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The Balancing Act – A Healthy Relationship versus Student Life

Uprooting a family, making new friends, moving into a smaller apartment, finding a new job, managing chaotic schedules, and dealing with financial stress are some of the obvious challenges that partners may experience when relocating with their student to HBS. While the HBS experience is said to be transformational and some of the best years of your life, it can be a serious challenge that tests the strength of a couple’s relationship over the rigorous two year period.

From applications to accepting an offer of admission to relocating and engaging in student life, partners are an influential part of the HBS experience. Initially, there is much anticipation and excitement around joining HBS, but what happens when that excitement fades? As a partner, you may be left to fend for yourself in a strange new place as your student rushes off to class, learning team, section events, club speakers, and numerous student trips (given any open Friday).

At a recent partner information session titled “Surviving and Thriving at HBS” and hosted by MBA Support Services, the topic of conversation was the challenges partners and couples may face during their time at HBS. Sweeping nothing under the rug, the session called attention to many negative feelings that partners may experience including anxiety and stress, isolation and loneliness, or even jealousy and resentment.

“The key to having a good experience is finding balance on all fronts,” advised Rachael Weisz, Associate Director of MBA Support Services. In addition to learning support services, MBA Support Services provides personal support services including assistance with health, emotional, and family concerns, crisis management, disability services, stress management, and counseling and therapy referrals.

The session identified many solutions that partners can utilize to keep their life and relationship in balance.

Challenge 1
Hours upon hours of reading cases has replaced our quality time in the evenings and weekends. Some days, I don’t even know where my student is – Shad? Career Coaching? Happy Hour at Tommy Doyle’s? I can’t keep up.

Solution
“Communication,” Weisz stated. “Partners must ask questions and ask for information. Don’t expect your student to tell you everything automatically.” Create a shared Google or Outlook calendar as a means for information sharing. Partners also have access to the HBS Event Calendar and can subscribe to the Daily Digest emails in order to stay informed about events on campus. Set aside time for just you two to map out the week’s schedule. It can be as simple as pizza night or coffee in the morning.

Challenge 2
As a partner, it’s no fun to play second fiddle to a section, a learning team, a club, or new friends. I don’t want to be on-call, waiting for when my student has an hour to spare. I’d like for date night to take precedence over section drinks at least once a week. Why is their agenda always more important?

Solution
When the student’s needs continue to take precedence over the partner’s needs, hurt feelings and resentment can come into play. “Discuss what the partner’s expectations were going into HBS,” recommended Weisz, “If you are feeling like this is not what you signed up for, how can you work together to make the reality of the situation more enjoyable?” When you’re having difficult conversations, use “I” statements, compromise, and make decisions based on what is best for the couple. Again communicating expectations and managing emotions are the key to keeping the relationship in balance.

Challenge 3
Okay, after I expressed my feelings and we talk about respecting each other’s time and needs, what am I supposed to do while (s)he is busy with HBS commitments and activities? I can’t watch another episode of reality TV.

Solution
Partners must take the initiative to create a plan for their time at HBS. Do you want to take classes at the Harvard Extension School, learn a new language from Berlitz, volunteer, advance your career, or be the primary care giver to your children? Weisz advised, “Ask yourself: what needs to happen now, so when you look back two years from now, you can say your time as a partner was valuable and meaningful?”

Weisz also suggested, “Develop your own relationships. Find people who allow you to be your authentic self.” For example, the Partners’ Club plans many activities for partners to build a support network and make connections with other partners including book clubs, small group dinners, sporting events, International Sub Committee and Crimson Kids for families.

Challenge 4
I still don’t feel like I’m a part of the HBS community. Once the other students find out I’m a partner, they lose interest in getting to know me. Plus, I don’t know this student lingo. what is “FOMO, pit-diving or a sky deck” anyway? Will buying a section vest help me fit in?

Solution
“Educate yourself about the HBS experience,” said Weisz, “reference the HBS website and attend a class.” Engaging in student activities is a great way for partners to get to know HBS culture, feel more self-assured, and understand the workings of HBS. Partners are always welcome to listen to speakers on campus, attend class, and go to club events. The MBA Partners website (//mba.hbs.edu/partners) is also a great resource for learning the inter-workings of Harvard and HBS and learning how to get involved.

Challenge 5
How do we keep our relationship moving forward? How do we not give into the stress put on our relationship? How can we stay connected during such a transitional time?

Solution
“Remind yourselves of what brought you together as a couple in the first place,” Weisz concluded. “Find ways to reconnect with those aspects that you love about your relationship.” Whether you are at HBS or not, all relationships go through ups and downs, you must work together to be resilient.

While surviving and thriving at HBS can be a challenge, HBS has the potential to be an amazing and valuable experience for both partner and student together. Twenty years from now, what will you think of when you remember HBS -the lifelong friends you made, all the trips and traveling, or living in a global community with people from other cultures? These two years are a precious time-out from real life that should be thoroughly enjoyed and lived to the fullest together.

MBA Support Services is located on the second floor of Spangler Center. The staff of Support Services, while not directly serving partners, is happy to work with partners and students make connections to the host of resources available at Harvard and in Cambridge.

AUTHOR’s BIOGRAPHY
Ashly Grzyb is the wife of EC student, Jon Grzyb, and co-President of the HBS Partners’ Club. Ashly spends her time reading the latest Sookie Stackhouse novels with the Partners’ book club, practicing her golf swing, and traveling with Section B.

September 27, 2010
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