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How to Talk to Your Spouse About Finishing Your Degree

“I have nothing to wear,” says the wife.
“I have nothing to wear,” says the husband.

Both say the same thing, but is what they say really what they mean?

Her translation: “There’s nothing in my closet I want to wear.”
His translation: “It’s time to do laundry.”

While perhaps an exaggeration of a stereotype, this example does illustrate a point: miscommunication among spouses happens. Often.

And when it does, the result can be comical, contentious or constructive.

Here are 10 tips for having a heart-to-heart with your spouse about finishing your college degree.

  1. Pick the right time. The wrong time? Smack-dab in the middle of a favorite TV show, while rushing to put dinner on, or any time the other person is multitasking or unfocused.
  1. Find the right place. Like time, the right environment is paramount to a productive discussion. Choose a place that’s both comfortable and free from distractions.
  1. Ask to be heard. Lots of couples have a habit of half-listening to each other so be sure your spouse knows that you require their full and undivided attention.
  1. Be clear and direct. Leave assumptions at the door when discussing something as important as going back to college with your spouse. Use plain language and short sentences. Offer examples to illustrate a point but don’t drone on and on with frivolous detail.
  1. Tell the facts. Keep the conversation unemotional. Instead, use a problem-challenge-solution approach when talking to your spouse. Explain the “problem” (you want to finish your degree), talk about the “challenge” (the impact of going back to school on the family), followed by the “solution” (your plans for how and when to finish).
  1. Share your feelings. Only after you’ve shared the facts should you share your personal feelings. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements in order to avoid potential conflict.
  1. Listen to the other side. After you’re done, get quiet. Really quiet. Let the other person share their facts and feelings. Now’s not the time to get defensive. Listen carefully without reacting.
  1. Take time to think. Regardless of how your spouse reacts, you both need time to think about what was shared before making any decisions. Acknowledge that you heard what the other person shared and ask for time to consider their input.
  1. Set a time to regroup. End the discussion by making a date to revisit the conversation. Don’t leave this part open-ended, but also recognize that one partner may need more time to process the idea than another. Take at least 24 hours before talking about the subject again but no more than a week if possible.

Make it a mutual decision. With all the facts laid out, feelings shared and time to think behind you, now’s the time for the two of you to make a joint decision. Keep respect and compromise your first order. If you absolutely cannot come to a mutual decision, restart the communication process or seek the assistance of a third-party mediator.

Do you have some tips of your own? We'd love to hear about them in the comments section!

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