While the dedication and persistence required of PhD candidates are apparent, similar qualities are needed on the part of those who date them. If your boyfriend's or girlfriend's sights are set on academia or research, the educational rigor leading thereto will demand a huge commitment of time and energy, as well as the willingness to delay gratification when it comes to finances, socializing and more. In order to make it through this time with your relationship not only intact but stronger than ever, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the PhD lifestyle and form strategies for how to cope with it.
Set Your Expectations
Preparing yourself for the reality of this program, through its completion, can help you be patient, as you will be able to mark off important milestones and count down to the next phase. If your significant other is still in the first years, your experience may mimic that of the college life you're accustomed to -- to an extent. A majority of students, though, supplement their classroom studies with stints as undergrad teaching assistants or researchers, according to "The Princeton Review" in "Master's vs. PhD Programs." After this, usually comes an exam or thesis that proves preparedness for the next stage -- writing a dissertation. While it might seem that this phase, which entails fewer classes, would be lower-involvement, it usually calls for a great deal of concentration, research, writing and rewriting, and discussions with a thesis adviser.
Lay Out Priorities
In the context of a committed relationship, it's easy for a busy student to take a partner for granted, focusing overwhelmingly on school obligations, according to the American Psychological Association's student social psychology representative, Ph.D. candidate David Kille, in his article, "Achieving an Optimal Work-Life Balance: Dating in Graduate School." You can preempt the sting of being sidelined for the book stacks -- and the arguments and emotional distancing that could result -- by planning fun activities unrelated to studying. No matter how busy student life gets, you can make time for a white-water rafting adventure or checking out the dinner theater two towns away when you both consciously prioritize the relationship.
Brush Up on the Subject
Especially when it comes time for dissertation writing, your partner may develop tunnel vision for the subject of study. Because PhD students can unintentionally winnow their social circles down to advisers and peers tacking similar challenges, introduce yourself to that world to the extent possible. While you don't need expertise to match your partner's, developing a working knowledge of the subject will allow your significant other to share passionate discussions with you. Keeping in mind that a doctoral candidate will likely maintain a lifelong interest in the degree subject, and that this subject is an aspect of the personality that attracted you, knowing the basics of it can create a stronger bridge between the two of you.
Secure Social Supports
For the many PhD students who tend to drift toward social isolation as academic requirements grow, peer support groups can be invaluable, says National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow Michael Kiparsky in the post, "Peer Support for PhD Students" on the Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List website. When you notice your boyfriend or girlfriend growing distant from former comrades and getting down in the dumps, you can offer support by either arranging or offering to help your partner arrange a get-together with appetizers, tall coffees and dissertation discussion. While you're at it, secure your own necessary social supports. Scheduling time for fun with your own friends can reinforce your sense of identity beyond the relationship and take your mind off the loneliness you may temporarily feel.