Advice for a Couple Who Are Too Busy for Love

busy woman

A relationship is work, especially when you are going to school and working. Giving your all to your education and career can leave little time for love. Learn ways that you can improve your relationship through advice from a dating coach.

Way Too Busy for Love

Reader Question

I have been dating my current girlfriend for four years. Two years ago we bought a house together. Since then she has began advancing her education going for an MSW. She currently works an internship for this program and also a full time job after that. We knew this would be hard and agreed to support each other for the year internship. Lately she has focused everything toward school and work and says she doesn't know if she has any more effort to put toward the relationship. Then, on the other hand she also says it's tough because she sees me as her future husband and father of her children. Is there anything we can do to get things back on the right track and also help ease her stress of both work and education?~~Joe

Expert Reply

Dear Joe,

Working on a Master's degree is much different then working on a bachelor degree regardless of the area the degree is in. When you are an undergraduate student you often feel as though you know everything; when you are a graduate student you frequently feel as though you know nothing. This can be especially daunting for a student who is working on her MSW as her decisions will either directly or indirectly affect other people's lives. One other factor for a social work student is that you regularly feel as though you are "giving" to others (professors, clients, internship, working, etc.) all the time, with very little coming in. For students in a relationship the continuous expending of energy can take its toll on others. This may be why your girlfriend vacillates between being unsure if she can put effort into your relationship and wanting you to hold on to the possibility of a future together.

As you are realizing, knowing how difficult living with a graduate student would be and experiencing how difficult it actually is, are two different things. It is clear from your question that you care a lot about your girlfriend and want to be supportive of her. The first suggestion I have for you comes from study out of UC Santa Barbara, which looked at how couple's respond to a partner's good news versus a partner's disappointments. The results showed that couples who celebrated a partner's good news (like getting a promotion or a good grade on a paper) reported greater satisfaction in their relationship and were less likely to breakup than those where partners only offered support when things were going bad. Praise boosts a relationship more than a sympathetic response to bad news. So the next time your girlfriend tells you about one of her small accomplishments, let her know, "I am proud of you."

In the past many couples seeking advice were often told to "schedule" date nights. This suggestion can often be more of a burden on an already overworked and overscheduled couple. Instead, look for ideas that can be done in less than two minutes, less than five minutes, and less than ten minutes. For example, send a text message letting your partner know you want her to have a wonderful day, give a long passionate kiss, or give a foot message.

To come up with ideas each of you can do for the other, you and your girlfriend could sit down and each write a list of ideas that would be a "pleasure" and could be done in a short period of time. Next, tear each of the pleasure suggestions into strips and fold. Have a "his" and "her" container and put the pleasure suggestions into the appropriate container. Then each of you can choose a pleasure for the other. This can be done daily or weekly. Try and make the pleasures a surprise. You might put a card in her notebook for her to find in class or put a small sample size of lotion in her backpack for those cold winter days.

What is most important with these ideas is that each of you can find small ways to say "I love you" as well as stay connected without feeling pressure. In the beginning you may find that you are giving more pleasures than you get. Be patient, doing what is called for or needed in the moment, will go a long way to strengthen the relationship, especially during these stressful times.

~~Lori

Advice for a Couple Who Are Too Busy for Love