In this episode of Truth for Teachers, we’re talking about how to keep teaching from ruining your marriage (or any relationship you have with a significant other).
I shared with members of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club that I was going to do this episode and asked for their input. A teacher named Abby responded:
I don’t have helpful advice here, but I just wanted to say this is why I’ve joined the club. I was literally working 12-16 hours Monday – Friday and easily putting in at least eight hours each on Saturday and Sunday.
My co-workers were begging me to not let this affect my marriage which was only nine months “old” at the time. My husband was very supportive, but in very low moments he would say, “I miss my wife,” or “I want the wife I married back,” (because I was constantly crying or biting his head off from the stress of work).
I know I was inefficient, and some of that was due to lack of sleep, but I’m not sure what else I could’ve done differently to not make it a terrible year! I’m using the club to help me identify some things to make this year go better…
I can’t tell you how many emails and private messages I have gotten over the years from teachers telling me that teaching is ruining their marriage. I’ve heard of husbands giving their wives ultimatums: It’s either teaching or me. And I’ve also heard from many many club members over the years that they have used strategies from the club to reduce their workload and that has helped them strengthen their marriage and have more time to spend with their partners.
So this episode will be a slightly different format. I’ve asked club members to share some of the things that they are doing to preserve their marriage and keep teaching from coming in between themselves and their partners, so I’ll be sharing some of the advice that they’ve written, and also play a couple of audio clips so you can hear things in their own words.
Listen to the podcast episode,
or download and play it on the go!
1) Recognize when your priorities are out of whack. Be honest with yourself about what needs to change (and what will happen if things stay the same).
Here’s Christie’s experience — she had a slight shift in her perspective and it ended up changing her entire outlook on her job:
What changed it for me was the day after Spring Break. I went back to school and realized, as much as I love them, these students will be out of my class in 10 weeks and in reality, most won’t give me more than a passing thought for their entire lives. My husband will be with me every night for the foreseeable future. Do I want a happy spouse for the rest of my days or do I want to continue putting all my time, effort, and energy into teaching?
As much as I love teaching, I realized that having a happy spouse allowed me to teach. I couldn’t afford to teach financially or emotionally without his support. So I realized that I needed to put more time, energy, effort, and thought into our relationship. Like you say in your materials, sometimes you screw up, but you start over the next day and recommit to do less, better.
A teacher named Rachel echoed similar sentiments:
I came to the realization that I’m putting in more work than it’s worth. I love my students and I love my content, but I love my husband and our family more. I had to decide if I could see myself sacrificing time with them just to teach. Don’t get me wrong — I love being a teacher, but it’s only a part of my identity and it needs to remain just that, a part of the whole. The club has helped me see that I can be an effective teacher, and still live the life I want DURING the school year … and not feel like I’m letting anyone down.
My relationship with myself and my husband is healthier than it’s been since I started teaching. I set a firm boundary around my time! If I am going to bring work home, it needs to be something I can complete before my husband comes home.
Wednesdays are our designated date night and we prioritize them. No working past 5:30 PM for either of us and the evening is completely devoted to “us time.” If a conflict comes up, we move the date to another day, and the same policy applies. I stopped working on the weekends unless it was prearranged or I can complete the task in under two hours.
The biggest pay off I’ve had from the club so far is realizing that my expectations for myself are WAY higher than my administration’s. I can be just as prepared (for 5 preps) and not waste my life at school if I’m intentional with my time. It’s a work in progress, but I do not feel the “teacher guilt” as much as I used to.
2) Create boundaries so that you have designated time for work and designated time for your spouse.
Teaching definitely played a part in my first marriage ending. I realized there was a big problem when the answer to the question, “What’s most important to you?” was my job, not my husband.
I’ve flipped my priorities in my current relationship, but it can still be a struggle. There are seasons when I know and my honey understands that I do have to work a lot more — the beginning of the year and report card times. The rest of the year I work hard to put boundaries around my time so that teaching doesn’t take up all of my time and energy.
We schedule two date nights a month, and I try to leave time most nights for us to spend some time hanging out. I also stopped bringing work on vacations (admitting that I did this is a bit embarrassing). We do a couple’s meeting once a week to check in with each other and get life organized. I also started using the eMeals app, and we have home cooked dinners together a lot more as a result.
Here’s how a teacher named Lindsay managed to create better boundaries so she could have more time with her spouse:
Prior to joining the Club, I was working 50-60 hours a week and too stressed to enjoy time with my husband or really even focus on our marriage. My marriage was definitely coming in second to school at the time. The biggest shift for me was maximizing my time at school and leaving when I stopped being productive. In the past, I would just stay late and try to work, but really, I wasn’t getting anything done because I would be stuck doing more work the rest of the week.
Then I also adjusted my school plans based on my home life and vice versa. If I knew that I wouldn’t be able to complete my grading on a specific night due to another commitment, I switched out my due dates so I wouldn’t be so stressed out trying to do something with my husband and also trying to grade on those same nights.
I also looked at how to maximize my energy and time to get the most done in the least amount of time instead of stretching everything out. There are so many strategies that I have learned from the Club that have reduced my personal stress, like paperwork management and email management. I honestly believe that by being less stressed out, that is making me a happier wife and leading to a better marriage.
A teacher named Kathy came to similar conclusions, but her a-ha moment was initiated by her spouse. She wrote:
My husband literally came to the school one night about 7 PM, grabbed my hand and dragged me home (we lived about 200 feet from the school then) and sat me down to what would have been a wonderful supper if it wasn’t stone cold. I was told to stop letting the school run us or he would move out.
I joined the Club. I have found so much help from the quarterly goals. Knowing where the heck I wanted the kids to go in their learning made everything so much more simple. Lesson plans were easier to put together because I knew what we needed and didn’t spend HOURS on Pinterest trying to figure out what to do next. I set quarterly goals for home also. It helps me to manage holidays and ensures we get time to play/dance together.
That one lesson was worth all the money in the world and yet, I still get ideas from this program to make the teacher life no more. Now it is MY life, and PART of that is teaching.
3) Have strategies for decompressing after school so you don’t pile all your work stress on your spouse.
This is something I learned the hard way myself — that a non-teacher spouse is never going to truly understand the stress of being a teacher, and my constant venting really wore on our relationship. It was frustrating for him to listen to me complain about the same things day after day, and he would often try to “fix” the problem by offering solutions that were completely impractical because it seemed he didn’t understand the expectations.
When I started decompressing with a colleague instead right after school and then leaving the day’s problems at the building, it really helped my relationship with my husband.
That’s something that Trish experienced, too:
Almost three years ago, I joined a gym with my best teacher friend at work. She is unbelievably efficient. We go to the gym 3-5 times a week. She is good at packing up and getting out of school at a reasonable hour. I am not. The 40HTW Club is helping me leave less work undone when I leave for the gym. Going to the gym and the 40HTW Club both helped me stop staying at work nine hours a day and putting in another hour at home.
My perspective has changed. I used to be proud of the crazy amount of time I put in at work. Now I realize it is a symptom of inefficiency and dysfunction, trying to please the students and their parents too much. My husband enjoys my company better.
The gym time is a healthy way to release some of the stress from school before I go home. I handle little adversities at work better. My husband and I both value our time together more.
Hints to a happy marriage with a teacher: We have cooking-free Friday a few times a month. We go out to dinner. I order a hard cider and my husband orders a beer while we wait for dinner. We both vent about work while we wait for dinner to be served. After we get the stress out of our systems, the conversation morphs and we are laughing about the parts of life about which we usually let ourselves be angry.
Humor is so important. We recognize that when we are too tired to even laugh, we usually need some space and rest. The worst arguments occur when you are too tired to even empathize. Listen, validate, laugh, and stay away from scorekeeping and what my exercise friend and I call “bad day poker.” You think your day was bad?! …
Did you catch that gem she dropped in the middle there, where she felt like her husband just didn’t understand how important the job was to her, but she realized the issue was that she was spending way too much time and energy trying to impress her students and the people in her school?
That really spoke to me — sometimes what feels like a spouse not understanding is actually them having a clear perspective from the outside. We can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes, and when they say, “You need to just stop doing X” or “you need to say no to Y,” it’s possible they’re taking that big picture perspective which is exactly what we need to break out of the “you don’t understand, that’s just how it is” trap.
Now, a quick aside — what if you’re married to an educator? Susan is in that position (her husband works for the district), and she said:
We have a rule about talking about work ONLY in the car on the ride in and from work (since we work across the street from one another, we carpool). Once we are home, it’s dinner, walk the dog, meditate, etc. It’s okay if we do some mindless work while we Netflix/listen to music, but no direct work conversation should be going on. We both check each other on that because it could be ALL we talk about without any boundaries.
4) Adjust your voluntary/unpaid work hours to better align with your spouse’s.
This strategy has to do with coordinating your work schedule so you stay late on the times your spouse stays late, and you both agree not to work extra on specific days. If your schedule is unpredictable, then you can just check in with each other each week: What’s happening in the next few days, when should we work, when should we spend time together?
I have this habit now with my husband, even though I’m not currently in the classroom, because both of us have unpredictable schedules. We talk on the weekend about what’s coming up the next week. If he has a day of meetings or is traveling out of town, I block off that time in my schedule to really focus on my work without interruption. Then we’ll choose another time when we’re both free and plan something to look forward to — “Okay, we won’t see each other much on Thursday and Friday, but let’s have brunch Saturday morning … let’s go for a hike Sunday afternoon.”
Here’s how Becky and her husband handled this. She basically chose one day where they don’t have any obligation to each other. It’s her husband’s night to do his own thing, and she gives herself permission to stay late at school as needed and also take time for herself:
The first thing I did was talk with my principal about my need for a better work-life balance. I gave her my reasons and she had my back completely. She encouraged me to discuss with my husband having one day I could stay super late to get everything done and then as soon as I finish that night, I get to do something for me.
Together, my husband and I chose Friday night because no one else was at school, and I had no one to get me off task and no one to wait behind in the workroom.
Then, after finishing all my work around 6:30 PM, I took myself out for dinner and then went to a dance class — something I enjoy for my own self-care.
The rest of the week, I was able to get the day-to-day things done in my contract time. My weekends became all family time because I finished it all before I left on Friday. My husband is much happier and I am too because I have more time with my family and during that time, I’m not stressing about the work waiting for me in my bag.
Saba echoed this sentiment about aligning hours with your spouse’s:
I try to align my work hours with my husband’s, either coming in early on a Monday or staying late on a Friday, if necessary. Also, I’ll end up working during breaks while my husband is at work (i.e. Thanksgiving week, Winter Break, Spring Break, etc.). It’s really helped me be more present at home (and we meal plan on Saturdays and Sundays for the week, so no one is starving!).
5) Cut out things from your workload, and consider not bringing home any work-related tasks at all.
Naturally, if you are working long hours and that’s part of why you don’t have time with your partner, you’re going to have to find ways to cut back on your workload. And for many teachers, that practice allows them to stop working at home altogether.
Honestly, the best thing I did was start planning out my day, focusing on what HAD to be done, and what could wait. I also decided to let go of “perfect” and work for “good enough.” By doing this, I was able to keep work at work and be present with my family at home. I leave work by 5 PM, four days a week, only staying late on Fridays because my hubby does the same. Our marriage is so much stronger as a result.
Here’s another tip from a club member who chose to remain anonymous:
I am a career changer — I came to teaching a little later in life. My own kids were of middle to high school age when I went into teaching. I thought I would have more time for them, but I ended up not having any time for my husband or kids. My husband was a little more understanding. He knows, like I do, that with any new job, it requires a learning curve and a lot of dedication, but it was really way too much. My oldest daughter even said to me, “You know mom, you’re just absent.” I was working all the time and they would see me every evening grading, lesson planning, and on the computer. I wasn’t any fun at home because I was working all the time.
It did get better — I learned through the 40HTW Club, through trial and error, and through talking to other teachers that I can set boundaries and that I have a right to say “no.” At times, the workload is way more than you can get done in a workday, especially at the end of a marking period where I have to put in extra time.
What worked for me was to do the work at work and then come home, even though it was going to be later in the evening. Because my kids are older, I can do that. I can miss dinner a few days at the end of a marking period, but at least I’m not bringing all the work home. That was a lot better for us and for me because when I got home, I was really done for the day.
I realize that not working at home at all may not be the goal for some of you. It never was for me. There were a lot of parts of teaching that I enjoyed doing as a hobby, the creative tasks especially, and I know for some of you, your schedule and life circumstances make it preferable to work at home rather than go into your school building early or stay late.
But there were so many club members who responded to this question about protecting their marriage by saying they stopped bringing work home altogether that I feel like I need to emphasize that as a very real option that is worth considering.
For me, the thing that changed everything was not bringing any work home. Period. Unless it’s an emergency or some unforeseen circumstance, I leave my grading, lesson planning, etc. at work.
As someone who suffers from depression, I have to be very sure to take care of myself and for me, that means doing creative things in my spare time. I consider it a lifeline. So when I get home, I play my guitar and work on techniques for an hour, then make dinner so we can eat as a family. After dinner, I read or do a quick blog entry while enjoying my family’s company and a cup of tea.
Stop competing and trying to make your classroom prettier than everyone else’s. Stop Pinteresting yourselves to death. Good pedagogy will always trump pretty. Strive for substance, not trying to make everyone happy … because you will almost always fail at the latter.
When things were at their worst, I sought a life coach, because I thought I needed to switch careers. He told me to write out my obituary. It was strange, but it forced me to write down what kind of life I wanted and how I wanted to be remembered. My first line was, “Loving wife… .”
Shortly after, I joined the Club and it taught me to prioritize tasks by personal values. I would do the most important for work at work, and then made sure I left work at work at the end of the day. I uninstalled my work email account and refused to look at or return any calls outside of work hours. I also made sure that once I was home, I focused on my family and husband and didn’t bring up work during family time. That’s helped me become the loving wife I wanted to be.
6) Stop saying “something needs to change” and take action. Even small steps in the right direction can make a huge difference.
So what do you do if you feel like it’s too late, and these small preventative shifts aren’t going to work? Here’s what a teacher named Leigh shared:
I thought the busier I was, the more important and irreplaceable I was to my admin and school. I taught there for 10 years. As a result, my husband and I became best friends who lived together instead of marital partners. We hit a turning point, and I refused to let things continue the way they had been.
I switched schools, stopped coaching, stopped teaching AP, gave up all extra committees, and rededicated myself to our marriage and family. This is the beginning of year three at my “new” school, and I’ve made my life a priority, and this group gave me the permission I needed to be good enough for that day and to let go of the stuff that nobody but me noticed. It was SUPER hard.
But at my new school, I was the new teacher and was given the opportunity to reinvent myself and set reasonable boundaries. I forced myself to stop being at everybody’s beck and call. “All” I did was teach, and it wasn’t easy to let all of the other stuff go. But I recognized that if I wanted to save my marriage and not have my daughters resent me or my students, it was a necessary change I needed to make.
Leigh’s choices were drastic, and they saved her marriage, but sometimes the most important thing is just to begin taking action. Show your spouse that things are going to be different than they are now. A teacher named Bridget wrote:
I’m REALLY new to the club (like July 2018 new), but there was a definite change in my relationship with my husband the second I joined this club. I think it was the shift from years of venting to saying, “Hey, I’m actually going to actively work on changing my approach and here’s the plan.”
I know it’s not going to be clear sailing all the time, but he knows that I’m putting in the effort and he’s keeping me accountable by checking in to see how it’s going. Honestly, I think the biggest change in our relationship will just be this: I stopped talking about how things need to change and took action!
I encourage you to use these teachers’ stories to help YOU take action today. What is one thing you heard that you think you could implement in order to make a positive difference in your relationship with your spouse or partner?
Take that first step. It might be cutting something from our workload so you aren’t bringing so much home, or adjusting your schedule to align more with your spouses’. It could be creating routines for decompressing so you don’t bring the stress of school home with you and you’re taking care of yourself which will make you happier and a better partner. Take action today.
And if you’re serious about this and want to get around other teachers who are also serious about it, get on the waitlist for the club. The next cohort is going to start in January, and waitlist members will be able to get in early. Having the support of other teachers who are trying to get their priorities in order is really, really invaluable.
Remember: Your priorities aren’t what you SAY they are. Your priorities are revealed in how you live.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new short episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!
This episode was sponsored by Brains On, which is an award-winning podcast from American Public Media. It’s dedicated to inspiring kids’ natural curiosity about the world. The Brains On podcast has over 100 episodes covering real science topics, including everything from why people have allergies to how electricity works. Now Brains On is offering free standards-based curriculum and activities for teachers to go with each one of those podcast episodes. You can learn more and download their free teacher resources at Brainson.org/learn.