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.