Unhappy partner because of the PhD


A quick warning - this post is a bit of a rant! Just thought I'd have a bit of a vent since everyone on here tends to be so lovely.

My partner of 4 years relocated with me when I started my PhD and we moved in together. This was nearly two and a half years ago and for all this time he's been stuck in a full time job that he hates just to make sure we can pay our bills/rent. I'm funded for my PhD so he doesn't have to pay towards that, but essentially he works in a job he hates to support me through the PhD and never complains about it. The problem is that he works nights/weekends and we barely see each other, and he works stupidly long hours so he's always run down, catches every bug under the sun and recently has been generally miserable. I hate seeing him like this and I'm doing my best to make things better - I try to keep on top of PhD work so that I can finish in reasonable time, try to keep on top of housework and cooking etc. so that he can just relax and job hunt on his days off. I keep thinking that maybe it's where we live and if we can relocate after I finish the PhD maybe we can move somewhere for him to find a job that he enjoys.

When I try to speak to family/friends about it, I tend to get the 'at least he has a job...' and 'don't worry, things will get better...' cliches, and I know people mean well but sometimes it drives me mad!! I'm so frustrated because I feel like the PhD is holding us back and I just want us both to have jobs that mean we can actually see each other. Anyway, I know things can always be worse but just needed to get that off my chest I think!

Apologies for a bit rant and thanks for reading!



Hi there,

I can relate on many levels...and ranting is probably healthy. Your particular situation reminds me of "The Five Year Engagement"--have you seen it (it has a happy ending!)? I think it is just difficult to have any relationship while completing a PhD, regardless of whether the other person is in academia. There is just so much stress and pressure every single day.

While your partner doesn't complain, mine is quit vocal. I wish he could find a happy medium. In a recent post, I mentioned how our relationship was on the rocks. We are doing okay now, but he nitpicks lots of ridiculous things because he has been unhappy in general. We have been addressing the issues, but he tends to hold a grudge. Since I myself study conflict analysis and resolution, I learned to move past the hiccups without making them into an unnecessarily big deal of them. Does your partner ever talk about how he feels about the situation? I know you make observations, but it might be helpful for him to express his feelings to you--or even someone else. People sometimes explode--seemingly out of nowhere--when they have bottled up their emotions for so long. I guess communication is key. I wish I had the answer for you, but I am learning as I go as well. Best of luck to you!


hi tulip
honestly, I don't think the PhD is the cause of your partner's unhappiness--
the most probable cause (feels to me) is his job and yes like you said, maybe it's also where you live at the moment. Sometimes we find that we are happier in different locations -- they do have an effect on us.

ranting is very good for us :-) do post back here, at least we will always be here for you

love satchi


Hi frequentflyer and satchi,

Thanks for your kind comments, I really appreciate them. Frequentflyer, I'm sorry to hear of your relationship troubles recently. I saw your recent post and I'm glad to hear you guys are doing a bit better now. I hope you manage to find a happy medium soon and work something out - how are things going now? Regarding communication, I have to coax any information out of my boyfriend and quite often he'll have been thinking about things for weeks before he'll tell me, especially when it's to do with his job or being unhappy where we are. I think I'd like something in the middle where he'll talk to me voluntarily instead of bottling things up. He's agreed to try to talk to me more often so we'll see I guess.

Satchi, I think you're right - it's the job and the place we live in that's making my boyfriend unhappy, but I feel like the PhD is indirectly to blame because it's the reason that we both can't leave the city we're living in at the moment.

To be honest, I'm feeling pretty low today because we had a chat about everything this morning, and my boyfriend mentioned that he's considering moving back to his parents' place (which is about 300 miles away) to work with his dad for a while. It would mean going back to being long distance for about a year and a half while I finish the PhD. Although it's not the relationship that is the problem, I'm worried that being apart could cause problems for us further down the line, but yet there is no part of me that wants to quit the PhD (and he wouldn't want me to quit anyway). I don't know what to think really, we've agreed to talk properly tonight or tomorrow about it so I'll keep you guys posted.

Thanks again!


Quote: "I just want us both to have jobs that mean we can actually see each other." If you truly mean what you said there, your priorities are your partner (and seeing him), having a job, and completing your PhD. In that order. Sorry to say you could have have 1. and 2. without the PhD. Please don't think I am being an ass, or being rude or unhelpful, quite the opposite. What are your priorities? I am 2 months away from starting my PhD and I am married 3 years with a 12 month old.

When I begin my program, the PhD will absolutely move into the first tier of priority with family second, and my personal health / sanity 3rd. That is my commitment and sacrifice for 3 years. Because in my personal equation, the PhD is the independent variable and the quality of other 2 dependent variables (family and myself) hinges on how hard I do / do not work for the next 3 years.

So again, what are your priorities? Want to be in a loving relationship sponsored by a secure job? You absolutely do not need a PhD for that. Want a shot at a Nobel Prize? Want to lead research worldwide as a Russel Group University Professor? If so then understand that the sacrifices you are enduring is the toll which must be paid for that privilege.

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Tulip,

You know if you and your partner are committed, then the 18 months of long distance relationship while you complete your PhD might be doable.

You obviously would both miss each other but you could organise to see each other periodically and in the time when you are apart, you could focus on getting that PhD completed without too many guilty feelings and distractions. If long distance relationships are not 'indefinite', they are not always bad for a relationship. Many committed people in relationships and marriages have to spend some time apart for various reasons, and their relationship lasts and continues afterwards.

You could both look upon this as a temporary way of making sure both parties in the relationship have their needs met while both parties are working towards a better 'shared' future. Your boyfriend finds work that he is much happier in, you complete your PhD, and in the meantime you both can make plans for your life together once the 18 months or so is done.

One thing though that you might need to factor in is that PhD's don't always neatly finish once the funding period is done. The rewrite, submission, viva, and then 'resubmit with minor errors' part of the PhD, can stretch on for a bit afterwards. But who is to say whether that happens for you OR even if it does, whether you have to stay where you are for that final bit of the journey.

Wishing you all the best for whatever decisions you make in the future,



hi again tulip
I agree with Pjlu :-)

love satchi


Things are going a bit better on my end--and I hope they are for you, too. I have my 72 hour qualifying exam beginning next Tuesday, so the stress is building, but I am trying to prevent it from causing any more problems. I am just thinking: get through this exam and tackle the relationship issues after.

I also agree with Pjlu. I know a couple of academics who have a great relationship but live quite a distance apart. They are in two different cities on the East Coast and Midwest in the US. I spent some time with the two of them recently, and their relationship seemed very strong. They also both seemed to enjoy their distance. They see each other relatively frequently, but seem to cherish the time they have alone to work on their own endeavors. While one is a well-published professor, the other works at a university and is completing a dissertation. There seems to be a great deal of mutual understanding in this case. However, I believe such a situation is workable even if both partners are not academics. It seems like trust, understanding, respect, and communication can go a long way in terms of PhD relationships. I hope things are going better for you now!



I'm not sure offering advice would help that much. Hang in there though. You've gotten this far and in another year a half you'll be done.


Hi Tulip. I hear this kind of story all the time. I agree with what Fled said about priorities, but I would like to add that things may well change for the better in the future. For example, think about what will happen when the day comes when you are better educated than him and earning more than him. Given that his job is so stressful, won't it make sense for him to stop working such long hours, become less uptight and more fun to be with? It could even be that he is one of those great guys who will be relieved to take care of some of the homemaking chores (that men typically avoid!) which will do wonders for healing your relationship.

Hope this helps :)


Hi there,
Just to offer my two cents - the resentment that would result from you quitting the PhD in an attempt to make him feel happier would grow into a far bigger beast in your relationship than facing this head on straight away. IMO, and I know it is just that, you can't live your life to make other people happy, as you will eventually grow to hate yourself. I agree with satchi that your partner's unhappiness is less likely to be about you and your PhD and more to do with the way he feels about his job. Try not to confuse his unhappiness with your own feelings of empathy for him being in a bad place right now.
Hope you both take care and work things out xx


Hi All,

Thanks so much for the messages - it gave me a real boost to come back here and read them all! We've spoken about the situation a bit more this weekend and at the moment it looks like he'll be staying in his current job for a couple of months and after that he might revisit the idea of moving back to his parents' and we'll do the long distance thing for the rest of the PhD.

Pjlu, satchi and frequentflyer - I think you guys are right about the distance not necessarily being a bad thing. If it does turn out that way, I'll remember your comments about being able to just get on with work in the time that we're apart, and it could be an even bigger incentive to finish the PhD as soon as possible.

Fled - thanks for taking the time to post. I take on board your comment about priorities, and in this case the PhD will always be my number one priority (if it wasn't I'd have no problem just walking away, but there's no part of me that will do that). However I don't think there's anything wrong with also prioritising health and relationships, although ultimately the PhD comes first, especially towards the end.

Milwaukiedave and ApolloBuilt - thanks for the posts. Indeed hopefully only a year and a half to submission (at least thats the aim!) so I'll definitely hang in there. I'd been feeling rubbish all week, not only for this reason but also some issues with experiments failing and supervisor being a pain etc. so your comments were a real help.

metabanalysis - your post made me laugh! Indeed having him take over the cooking and cleaning will make a very nice change! Roll on being finished and earning more money :)

Hope everyone has a good week! And thanks again, it's really meant a lot!