relationship problems and research


======= Date Modified 02 Feb 2011 22:45:12 =======
I started my PhD five months ago. I love it, but it's indirectly caused me to break up with my husband. I told my supervisor but I feel like I'm being really weird around my fellow students. I just can't bring myself to tell anyone and am just giggly and over-the-top all the time, just trying to hide how empty and disconnected from reality I feel right now. My work is definitely suffering because I can't concentrate on anything. It also means I have to move into shared accommodation with other students, for the first time in eight years. Either that or live in halls for a few months. Either way it's going to be really weird and I just have no idea how I'm going to cope. My research is intensive and I really need to concentrate on it, but I'm not. I'm just worrying. My S is very supportive but he's also very busy. I have a Uni counsellor but nobody with whom I can just chat. I guess because I'm really not being honest about the situation to anyone. I just really don't feel like I can.

Anyway, sorry. I know it's a bit weird to just come on here and announce that... I guess I just needed to say it somewhere.


Wow, cornflower, I feel for you. Getting your head straight right now must be so difficult.

don't be too hard on yourself, sometimes life gets in the way of research. Take your time and may be take some time off (not permanent, just a week or so) but something that means you can go and find some of your friends or family and chat, shout, cry, get angry, what ever you need to then come back with full attention.
Better to take a little break than let it get worse and worse.
I don't know what advice to give, only I do know this to be true - Colleges are used to PhD students with life issues that get in the way and need supporting. This is not undergrad land, most PhD's are mature students with families, partners, children, parents - all of whom demand time by getting ill, losing jobs, needing looking after. SO make sure you demand what ever it is you need to get yourself supported and back on track. They want you to succeed, you just have to find the person at the college that can help you out. But it is their job to help you, to support you (thats how they get the QAA Audit marks they want).

I really wish you all the best and hope that things become clearer with time.
I hope your college support you, and the housing situation becomes pleasant and fun in the end.



Sorry to hear about this, Cornflower. Perhaps it would be best to look up some old friends (who are good listeners) and get everything off your chest rather than bottling it up...

With the research, perhaps you'll soon come to value the PhD (and everything it involves - concentration, routine, a goal to work towards etc) as something solid to hold onto amid the chaos?


Sorry to hear that cornflower. Unfortunately I know of a few people who this has happened to. I would definately speak to your supervisor as if there are any negative affects from this, at least you have given them the heads up and your supervisors can protect you. Perhaps a way of ensuring that your work doesnt suffer as much is to concentrate on smaller parts of the PhD i.e if you are doing the literature review, read one aspect of your subject or perhaps concentrate on the parts you like. You will most prob feel a lot more confident to tackle other, more harder aspects of the project. Perhaps as well you could go back and look at why you are studying this particular subject? is there anything else you can develop in the research question? i.e respondents, sub areas and scope of the research. Hope it has helped in some small way to talk about it on here. You take care Teresa x


Sorry to hear about your breakup: PhDs do put a strain on relationships and sometimes this might be too much for a relationship to survive; although I believe that usually the strain is just a trigger for a crisis which was lingering there before.
Now you need to take good care of yourself: don't isolate from fellow students and friends. There's nothing shameful in a break up and people are always sympathetic because they all know how it feels. Re-establishing a social life outside the couple it's very important: maybe you can get involved in a postgrad society or some other social activities (e.g. starting a salsa course , joining a walking group). Doing some sports regularly will also help you to keep your mood in check.
Good luck ;-)


I split up with my husband in the first year of my PhD so I understand what you must be going through. I had friends I could talk to but my Mum died earlier in the same year so I really missed having family support. I didn't tell my supervisors until I had my first panel meeting, for which I had sent in my work late and arrived to find the panel had cancelled it because of this without telling me. I had driven 150 miles especially for the meeting and just burst into tears when I got criticism from the prinicipal investigator for the project who had been waiting for me. I told her I was under pressure to get work done because I'd just split from my husband. She was more sympathetic then. So I would say telling your supervisor was a good thing to do as they may be more accepting if you want to take time off or have problems with your work, deadlines etc.
I was lucky that me and my hubby split amicably enough as we had to live in the same house but it was strained at times. I can understand that having to move into halls could be depressing. I'd try to find shared accommodation with fellow Phd students or mature students who you may find it easier to bond with and perhaps be able to talk about your situation with.
I don't think you need to tell everybody about it. Do you have any friends outside uni that you could talk to, even of they live far away maybe you could take a break to visit an old friend you know you could pour your heart out to.
You could join the mature students society as you may find other people who are in the same situation or have been through it.
And of course we are always here to listen on this forum.
Things will get better for you, I know but I understand how difficult it can be.


Like the other responders I also meant to say, perhaps you just need to take some time out. There's nothing wrong with that. We all have to fit a PhD amongst all the other things we have to do. Just contact your supervisor, I am sure they will be helpful xx


Thanks everyone.

I had been working for several years before coming back to my PhD and I guess the strain of the emotional, financial and social change has just affected me more than I expected.

I am going on fieldwork abroad in about three weeks, which I am looking forward to apart from the fact that I'm worrying about so many things and just can't prepare myself properly. I'll be away for almost two months, which I know will be a break from this situation but at the same time it is just almost two months where I am unable to actually deal with my problems. I'm trying not to let my worries get on top of me. My fieldwork is the cornerstone of my research, I feel that if I mess this up I'm messing up my entire thesis. But thankfully I have huge amounts of support out there.

The financial and practical aspects are the worst, I don't have any family and my credit rating is shot to pieces, so I have real concerns about being able to look after myself. I have a lot of bills and debts and spend very little money actually on myself, so I feel really 'old' and boring compared to other students. I'm trying not to let this dictate my life but my emotions are going through the mill a little bit right now. I will try not to complain.

The accommodation thing is a real worry. I'm trying to look at professional, rather than student, lets but it seems to be quite hard to get a room just for me. I'm going to have to adjust to looking after myself for the first time in eight years... whilst still keeping my head above water.

My PhD is on quite a tight schedule, I have a lot of data to collect and to process if my thesis is going to come together. My plan is to not get extra help unless I'm absolutely desperate for it, but everyone here is right -- I do need to tell people about it. I just feel so weird about experiencing this enormous life change so quickly after starting my PhD... and this is quite a new city for me too so I don't know that many people.

Sorry for the whinge. Thanks everyone for being supportive. In one way it's actually a relief to have something definite to deal with rather than a cauldron of stress simmering away below the surface. My emotions are up and down, but I'm sure I'll get through it.


I know exactly how you feel about shared accomodation, Cornflower!!!! Having lived as a "real adult" married with a nice home, nice furnishings, nice garden, etc...doing a PhD post divorce meant dealing with ugh shared accomodation and it was an adjustment. But I survived it....having just moved to a new small uni town to start a new real grown up uni job, I am again dealing with a less than ideal situation for finding accomodation and find myself in temporarily shared housing....but it can be survived.

Tidiness/cleanliness--most people seem to keep reasonable standards of tidiness and cleanliness in common areas. I thought that this would be the worst thing in shared accomodation, but it really has not been much of an issue.

Privacy--much more of an issue. Having lived as a married adult and then single for awhile, I have my likes and dislikes of daily routines, etc, and adopt a live and let live attitude towards the others in the place. I do not mind what others do, and likewise I expect them to give me privacy and let me get on with my life and routine. This is much more of an issue in my present situation where the other house-mate appears annoyingly as I am trying to cook in the kitchen the size of a phone booth for no other reason than to offer unwanted advise on how I should prepare my meal and then offer themselves for unwanted company as I eat. I am at a loss of how to deal with this one, because both dropping hints and being blunt to the point of being rude seem to have no effect on this...

A shut door with a lock is the only salvation here I am afraid...

I cope by spending as little time as possible at the house...and perhaps the only way to deal with shared accomodation is to just have the attitude of making the best of it...knowing it is only temporary. And you might find some situations are in fact decent and OK. There are a few websites of people looking for lodgers--you might find something there to your liking. PM me if you need any suggestions of where to look--and good luck!

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Is there no chance of suspending registration for say three months (after the field trip) so you get time to sort out your personal issues?

I know you're on a tight schedule, however, continuing whilst not in the proper state of mind may do your work more harm than good.

Avatar for Pjlu

That's a really rough deal Cornflower. You are not giving yourself enough credit for how well you are coping with this. Like everyone else though, I think you need to talk to some trusted people in the flesh as well as online. You need to take care of yourself right now...that might mean taking a little breather or it might mean immersing yourself in work, whatever it is, do it...I think everyone who reads your post is really feeling for you right now.