is my phd killing my relationship?


hello there,
i need a place to whine because i feel that i just hit rock bottom.
i life on a small pacific island, the university here is very small and there is no phd student network or counselling. i'm in the fourth year of my thesis and i am supposed to finish in august. i did all my research and writing in a language that is not mine. i never had any funding, i worked all through the last 3 years and that was already very hard. my two supervisors (i do a cotutelle) are non existent and there is literally no one who can give me an advice in my work, especially now where i am halfway through the analysing/writing stage (i am in social sciences). which comes with the usual trouble of doubts about myself, my work, my efficency, not working enough or the right way and so on. add a car that just broke down and no money to buy a new one, no money to take a flight to europe to see my family for comfort. no idea what i am going to live off if i don't finish in august.
i have a boyfriend since a bit more than one year. he is not easy to life with, and has in some regards very different views on how to live life and a relationship. i love him very much though, and he has been supportive most of the time (he does not have a university degree but tries to understand the challenges that come with it).
since a few weeks i am very irritable, i cry almost every day for no special reason (altough, most of the time it is enough if my boyfiriend drops one phrase that is not very sensitive) and i tend to become very pessimistic about everything. before this stage i usually never cried, maybe once or twice a year. i started to isolate myself and i can't stand other people anymore. quite often i have trouble sleeping through the night. i have a tendency to blame everything on my relationship, and only see my own problems and this is why my boyfriend told me this morning that he can't handle it anymore.
we already had plans for what we are going to do once it's over, so i am devastated to see that he couldn't go on any longer.
i try to keep on telling myself that it was my choice to put me into this situation, and i can't blame my boyfriend for being tired of it, i think i am really very difficult to handle at the moment.
as a matter of fact though i need to continue in order to finish IT on time. i just have no idea where to find the energy to do so.


Hello there

I understand what you've been through- Alone in a foreign country, struggling with the second language study, feeling unsupported and stressed but don't know how to let it out. And when you do, you let it out on a person that you care the most....

Doing a PhD is hard, doing a Phd without support is even harder- it's normal to have that kind of frustration...

I think you need a break for yourself- just one day- doing nothing or just go for a day out- walk in the street on something- try not to think about work! I know it's hard- it's almost impossible and you will feel you are wasting time doing nothing! But it would really help if you can stop a little, rest for a while and continue to walk on....

Try to concentrate on your PhD right now- rather than worrying whether you have made the wrong choice....and don't even think too much about future now- think of present- you only goal is to complete your PhD so that you can move on with your life...

Whatever that happened has already- take it as a lesson of your life then move on...

Try to think positive- do something that you like or something....


Most PhD students have been in similar depressing moment. However, given your description of your situation, you really need to take a decision that is better for your health and family relationship. There is life without the PhD and scores of humans beings are happy without it. Please read an entry available on the Web titled "A Word to the struggling PhD Student ". It will definitively help you take a wise decision. I wish you success in your life with or without PhD.


Hi C.!
Sorry to hear that you're going through a tough time. The reality is that if you decide to build a lifelong relationship with this guy, down the road, you will always encounter challenges and stressful situations. That's just part of life. The PhD program is pushing your mental, physical, and emotional endurance to the limit. If I'm reading correctly, you're projecting some of your frustrations onto him, and you acknowledge that. Have you talked to him about how you're feeling? You very articulately described the reasons why the program is challenging for you right now. Have you explained it to him the same way?

Ask him for advice about how to deal with some of these issues. Talk to him about the specifics of your research. Make him feel like he's part of this PhD thing that you're going through, because he is part of it. He's your partner, after all. Rather than seeing this situation as a negative, try to see it as an opportunity to develop the strong communication skills, and mutual support, that will see you through (inevitable) hardships in the future.

Frankly, I think spouses and significant others of PhD candidates should get a medal of honor for what they put up! It would probably help if you acknowledged that by saying something along the lines of, "I know this has been difficult for you, and I know I've been hideous, and I just want to let you know I appreciate your patience, and understanding, and when this is all over we'll [insert fabulous thing he can look forward to]!"

I don't get the impression that you want to quit your program. It sounds like you're going through the typical "I hate my life" phase of this experience. You'll be okay. Just communicate with the guy, share your concerns, apologize profusely, and get back to work so you can finish the damn thing!



Hi there,

I'm sorry to hear that things are not going too well for you. I'm roughly at the same stage - final submission August (social sciences) and the PhD journey which started in 2007 has had many ups and downs. I can say that the write up stage is challenging. Peace, time to concentrate and get the damned thing finished is the most important, yet, money woes, self confidence issues, relationships, supervisors etc etc, make the day to day tasks harder and the emotions do become a bit more raw as the deadline looms. I think its normal to feel pessimistic and anxious and it's not helpful to have little support regardless of how 'difficult' you may be seeming at the moment. I knew for me that I couldn't do both - my relationship and the PhD. I didn't have the emotional strength to finish PhD and sustain a relationship which had many challenges independently of the PhD. I agree with other poster though that you need to have a wee break if you can. Do something where you will 'succeed'. Bake a cake, swim 20 lengths, climb a hill (if there are any!) my point is do something which will give you a level of control. It might give you a confidence boost to plough on again tomorrow. I would suggest tackling the PhD (as this is imperative to your career and livlihood most likely and your sense of self belief and confidence to finish it) as much as you can and if isolating yourself is the way to finish it - so be it. It's not fun at all but it's for a short period of time.....12 weeks or thereabouts and it's submitted! That's not long. Good luck! I'm where you are and I have turned into a hermit. It is very boring but soon, soon, it will be done and life (whatever that's going to look like) without PhD is waiting....


first of all, thank you so much for your kind comments. it is really helpful and i feel almost as if i would have a real peer group around me. It is such a relief to know that i am not the only one in this situation (and even though i've always known this intellectually, it is a different story when i read your accounts). it is unbelivable how much motivation i get out of your words.
i do have the will to finish IT, and from some unknown place there is always a new rise of optimism - which usually doesn't last for a very long time, but still...
as a matter of fact, i try to condition myself that the next few months are probably noy going to be a lot of fun, but there is an end to it. every concentrated hour of work brings me closer to this end. and finally, i guess when you look back on your life one day, these phase becomes just one amongst others, and if we are lucky, we learned something from it. at least, this is what i hope!
i think the most frustrating aspect is really the lack of control over this situation, my own emotions, emotions of others, the whole thesis,... there is no guideline really... but i guess thats one of the challenges that come naturally with a phd?
anyways please keep your comments coming, they really help me very much. an account of your own experience, how you handled it or how you are handleing it right now...


Hi C., From your post, it sounds like you're feeling better! Writing up is a very isolating experience for most PhD candidates. Whenever you need a burst of optimism, think about how you will feel the morning after you've passed your viva. Imagine it down to the last detail. Whenever your energy is low, access that image. Reflect on it every night before you sleep. I know this sounds like crazy advice, but as you said, although there are many variable out of your control right now, one thing that you can control is your own thoughts. Keeping your mind focused on a positive outcome requires a lot of self-control, but it is well worth it. You'll see!