For many, the beginning of law school signals the end of their current romantic relationship. I've written before that 70% of relationships started before law school end within a year of becoming a 1L. If you are currently in love and considering a legal education, this may be a disturbing statistic and, in fact, I think it should be. It does not mean that pursuing a law degree will imperil your relationship; but it does mean that you should be prepared for the challenges that this professional degree will inevitably introduce into your romantic life. How can your law school relationship survive and even thrive?
- Start the dialogue now. The best time to start talking about your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend is before school starts. Start creating structures in your relationship for articulating needs and addressing conflict. If you already live with unspoken needs and unprocessed anger or hurt in your relationship, a legal education may be the straw that breaks the camels back. So, start practicing now. Make sure you have a system in place in your relationship for checking in and communicating honestly.
- Define your needs. Whether you or your boyfriend / girlfriend are in the midst of the admissions process, take time to figure out what you want from the relationship now and when school starts. What makes you feel fulfilled in your relationship? How important is attention and quality time to you? How do you know when you've had enough? If your partner is attending law school, how comfortable are you spending time on your own or with your friends? Being clear on what makes you feel fulfilled, happy and safe in a relationship will help you in structuring your time and communicating your needs to your partner.
- Set expectations. To the degree possible, both parties to the relationship should understand each other's long-term romantic plans. Is the goal in your relationship to have a long-term commitment that will extend far beyond school? Or is it too early in your relationship to know for sure? In general, I would caution against answering these questions prematurely; but I raise the issue because long-term plans may make the challenges of law school easier to bear. You or your partner may find law school easier to handle if it is part of a long-term project of growing close and building a life together.
- Be unflinchingly honest with yourself and your partner . Law school is a big commitment and the workload does not end when you graduate. If you are considering law school, do you have the stamina and motivation to continue to give the right amount of focus to your relationship? If you have doubts about this, start talking about it with your boyfriend or girlfriend now. You could argue that your partner has the right to know about your doubts before you start law school. But, even more importantly, you will be in much better shape in law school and your relationship if you address these issues now, rather than having them come to a head just in time for your first semester final exams.
- Do not hold yourself back. Do not be held back. When you are in a relationship with someone you care deeply about, it's common to make personal sacrifices that ultimately undermine your potential and the development of your personality. If you are passionate about becoming a lawyer, but your partner is afraid of being abandoned by you, it is your responsibility to fulfill your potential and their responsibility to address their fears. Conversely, if your partner is in law school and is not giving you what you need to feel fulfilled in your relationship, it is your responsibility to raise these issues with your partner and, if they can not be addressed, to move on. This may sound like tough advice; but ultimately, both partners in a relationship must feel like they are living their lives fully, expressing their personality and realizing their potential. When these qualities are stifled in a relationship, resentment and anger ultimately take over where love and hope once lived.
All of this sounds serious, I know. While I genuinely believe that it can be easy for relationships to grow and blossom during law school, I also think that it's worthwhile to face the challenges of law school early on and head-on. Your relationship is worth this honest, soul-searching appraisal and your intimacy will only grow stronger when both of you have the courage to face this challenge hand-in-hand, eyes wide open.
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