How to Make My Relationship Survive?


I don't know why it took so long to find this forum! I have completed 28 months of PhD coursework and will be taking my quals in 23 days (who's counting, though?). While I am glad to finally be done all of the coursework, I now find myself in a terrible situation: my boyfriend of over 4 and a half years says he is ready to give up on our relationship.

We have been fighting and bickering quite frequently for months. We had at it on Christmas night, and he left my parents' house (where we were staying), rented a car, and drove an entire day home (there were no flights available). I have talked to him a bit, but will not be able to see him until I go home. We moved into an apartment together last year, and he thinks things have gotten worse. He was been telling me he isn't happy with our relationship for a few months, but I didn't really get it until all this happened.

I took 4 classes and worked 4 part time jobs (about 30 hours/week) this past term. I hardly had time to brush my hair in the morning, let alone have a social life. He can't stand that I'm always stressed out. I can't stop stressing. Ever. I go to the gym for about an hour 5-6 times/week...even there, I find myself working. I have an app that allows me to type documents, and I sometimes bring articles or books to read while biking. On the rare occasions that I do go out, I can't stop thinking about what I have to do--and, I'm no fun. I don't even like myself much sometimes. I am not even sure if I would want to date me.

I am ready to change. He is not hopeful right now, but I want the relationship to work. I need to find better time-management.I need to just let things stress. Advice? Thanks!


Hi - firstly, don't be so harsh on yourself. Often these things are a two-way process and its easy for one person to take the blame... I'm not a relationship expert though of course.

My recommendation would be clearly defined structures - work the hours he works (8 till 6 if that is when he leaves and comes back) anything outside of that forget about it - relax.. Go to the gym outside of your set working hours. I try to do this as much as I can and you can be as productive as spending all the time on it. Cut your paid work back as much as you can. Easier said than done of course.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

I can see from your message that the structure of your PhD is different to the UK / EU structure, so I assume you're from the US. That adds in a couple of extra years and I guess a little extra stress.

From your message, you seem to have really thrown yourself into your work. I found myself in this mode and for the write-up period at least all that existed was the PhD. That drove friends and family absolutley nuts to the point they wished it would go away, never to appear again. So yes, I understand. But actually doing reading in the gym? That desn't come across as a very safe situation. I've a picture of you falling off a treadmill whilst trying to read a paper in my head. :-)

Can I suggest straight away this is not a healthy situation and as Sam29 has said, you need time outside your PhD work to relax and switch off?

However, I'll add a PhD is not a 9 to 5 job and there will be times where workload or other research requirements will mean staying to within normal office hours will be impossible. Thus striking a balance between work life and private life will be that much more difficult. If you want to hold onto your boyfriend, this you will have to do. If you can't strike a balance, then you may be placing yourself into a situaion where you have to choose and being forced to do this in itself could end the relationship.

Has he gone through PhD himself? If not, he will not understand the stresses you are facing. You have to relate this to him if a balance is to be achieved. I'm guessing he's put Uni. behind him and may expect you to have a similar mindset to him, that your work is just a job. If you are still in the Uni. environment then this may be difficult to do.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Thanks for the responses. I am in the US. My university has its own degree plan that is unlike those of many other US schools. For full time students, we have 3 classes per trimester--and total coursework amounts to 7 trimesters. We then take a 72 hour exam in January, and start dissertation prep in February. I should be defending my proposal by June...and the earliest I can graduate is May 2015.

I tutor, so my days ended anywhere from 5pm til 9pm last term. I just got a new tutoring job that allows me to work daytime. I am set to work from about 9am-3pm every day; the place is 45 minutes from my home. So, that will mesh with his schedule (8am-5pm). Also, I made myself unavailable Friday-Sunday. I still have my other jobs, and I am trying to figure which to quit. This new job will pay $50USD/hour before taxes, and I am set to work 15.5 hours. Essentially, I have gaps in between students and only get paid when actually tutoring. These gaps range from 30 minutes to an hour and a half--I am hoping to use them to work on my own research.The new pay will be slightly more than what I have been making with all of my other jobs combined.

However, I don't know if I should quit everything just yet. I will be tutoring equestrian students on the showgrounds, and "season" is only January through March or April. So, it will slow down a lot after. I need to have another job as a buffer.

My boyfriend has not gone through a PhD. We got together a few months before I finished my Masters, so he is very familiar with the process--as a spectator. He tries to be as supportive as he can; but, he gets a little overwhelmed when his support sometimes does little to boost my morale. And, I seem to have a hard time expressing my gratitude for his support. Rough stuff.


hi frequentflyer
welcome to the forum. I have been in a similar situation -- me with phd n the bf with his job -- quite frankly I feel that my wonderful supportive bf cannot really understand the stress of a phd because he hasn't been through it himself.

I think we survived my phd because I did not fully immerse him in it, he wouldn't have understood if I kept telling him about it -- he would have got frustrated if I told him everything about my phd (how stressful it was for me etc.). Whenever I was feeling stressed with my phd, I used other ways of dealing with it (instead of telling my bf everything), I found that this helped in our relationship, he wasn't stressed because he couldn't exactly see the extent of how stressed I was.

It's not that I was hiding things from him--its just not giving him too much phd stuff -- too much that he wouldn't be able to digest.

We also did have some kind of "routine" that worked very well for us. That was me doing my phd stuff (writing etc.) whenever he was out at work -- so that whenever he came back from work, I could at least devote more attention to him (keep him fed and watered!).

People who haven't done phds cannot understand why we still want to look at our theses at night -- when we had the whole morning and afternoon to do it.

To make your relationship work it has to be a two-way effort. Yes it feels like your bf is feeling overwhelmed with it all. Perhaps you could both take some time and space to rethink your relationship -- try again (another "strategy" perhaps) and just go from there. Whatever it is, don't lose heart.

love satchi


This is probably easy for me to say, since I'm single, but this is your life and your future career. You need something that will be there for you throughout your life, and this something is your education and your work experience, not your boyfriend. The issues with your boyfriend are just compounding your stress - do you really want this to continue for the next 3 - 5 years of your PhD? [let's be realistic - you are unlikely to graduate by 2015].

I appreciate it's a difficult time for your bf too, but he's already shown a lack of support and commitment by leaving at Christmas and it's only going to be harder in the future. What if you struggle through the next few years and he decides it's too much again - will it have been worth it?


Thanks for the insights. I really like the idea of working on my stuff while he is working. I just have to really plan it out. In reality, the second he gets home, I am unable to accomplish anything. He doesn't talk to me or bother me...but, his presence alone is distracting. Yet, I continue trying to work on things when he gets home. On rare occasions, I put my computer away--and he is on his laptop (he hardly ever turns it on, so it is ironic that it works out that way).

How do you de-wire? I find it increasingly difficult to walk away from electronics. Since it is new year's eve (happy new year to all of those on the other side of the ocean!), I figure I should make some resolutions. I don't know how practical it is, but I would like to reserve at least one full day of each week to do zero school work. Has anyone tried this? On that note, I want to learn how to stop obsessing over writing 24/7. Destressing is extremely important; stress is really impacting the quality of my life. I just want to be done with this degree. But, like TreeofLife said, it is very unlikely that I will be done in 2015. However, the topic and location I choose for my dissertation will heavily impact how long it takes. I really wanted to do ethnographic work, but I think it may just take way too long. So, I still haven't seen him yet because I just got home from my travels last night (he drove off a few hours away to be with his family for a few days). He is still saying he doesn't have hope, but seems more willing to at least try at some point--hopefully, soon. Here's to thinking positively and a productive, happy, and stress-free 2014!


Try not to choose your topics based on what fits in your personal life. You don't want to end up with regrets. I've made stupid choices based on what I thought would be best for the man in my life (getting in to a top 5 university, but going to a top 20 to please boyfriend, staying in a city for a extra year rather than moving home to please a different boyfriend, doing a computer-based MSc and not lab-based MSc to have more time at home and God knows what else).

Are these people major factors in my life now? (no - and, thankfully not in one case.) Are my qualifications there for me now? Well yes - I wouldn't be doing a PhD if they weren't. Luckily it still worked out ok for me.

Moral of the story - don't live your life for someone else.


I agree with TreeofLife. In as much as you want to balance your personal life, just remember boyfriends come and go even husbands. But your qualifications would be there for the rest of your life!


How do you de-wire? .. I would like to reserve at least one full day of each week to do zero school work. Has anyone tried this?...He is still saying he doesn't have hope, but seems more willing to at least try at some point--

hi frequentflyer,
I de-wire by socialising online (email/chat) with my own set of friends, I also post on this forum when I need some advice (I have received so much help!), I find things to make myself happy -- for example I like looking at clothes on sale (online or I go out and walk around) and I like to do silent sitting (meditation, if you like).

Whenever I do silent sitting, I am happy because I go inside (within myself) and I come out of it feeling a lot better than when I went in.

You have to find things that make you happy -- and once you are happy with yourself, you'll find that his presence (at home even when he is not bugging you or anything) will not bother you anymore.

I have done more than one day a week without phd-work! My bf likes to go out in the weekends (drive somewhere do something etc.). I've found myself going reluctantly (this is my honest opinion) but then I realised that I felt better when we came home and then I was glad I decided to go out with him the whole day!!!

It is good not to work sometimes because it gives our minds a break.

If you obsess about writing, it could be good for you in some areas, and not good in other areas of your life, which is why you have to learn out to de-stress from obsessing about wanting to write all the time.

The easiest way to stop obsessing about writing is to devote a certain number of minutes/hours per week day to write. If you miss those minutes of writing (say -- for today), just let yourself off the hook and continue the next day :-) This works for me and if I accomplish my goal of the day, then I do something nice for myself -- like spend more time watching youtube videos -- or buy something (on sale) for myself!

Oh yes if ur bf says he's willing to try, that's good news!

best of luck
love satchi

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Frequent flyer, your description of your workload sounds like you have become stressed to a point beyond where you have just gotten into a downward spiral of work and constant routine and activity.

As you say, you will have to let some things go...and that will be hard. You can work part-time, do a PhD and have a good relationship. It is possible but not in the way you have described your life above. Many of us, when we become really stressed, understand cognitively that we have to let go of some things, but emotionally we just seem to cling to everything even more, rather like the proverbial drowning man clutches at any straw.

You may need some outside help or support to help you as you set the limits and boundaries around your work, your life and the relationship. Obtaining some counselling or a very understanding parent, friend/s or mentor might be a good start. Online counselling is also a very helpful support, usually very affordable, easy to access and becoming very popular with many these days from young teens to much older people. So if finding a supportive friend or mentor seems a bit tricky, you might try some online counselling and very possibly your own university may be able to guide you or assist you in this process.

This forum is likewise helpful but while we will offer support and advice and the benefits of our own experiences at times, it can be limited to some extent, we can't always provide the sort of ongoing, informed and personalised support you might need for a while as you start to 'let go' of some of those tasks and habits you have described. Although that doesn't mean you shouldn't get support here-just that initially you might need a bit more than can be offered on the forum.

Best of luck,



You have my total sympathy. I hear women say things like this all the time, and the solution is always the same: if the man in your life can't support your life choices, then you have to seriously question how he values your role as a woman. As others have put it:

Quote From PrincessNeerah:
I agree with TreeofLife. In as much as you want to balance your personal life, just remember boyfriends come and go even husbands. But your qualifications would be there for the rest of your life!


Thank you everyone for the outpouring of support! It's good to know I am not alone. I do have several colleagues as a strong support network, but there is only so much I can put on them. My boyfriend and I are talking and seeing each other again, albeit, he has taken a few steps back from the relationship at this point. I am in a sort of limbo with that.

To make matters worse, there was a technical error and I am currently "ineligible" to take my qualifying exam this month. For some reason, the record shows that I dropped the final class I needed. I did not--I earned an A in it. However, there is nothing anyone can do until 6 January, when the university reopens. I have to make sure that gets settled before the drop/add period ends. I know I have my credentials, but it is a bit stressful knowing that my financial aid is implicated. It will work out, though. Positive thoughts!

I am considering going to counseling at my university to see if I can learn some new techniques for managing stress. The only problem is that it is 45 minutes away from my apartment, and an hour and a half from my new job. I will have to see if I can work something out there. Perhaps, the suggested online counseling might be a better solution. In the meantime, I am trying to work with a study group to prepare for the exam. We are in different parts of the country--and some are abroad, so it is slow moving. I am trying to organize my new tutoring students as well as my studying so that I will not become overwhelmed when everything starts up again next week. My main goal: keep a positive outlook! Thanks!


@frequentflyer: May I ask how everything worked out now 4 years later? It would imho be an extremely insightful addition to an otherwise already very interesting post. I hope you get notified about this post.