This week I was fortunate enough to celebrate two years of marriage to my wonderful wife, Liz. In honor of our anniversary, I wanted to present to you, my dear readers, something I was wholly unprepared for before coming to McCormick: being married and starting seminary. I’ll offer my perspectives about what that has been like as a student, as well as the perspectives of two spouses: my own wonderful wife, Liz, as well as Amy Rhodes, whom you may remember as one of the parents of Albus Labuschagne-Rhodes, the dog highlighted in September’s Pet Corner. This is part 1 in an ongoing series about seminary life and relationships. In the coming months we’ll also hear about what it’s like to raise kids, dating and/or being single, as well as being LGBTQ and in seminary.
I got married only 9 months before moving to Chicago and starting the first of three years of seminary. That’s a whole lot of life changes happening at once! We quit our jobs and drove the car we bought two months into being married to Chicago to start a new chapter of our already new life together. We went from having every night together to do whatever we wanted to having maybe one night a week together, if we’re lucky. I’m actually home quite a bit, but usually I’m busy studying or writing papers. I used to make dinner for Liz every night, but I suddenly had night classes a couple nights a week and couldn’t do that any more. I found it really difficult to do the things I wanted to be able to do for our relationship. Liz was suddenly our primary income source, house keeper, dog walker, etc. It’s really hard to sit back and read a book while you see the woman with whom you’re joined in holy matrimony, with whom you’re supposed to be equal partners in making things work, suddenly have to take on so much in order to allow me to fulfill my call. It’s really hard that the times we get to see each other I’m reading and she’s cleaning, even though she just spent 10 hours at work.
It’s hard to not feel like I’ve suddenly become a huge burden on our new marriage. We’ve been open with communication and I do what I can. We carve out time when I can help her around the house, and I’ve adjusted my schedule to at least try to make an effort. We also eat dinner together whenever possible. Sometimes eating at the dinner table is the only time we get to talk all day, so it’s a huge part of our lives. Dinners have had to become simpler, but at least we get that time together, and I feel like I can do something to contribute to our relationship together. We also have to be really intentional about real time we spend together. Living in community is great, there is always something to do and people to see, but sometimes you have to spend time together instead. This was/is hard for me – I’m a people person through and through. When I’m not studying I prefer to be with lots of people, but that just isn’t feasible for our relationship – if I did that I’d never have alone time with Liz. We set out time to have dates, usually one night a week. I work hard to get my homework done so that we can have a Saturday night together, to go out and experience life in Chicago, eat in a restaurant or simply to watch a movie and cuddle.
The other big piece of being in seminary and being married is that sometimes it’s hard to talk about all the emotions I’m feeling from what I learn and how I’m challenged in faith. I want to be able to tell Liz everything, but I also don’t want to alienate her with thoughts and feelings that she won’t be able to properly respond to. What has helped is to have a couple of people to meet with weekly and talk about the Bible, faith and all our inner struggles. Being able to work through some of these things, at least partially, takes some of the pressure off Liz – I still tell her what’s going on, but if I’ve been able to begin to process it and talk about it with others, I can more clearly vocalize what I’m feeling and she doesn’t have to feel like everything is on her.
Being married while doing this thing called seminary is hard. Your relationship will be tested in ways you couldn’t imagine. It will also grow and get richer and deeper, if you’re intentional about making it so. Seminary isn’t easy to begin with, and to have someone else along the journey with you is both enriching and more difficult. Make sure you are able to openly talk about where your relationship is and where it is going. Be flexible. Be intentional about spending real time together. Don’t let your partner over burden themselves. Communicate. These are the things that have made it work the past year and a half. It’ll be hard, but you’ll survive!
And now perspectives from spouses of seminarians. Up first – Liz:
Being married to a seminary student means having an instant loving, welcoming and supportive community. I love the community of McCormick and everyone I have met. I am continuously amazed by this community.
When Wes and I decided to move to Chicago so that he could attend McCormick, I knew that it was not going to be the easiest of paths. This path he was called to is not the norm. A person has to be truly confident that this is the right path for them. So, we tried to prepare ourselves. We discussed what this would mean for us: as a couple, as individuals, financially and professionally. But, alas, there were things that were unexpected.
I was prepared to take on the bulk of household chores during the school year (knowing that one day I, too, would be going to grad school). I knew that I would now be the primary source of income, instead of sharing that burden. I knew that our weekends and other time together would most definitely not be the same. I knew that I would need to be supportive even when I didn’t have the energy to be.
What I didn’t know or wasn’t prepared for was that I would be seen as a future pastor’s wife. I was not prepared for this because Wes was certain that he did not want to be/ was not called to be a parish minister. Things change. Either way, I was not prepared that I would consciously have to distinguish myself and make it clear that I have my own identity and that I am my own person. Just because Wes is in seminary, does not mean that I will also go to seminary. It does not mean that I will take on extra duties in the church he eventually serves that I would not otherwise do. It means setting boundaries and learning to say NO. And sometimes, it means not going to church just because Wes has to and realizing that that’s okay and in no way means that I am less supportive of Wes’ life. In the beginning when people asked if I was a student, I would respond, “no, I am just a spouse” or “I am Wes’ wife.” I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying. I am not just a spouse. So, I have changed my language so that it is clear that we would not be in Chicago if we both didn’t want be here.
As I said earlier, I love this community. But, there are times when I am surrounded by students and I cannot relate or add anything to the conversation simply because I am not a student. After that happened a few times, I knew I had to find a community of my own. Becoming friends with other seminarian spouses has been truly a blessing. I also started volunteering to have something else to do while I was searching for a job. And, I was lucky to find a job that I like and that is in the sector in which I want to work. It has allowed me to form relationships outside of McCormick. I am able to go to work each day and focus on something that is my own.
Being a spouse of a seminarian is not always easy. There is a lot of give and take. It has taken some time, but we have found a balance. I am happy to be here because it means Wes gets to do what he is meant to be doing. I would do whatever it takes for him because he would do the same for me.
Finally, Amy Rhodes shares her perspective:
In a lot of ways, being married to a seminarian is a lot like being married to any graduate student: instead of nights off after work to watch your favorite television show together, your partner has to hit the books. Instead of weekends to lounge around or go out, there’s a lot of paper writing and staying in. The give-and-take of married life has a different flow because it’s life while studying, yet you have a sense of what to expect.
What’s different about seminary, however, is ministry. While you may know what it’s like for studying to influence your marriage, in most cases (mine included), seminary is the first introduction of ministry to your marriage. And ministry is simply different. Former seminarians and their spouses gave me a lot of advice before my partner started studying, and much of it focused on the difficulty of seminary and ministry on marriage. I was torn between an ‘oh-no-what’s-going-to-become-of-us’ terror and an ‘it-won’t-be-like-that-for-us’ arrogance, and, unsurprisingly, the truth of my experiences lies somewhere between the two. Any adjustment involves some effort. It’s a shift. But just as you are aware that your partner is starting a journey with God through ministry, both partners should remember that marriage vows are a promise to God, as well. Studying for God can’t be placed above holy matrimony, so to speak. So, you make time for each other. And you watch your favorite television show together and you go out and the papers get done and the studying takes place, and eventually you stop shifting and you start taking root again. And slowly everything falls into place.
I hope you enjoyed part 1 in this series! We’ll have next week off because it’s reading week, so see you back again October 17th when I’ll introduce you to another awesome seminary pet!