Guest post by Brittany, The Law School Wife
A year ago I was days away from graduating college and weeks away from marrying a very dreamy guy—a witty, hardworking, smarter-than-anyone-I-know guy, who also/unfortunately happened to be a 0L.
I was pretty much terrified. Terrified of facing the worst job market in decades and crossing my fingers I wouldn’t be uninsured for too long. Terrified of leaving the comfy, cozy world of late night Mexican Martinis and late mornings sleeping through the most boring finance class in the world, and trading it all in for an earlier-than-I-would-ever-schedule-classes commute and conference calls that would put an insomniac to sleep.
But mostly, I was terrified of how law school would change my husband as a person, how it would change us as a couple.
If you or your loved one are a 0L, this might come as a surprise to you, but it shouldn’t shock anyone else: There is no lack of negativity about relationships in law school. I wish I had a quarter (or a bottle of wine) for every time someone told me everyone in their section broke up or got divorced. GEE, THANK YOU for telling a happy newlywed whom you’ve just met that their relationship is doomed. THANKYOUVERYMUCH.
I’ll be honest with you again. I’m something of a worrier. So you might could imagine that my worst-case-scenario personality went into a tailspin after being told repeatedly that the chances of our marriage surviving law school were SLIM TO NONE, even by my husband’s law school, who hosted an orientation event for new law students and their spouses to combat the high rate of divorce among its students, what with the stress, different paths and alleged infidelity among section members.
And so I started blogging. I write about the stupid stuff that I do to keep myself occupied. I write about the murky waters of my departure from the education system after 18 well-structured years and my struggle to find concrete goals and the paths to achieve them in the unstructured world of the careerwoman. And I write about what it’s like to be married to a law student.
Now that my husband and I are about two weeks shy of being one third of the way through, having survived the year that is commonly accepted as the scariest, I am here to tell you that it is was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I might have overreacted a bit, big surprise. I should never have been as worried as I was. And there are a few things we learned along the way, things I wish someone had told me a year ago, instead of rambling off anecdotal evidence of divorce:
- Talk about your expectations, both as the Law Student and as the Law Student’s Spouse. Get on the same page. Who will wash the dishes? Where will the serious studying take place? Make compromises. Readjust as necessary as the semester wears on, but always be honest and COMMUNICATE.
- Agree that law school is not a free pass for your Law Student to not be fully present in your relationship and in your home. Life after graduation will be even busier with more complications: new jobs, new children, billable hour requirements, more financial obligations. If your Law Student doesn’t take the trash out during the seven hours between torts and bar review, they certainly won’t take it out after working 12 hour days at a high-stress job.
- On the flip side, realize that there will be times when the Spouse needs to pick up a little extra slack around the house, ie when a paper is due, finals are coming up, or during the months of hell when your newly minted JD graduate studies around the clock for the bar. But Law Students, if your Spouse has a meltdown 13 days into finals and tells you they need an extra hand, JUST UNLOAD THE DISHWASHER. It takes two minutes away from your outline, but those two minutes will mean the world to your Spouse.
- Law school is an inherently selfish endeavor. Sure, it will benefit the couple as it (hopefully) increases your family’s earning potential, but it demands the Law Student’s undivided attention. It will be the biggest challenge they’ve ever faced, and when they’re not studying, all the work they could be doing will never be far from their thoughts. It’s true what they say: The law is a demanding mistress. It is the Law Student’s responsibility to never lose track of the simple fact that law school is just three years, while a marriage lasts a lifetime. As a couple, you have to keep your eye on the big picture and take the long-term view. NEVER FORGET THIS.
- That being said, it is enormously important for Law Students to have a life outside of law school. Being in a serious relationship sets them up perfectly for this. Get out of the library. Step away from the casebook. Go on a date. Play in a Sunday soccer league. Get out on the lake for some sun and a margarita.
- No really, go on dates. If money is tight, check out Groupon, Restaurants.com and other money-saving websites for deals. And there’s always the trusty fall-back: Hulu or Netflix and a bottle of wine can be just the thing for some quality law-school-free couple time on a shoestring budget.
- Spouses: Have your own life. Your significant other will spend A LOT of time reading, or whatever it is that they do. The work never ends. Your student could study all day everyday if they wanted to (don’t let them!). In the meantime, stay busy yourself. Whether at work or through hobbies, don’t ever let yourself get too bored or be too dependent upon your spouse for entertainment and happiness.
- Cancel cable. I’m dead serious. You will thank yourself (and me) when you realize how much time and money you save.
- Spouses, be prepared to struggle with your part in your Student’s law school career. As your two lives merge and become indelibly intertwined, it is absolutely possible to feel like you are in law school right there with them just a bit yourself. You will learn more about the seedy underbelly of law school than you would ever care to know. You will make sacrifices. You will take on a greater burden to make your loved one’s life easier. You are a decision maker. I struggle with “we” language. “We accepted a job offer.” Well, it was his job offer, so technically he accepted it. But it affects my career. It determines whether or not a couple hundred miles separate us all summer. I feel anxious during finals, though not as much as he does, naturally. It sure feels like a “we,” even if the world might tell you otherwise. You’ve been warned.
- Lastly, know that there is a growing body of evidence that being in a healthy, committed relationship can actually benefit your education and fledgling career. Married students, particularly married men (I know, ladies, it’s not fair), have been found to significantly outperform their unmarried peers, presumably because they have someone with whom to share the burden, someone to pick up the slack and run the house so they can focus on studying and not the dry cleaning that needs to be fetched. They’re more likely to eat well and get enough sleep on a regular schedule, even during periods of great stress. Never neglect your relationship. A happy home life will benefit your academic life, not to mention your overall health and mental well-being.
As we head into my husband’s 2L year, what everyone says will be the most work, I am no longer scared. Life will keep marching on. We’ll adjust as needed. But this time the change isn’t scary. I feel prepared and ready to face the long nights while my husband does whatever it is 2Ls do (with lots of Hulu and blogging).
A few notes:
Every person is different. Every relationship is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to surviving law school, relationship intact, so please take my advice for what it’s worth, just one couple’s experience. And not everyone can or wants to get married, I simply blog about what I know.