A commenter on my post from last week asked me to write a little bit about how my partner and I were able to make our relationship work while I transitioned out of academia. Zie writes that the transitional process has been tough for hir relationship, and is looking for tips on how those of us who have left have made it work while keeping a relationship intact.
Before I get started, I'd like to mention that it might be helpful for some of the postacademic bloggers who have kids (Jet? Jen? Lauren?) to write about how this transition can be navigated with kids in tow. I can't speak to this issue at all, obviously, but I think it might be helpful for others.
Anyway, Currer already posted some great thoughts on this, so I urge everyone to check out her post. I don't think I can add much to what she wrote, although I'll ramble on for awhile anyway. :)
Obviously ... I am not a counselor or relationship expert. Take my advice with a grain of salt.
Also, keep in mind that my situation is a bit different than other postacademics. I had a job immediately upon leaving academia, which is a very unusual situation for most academic leavers. (See - ignoring your department's rules and getting a part-time job while you're in school can pay off!!) So my partner and I never had to deal with the stress of unemployment, and rather than facing financial strain when I left academia, we've actually benefited financially. So I can't offer much advice about how to negotiate the concrete pressures of unemployment or financial strain. I can, however, offer advice about making a relationship work while you're dealing with the emotional process of leaving academia.
As Currer writes in her post ... communication is key. The transition is going to be hard enough without you and your partner keeping things from one another or carrying resentments and frustrations around in your heads without talking to one another. If money is tight, you need to communicate clearly about your finances. If you're feeling frustrated and angry or sad about academia or about your job search, tell your partner about it. On one level, he or she might be able to offer some advice that can help you get through whatever is frustrating you.
More abstractly, though ... if you stay quiet about what's bothering you, your partner may begin to think that you're angry at them or might be confused about what's going on, and that simmering resentment and confusion between you might explode into anger. Talking openly about your feelings can not only put it all out in the open, but can help purge it from your own mind so that you aren't dealing with low-level resentments that might get taken out unfairly on your partner.
Communicating clearly with your partner through this time will be particularly important if your partner isn't an academic. Non-academics might have a hard time understanding why you have to do all of this emotional work when you're just "changing jobs." Of course, we postacademics know that leaving academia is more complicated than leaving a different kind of job ... but non-academics won't always realize this unless it's spelled out for them. According to my partner, the time I spent explaining the culture of academia to him really helped him understand why it was so hard to adjust to leaving and to move on. So ... communicate!!
At the same time, though, you can't expect your partner to be the sole receptacle for your anger and frustration and sadness over your career transition. As we've been over a million times at this blog, you're going to have a lot of feelings about this process - both positive and negative. Obviously, your partner is going to hear a lot of it. But you can't possibly expect them to be your sole audience for everything. That will start to wear them down and frustrate them after awhile.
So my second piece of advice is to find an additional outlet for your feelings. This blog has been a critical outlet for me, of course. Being able to write down my feelings and reread them later on has really helped me purge some of my feelings from my system without burdening my partner with all of it. So starting a blog or just a private journal might be a good second outlet for you. I also have a good friend who left a grad program a few years back - and has therefore been a terrific help to me through this process. I also saw a therapist for awhile, which was really helpful. So don't be afraid to go to friends or to a professional for additional advice and support.
All of these outlets not only helped me individually, but also helped take some of the burden for listening/comforting me off of my partner. This has definitely helped our relationship stay strong.
Next piece of advice ... get out of your house and do things together. Whether you're totally unemployed or if you find a "next job" right away like I did, the last thing you're going to want to do is spend all of your free time at home, surrounded by your academic work and your computer and the memories of your life as an academic. That will probably be depressing and frustrating, and those kind of emotions can put strain on your relationship.
More importantly, though ... getting out and doing stuff with your partner can remind you of why you two are together. So that even if you find yourself arguing or being frustrated with each other sometimes, you will still be reminded that you enjoy spending time together, and you will be making good memories alongside the rough patches.
If finances are tight, just do free stuff. Go hiking, check out art galleries, do volunteer work, start walking or exercising together, etc. If you're not struggling financially, you can think a little more broadly. But don't let your entire relationship take place in your home, where the ghosts of academia will probably linger.
And finally, I'll offer this last piece of advice ... not from personal experience of this exact situation, but based on my experience of what hasn't been a strain on our relationship.
Go find a "just for now" job.
I know this is easier said than done in today's job market, but I think it's worth offering up as advice for keeping a relationship strong during this transition. If you're struggling financially, just finding a part-time gig or a temp job can help ease the financial and emotional strain a little bit. You might not be bringing in half of the household income again, but at least you're bringing in something. You will be a more equal partner than you are now, and that can help your relationship stay stronger. So don't turn up your nose at that crappy temp job just because it's not a Ph.D.-level position. Easing the financial strain even a little bit can help your relationship stay strong.
But even if you don't need a job right away for financial reasons, it might help your relationship for you to find a "just for now" job. It'll get you out of the house, give you some income of your own, and give you a schedule to follow and something that you, alone, are responsible for doing. It might help you feel emotionally better to have something to get up and go do, and some kind of paycheck coming in. And if you're feeling better about yourself, your relationship will also benefit.
So even if you aren't sure of what career you want to pursue next, and even if you don't need a paycheck to make ends meet in your household? I'd advise that you consider finding a "next" job. It can help your self-esteem, but can also help your relationship by making you a fully participating partner in your household once again.
Overall, my relationship with my partner is still good. He's an easygoing guy by nature, so as long as I was bringing in a paycheck and was generally still an upbeat person, it would be really unlike him to be upset with me for making a life decision that I felt was right for me. And he really never did.
He did admit that there were times when listening to me complain about academia got frustrating, but he said that since I'd been talking for several years about how overwhelming and isolating academia was, he understood that "leaving would be really hard and frustrating for you." So he just tried to be supportive and let me figure everything out.
And in the end, he said that since we'd been together for so long, he knew I would never do something crazy to jeopardize our lives and our relationship ... so if I'd made such a drastic decision, it must have been something I really needed to do. So rather than fighting me about it, he says now that he decided to trust that I was doing something I really needed to do and to support me no matter what.
Yeah, he's pretty great. I'm very lucky to have such an amazing and supportive partner.
Obviously, there's no way to make someone an easygoing and trusting person, so if your partner isn't that way by nature, it might be a little tougher to navigate this whole thing. But hopefully by using some of the advice Currer and I offer, you can minimize the stress in your relationship while you break away from academia.
And ultimately ... relationships don't always last forever, but you're stuck with your own life forever. There's no breaking up with your own life. So if your partner refuses to be supportive, you might need to do some careful thinking about if there's a way to keep them happy while also making sure that you get the life you want. And if there isn't? Well, it might be time for some hard decisions to be made. Because a good partner should love you no matter what - whether you're a professor or a janitor, and whether you continue down the same life path or take a slight detour. We all deserve to be happy with our own lives.