The Surprising Choice That May End Your Marriage

When I decided to go back to school in 2005 to obtain my master’s degree, it was a decision born of pure pragmatism. In less than six years, the raise I would receive would pay for the degree; it was a way to help with the household bottom line. I opted for a program that was largely held online so that it would interfere as little as possible with my life outside of work. My life with my then-husband.

But of course, adding an additional layer of responsibility to my days did impact life at home. Evenings and weekends were often spent writing papers or participating in classroom “discussions.” It was a world with which my husband couldn’t relate, since he had never participated in any college courses at all, but he still was supportive.

At least I thought he was.

But behind the scenes he was busy building another life. From what I can tell, his deceptions started during the two-year period I was back in school. I guess he was learning too, only he had a different idea of what it means to better oneself. One that involved bars instead of books.

If the demise of my marriage was the only one that I knew related to a return to school, I wouldn’t make any connection. After all, I think it’s clear that my ex had some pretty big issues going on that would have surfaced with or without a degree.

But I’m not the only one.

I’ve seen it with far too many teachers I have worked with where a divorce decree arrives on the heels of a new diploma. I hear about it from readers and see mention of a return to school in other’s divorce tales. It seems as though there is a link between divorce and degrees.

Now, it’s possible that some people are returning to school with the intention of increasing their earning power enough so that they can make the break from the marriage. But it’s also possible that the return to school itself was a hit on the marriage. Maybe not the cause of the divorce, but certainly a contributing factor.

Here are some ways a return to school could also signal a return to singlehood:

Time Spent On School is Less Time Spent On the Marriage

School places significant demands on your time, and this has an even greater influence when you return later in life when you may be balancing children and/or a full-time job. No matter how much you try to mitigate the impact on the rest of the family, it will be felt.

I used to get up very early on Saturday and Sunday mornings so that I could get the bulk of my classwork done before he woke up. It meant that I was tired by the afternoon, but even worse, it changed my attitude about the weekend. I always felt like I had work to do. Weeknights were even worse. I would often inhale dinner after arriving home at 5:00 only to hole myself up in my office to jump through some professor-created hoops. Several semesters required that I attend physical classes, which meant that I would not return home until 11:00 pm after leaving at 6:00 am for work.

It’s difficult to nurture a marriage when you don’t even have time to take care of yourself.

Your Partner May Feel Left Behind

Starting a new degree program is a concrete step towards improving your future. It’s a plan and a goal for where you want to be and what you want to accomplish. Even though my ex and I discussed school and made a joint decision to go ahead with the program, I was the one to actually take the steps.

And he was left behind.

I shared stories with him about my interesting classmates. I grumbled about assignments or professors. And I consulted him on some of my ideas for papers or presentations.

But it was still my world and my goal. He wasn’t really a part of it.

Marriages thrive with common goals and shared visions. Make sure your spouse shares your dream.

You Are Meeting New People 

Studies support that marriages do well when there is a large and shared social group between partners. When I was in school, my classmates became my de facto social partners. At least for a term and then they would be replaced with faces and new names. My ex couldn’t keep them all straight. Hell, I barely could.

It’s easy for one partner to feel pushed aside and insecure when the other is always out with new people. Even if they only meet in a classroom.

A marriage thrives when surrounded by mutual friends who act as cheerleaders and advisors.

Your Partner May Feel Inferior

I never thought less of my ex for never attending college. He was extremely bright and a very hard worker, which led him into a self-made career. I didn’t think the lack of a degree bothered him either. At least until I saw the words “Bachelor of Arts; University of Texas” on his other marriage license. For him to lie about it, it must have troubled him. 

My returning to school may have triggered his insecurities. School was something he always struggled with, whereas I often do better in academia than in the real world. I envied the fact that he was self-taught and could find success in a career where no degree was needed. But maybe he envied the fact that I could get a degree.

Your perception of your partner may be different than what he or she sees. Look beneath the words of assurance. There may be hurt or shame beneath.

When You’re Busy, You’re Blind

My data-mining after he left showed an entire life lived in parallel. A life I with which I was unaware. Some of my blindness was due to my belief in him, some can be chalked up to his skill at lying. But some is because I was too busy focusing on other things.

Trouble brews when your attention shifts. Remember to shift back.


A degree can be a great asset. Just be careful that you don’t wind up celebrating your graduation with an unintended divorce.

Thank you for sharing!

13 thoughts on “The Surprising Choice That May End Your Marriage

  1. I also took my master’s degree in HR for two years and did the same things you mentioned. My ex was very supportive and always told me how he admired my hard work and persistence to excel in class. But he told me when I took a student loan to finance my studies that he didn’t want to know how much I was putting myself in debt. After I finished in 2008 and the economy and job market was in its lowest, he would not even listen to my fears of how I would be able to pay my loans. He was very proud of me when I graduated with honors and yet at home, he won’t listen to me and would cut me off when I talked about looking for a better job or about my stumbling blocks in finding one. My ex has his bachelor’s degree but after working for 35 years with the same company, he is stuck in a middle manager position and could not work his way up anymore due to many reasons. I think, looking back, they he was a bit overwhelmed by my academic credentials after I graduated but was disappointed that I could not find a job in HR. My education may not be the main cause of the separation but it surely contributed to our marriage’s demise.

    1. It’s interesting how feelings of unworthiness can be triggered by education and employment. As a culture, we are what we do. So when what we do doesn’t seem to measure up, we don’t either.

  2. Wow. I went back to school as well and finished up my degree just a year before he left. Wow. I never considered this as a factor before. Very interesting… Definitely something to think about.

  3. Cory Pasqualetto – I'm in my 40's I've had two marriages and have worked various jobs in my lifetime from supermarkets to restaurants to Information Tech. This started out as a continuation of my divorce story but since my last romantic partner passed away suddenly without any warning it has now become more of a place to write out my thoughts and feelings. I have made most of my teenage dreams and fantasies come true and now I need to figure out what else to do.
    Cory Pasqualetto says:

    Reblogged this on Starting At The Start.

  4. I took a masters about 3 years before he cheated. It was honestly the best year of the marriage overall (so far, which may be stupidly optimistic now we have an affair scar). The reason was that I was previously a SAHM driven up the wall by the demands, loneliness and lack of support. Suddenly I was back as a *full time* student I was much happier. I had full time childcare so I could treat it like a job but with flexible hours. I suddenly had something to talk about other than vomit and breastfeeding. He was happier because I was happier.

    You make excellent points though. I am just an outlier 🙂

  5. Carrie Reimer – I think everyone at one time or another thinks, "If I only knew then what I know now." I share my life experiences in hopes a few less people have to look back and want a "do over". Through my Lady Witha Truck blog I have spent over 10 years sharing my experiences while being in an abusive relationship with a man I consider to be a narcissist/psychopath and through my other blog, Reimer Reason I share lessons learned throughout the 60+ years of my life. No experience is a waste as long as you learn from it and if I can save someone else from making the same mistakes I made, then it makes it all worth while. I am an expert on my life, not yours, my opinions are my own, not yours, and I enjoy open respectful communication on most topics. If I don't have an answer I will research it until I do. I have a sweetheart of a dog named Stella, an 8 year old Pitbull, Mastiff cross. I am artistic, enjoy bringing new life to antiques, gardening, refurbishing and repurposing other people's "garbage", reading, writing and being outside in nature. I have a 38 year old son who I am extremely proud of and a 10 yr old granddaughter I don't see near enough. I live on welfare disability after a lifetime of working full time because I have heart failure. I have gone from being a homeowner and landlord to being homeless and living in my car and now live in a 34' 5th wheel RV trailer that I am fixing up, bought by my brother and mother. I believe life would be far less stressful, and drama filled if we all just lived honest to our core self and listened to our gut. I have found inner peace, something I didn't think truly existed. It isn't what most people think it is.
    Carrie Reimer says:

    Lisa, you make some excellent points and I can see where given the circumstances you mentioned, a partner may start looking elsewhere for love and attention.
    The issue I have is this;
    A normal healthy man or woman may find love elsewhere but they would not plot and connive to leave you in financial ruins, they would not level the blow while you are away.
    They would not marry someone else while they are still married to you.
    Those are the actions of a twisted mind; like a narcissist. He clearly wanted to make you pay in the most devastating way extract as much as he could from you financially. It took him a long time to hide money and required him to lie straight to your face, make love to you, tell you he loved you all the while knowing he was going to break your heart and leave you destitute. That is very unhealthy revenge, it is rage, it is not something a normal person would do because he felt ignored by you.
    From what I have experienced and from research I have done on narcissists they will plot for years to strip someone of all their money and can quite easily lie while looking the person right in the eye because they do not have a conscience or empathy. They are born with their brains wired wrong and it is not physically possible for them to have empathy. They have always been that way and learn from an early age to fake the emotions they see other people experiencing so they can often times live a seemingly normal life with normal relationships. On occasion they may miss the mark with some response to an event because they have never witnessed the appropriate reaction but the partner excuses it as a one of.
    A narcissist would definitely be angry about your attention being focussed on something other than him; enraged more than likely. and he most definitely would not want you to have a better education than him. But for someone to lie about it with the new woman that he married before he was divorced from you and you paid the band for, normal people do not blatantly lie about their credentials. My ex did, he was a narcissist/psychopath and I discovered about 6 years into the relationship that he had created his own diplomas . (I found the blanks and the ones he had screwed up tucked away with some other papers) These guys are the ones who are discovered practicing medicine without ever finishing school. They are the ones who are discovered with several wives across the country that none of the wives knew about. Mine was a trucker and was living with me in BC and had another one in Alberta, was trolling for more and was engaged to a woman in Sudan Africa and telling her he was going to bring her to Canada and marry her.
    I was not in school, I was working and home every night, but unbeknownst to me he was sabotaging my work truck to keep me from working and to keep me dependent on him, yet complaining bitterly about how much I was costing him. Playing the victim and making himself look like the hard working guy who was being taken advantage of.
    Yes it has a lot to do with ego. Mine finally left me also, and is now with a widow who he has talked into selling everything and investing with him, but he will always be on the lookout for another woman with more to offer and the one he is with will never be able to make him happy because it is never enough. They need to be adored and catered to at all times and can not give back, in fact even the partner getting ill enrages them.
    Many of these guys leave when the baby is born, when the woman gets cancer, or when she gets her degree; any event that takes the attention off of them.
    and you could say, ok they are immature and needy; IF they didn’t set out to strip the woman of every dime she has and ever will have, ruining the ex’s credit rating, burying them in debt.
    My ex continued to try and destroy me for two years after we split, slandered me to anyone who would listen and even called my employer trying to get me fired.
    Your ex was not just a normal guy who felt left out. He was a vindictive narcissist that set out to destroy you.

  6. I remember sitting around a U-shaped formation of tables the first week of classes with the 14 other students had been accepted into the competitive, cohort-based, community counseling graduate program along with me. The professor asked those of us who were married or in a committed, long-term relationship to stand up (I had married less than a year prior). He then told us straight to our faces that 90% of us would not make it through the program still married, in our relationship, or best case scenario with our relationships and marriage still intact. He was right. He was absolutely right.

  7. reinventing the wheeler – Atlanta, GA – Married for 16 years, 3 kids, stay at home Mom for 10. Marriage ends, my take away 3 kids and a suitcase. How do you reinvent an old song? How do you recreate a broken family? How do you begin to start over carrying all of this? How do you get a job, reenter the workforce? Where do you live? What do you tell people? Whats that sound the car's making? Can you just quit? What's a girl to do...I reinvented myself, I found new dreams, and after an 18 year break I'm back in school...reinvention - a new way to do an old thing...the old thing, that's not me, just to be clear.
    reinventing the wheeler says:

    This is so true, very insightful

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