y stuff" (in my case) and any insecurities that may arise (such as a partner (usually men) incorrectly perceiving themselves to suddenly be intellectually inferior). I would argue that it is great to have someone to unload your worries and woes on and for them to lovingly reciprocate on you. You may even find, as both of you will work long hours, that such a pattern enhances your relationship.
I liked your concerns about friends not understanding your PhD, gotta say would you understand their jobs? Finally, in answer to those who say a PhD is not a proper job I would say: "Try it!" 8-)(up)

@ Chrisrolinski: Send me a PM if you want an annonymous unloading session - I think I must have encountered every relationship problem going and I'm a great listener.


Because a PhD can take anything from three to six years I think there are going to be times when relationships break down but this could have happened anyway and may have had nothing really to do with the PhD. Unfortunately my marriage broke down in my first year but the reasons had been there before the PhD and although me working on that caused us to grow apart, I don't think it was the main reason. I am now in a new relationship which I'm sure will last through the PhD and beyond. Life is much more difficult with my new partner as he has teenage kids and we are having financial difficulties at the moment but we both support each other through problems.


I suppose its a lot easier if you're both in the same location. Your family will think its great in time, especially at your graduation! After 4 years of explaining my topic my parents kinda understand, luckily its an applied and hot topic, though I'm the only one in my family to go to University so they think that I'll get a better job with a PhD (little do they know...) but my Mum is happy as long as I'm working hard and have enough for beer money. My friends give the odd Doctor joke, but its right that they won't go on about it unless you do!

Chris, yep this time of a PhD is all very up in the air with what you want to do in the future, the (futile) job hunt etc, and even worse if you're both in the same situation. I'm in kinda the same situation, and its not easy. So good luck.


The relationship which has worried me most is not the one with my husband but the one with my small daughter. It's OK - but the balancing and guilt have been tough. My husband is very keen on me doing this but also eager for it to end! Some friends are positive about it - some people seem to feel it is a personal insult to their intelligence for some reason and can be a bit sour - and some, like family - think it's just a calossal waste of time. One of the great things about getting older is caring so much less about what other people think.

I think if your relationship is going to work it will weather a PhD - there are a lot of tough and tougher life experiences that can rock a relationship.


Thanks everyone for your really helpful replies. My boyfriend and I have been living together for a year and been together a lot longer so I think that we'll be fine, he is instinctively very clued up on what a PhD involves - ie not under illusions about how tough it is and not one of these people who thinks PhD=genius! Hypothesis, you're totally right that I probably don't know in detail what my friends do either - I guess my concerns there are that although not necessarily consciously, they'll treat me differently and Smilodon hits the nail on the head - that they see it as a personal insult to their intelligence in a weird way. Case in point - my cousin ever since I announced to a stunned (and entirely un-academic family) that I'm doing a PhD has started talking about his IQ etc and generally been really passive aggressive. BUT that reflects more on his insecurities than on what I'm doing, and my closest friends are so far nothing but excited for me. As for the family - Megara I think that's a really good bit of advice to keep passionately tell them how great it is etc until it sticks...actually feel like they're realising it's a reality and so it's sinking in. They're asking much more practical questions now as opposed to a few months ago when they varied between ignoring the subject altogether like it was an elephant in the room, making me feel like I had told them I have Aids or something, and asking really vague things like "what would you do afterwards" (emphasis on "would") when I'd already been accepted! Funny. Anyway, I'm jumping into the boat and sailing off with all of them with me whether they like it or not! :-)


I would agree with the others. Nobody really understands what you do unless it's another academic and somethimes only the people in your subject as there is a huge difference between PhDs! As for family and friends they don't understand what you do but I've just about given up talking about it it with them as they don't understand and the stuff they say shows it! Even some friends I went to uni with don't understand PhDs! One that is common to all PhD students is that you must be very strange to do one! That holds - I've had this discussion with other PhD students and they all agree! But as long as you enjoy it - does it really matter what other people think? The best idea is to find someone else in the same position and talk to them as no-one else will understand! That's very reassuring!


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hello there! sorry to blow a big hole in the water here, but its not just the actual phd years that can cause problems in a relationship - its the after years that can be even more affected. myself and the boyf are both doing phds, and for the past year it has been long distance seeing each other once a month. this has been ok, not wonderful but we are doing alright, and he's finishing in april/may - however, potential postdoc is also in the same country he's in now, so this means longdistance for the next two years at least, il should be finished by then, so what next? its unlikely that we'll both be able to get jobs in the same city, there arent a lot of jobs out there. Also, by that stage il def not be wanting to do long distance so in that case, who compromises and follows the other? we both took on phds to get the best job we can, not to be stuck doing any old job... so really, its not just the phd you have to think about, but the future, are u prepared to stay in the same city and miss better jobs elsewhere? or will they be prepared to move?