How Couples Make It Through B-School

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by Henry Updegrave on

Mark Flickinger with fiancee Tara Fiscella

If you’re surfing the net for horror stories on MBAs whose relationships have crashed while in B-school, you won’t have to look very hard. There are plenty of blog posts detailing the pressures a tough MBA program puts on marriages and partnerships.

There’s the story about the wife who decided to get her own MBA after her husband just spent two years completing his. He returned home expecting to start a family; she had other plans. Then, there’s the story about an ambitious wife who ventures off to a top B-school program, only to realize that her own husband failed to measure up to the A-types in her MBA study groups. In both cases, divorces soon followed.

But in the vast majority of couples have not only “survived” business school—their relationships have been enriched by the experience. They’ve come up with ways to combat the inevitable pressures and challenges an MBA program presents. And many singles, of course, have found business school a great place to meet a potential spouse.

A year ago, Tom Giedgowd moved his wife, Lauren, and young child to Charlottesville so that he could attend the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. They quickly discovered that Giedgowd was consumed by the first-year workload, among the toughest of any MBA program in the world. The school’s case study method and focus on group work often kept him away from home. Time management became his biggest hurdle as a husband and MBA candidate.

Tom and Lauren Giedgowd

“We have learning teams who we do our case studies with,” says Giedgowd. “I had to convince my learning team to meet a little later so that I could eat with my family and put my son to bed.” The Giedgowds agree that increased communication is crucial for business school couples. Lauren Giedgowd recalls her husband texting her throughout his days at Darden last year so she always knew when he would return home. “My biggest piece of advice is to manage your expectations,” she advises other spouses. “As long as I knew he would be unavailable all day, it made it much easier.”

Philipp Triebel, Harvard Business School class of 2010 and founder of the web site IvyDate, echoed their advice. “It’s a matter of prioritizing,” says Triebel. He says married MBA candidates often wind up having to sacrifice much of the social life of business school. The result: many married couples in MBA programs feel on the outside of the mainstream community. In many cases, says Triebel, it’s a necessary sacrifice to maintain a strong relationship.

For singles in school, it’s an entirely different issue. Triebel believes that newly formed relationships between two classmates are easier to maintain than an existing marriage or partnership because both partners have a deeper understanding of what each is going through. One spouse isn’t sitting home while the other is out all night with her study group. “I think I’ve been invited to five weddings alone of couples that met at business school,” says Triebel.

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  • BSchoolHope (Tuck ’13 woot)

    My girlfriend and I will be going through this over the next two years so this is a great article for me. Thanks for providing an alternate point of view to the usual doom and gloom b-school relationship articles. Black Friday… Pfff.

    Actually my situation is a bit different, over the past six years my gf and I have only lived in the same country for about 50% of the time and the last two years have been particularly tough with me in the UK and her in the US. My move to Tuck will mean I’m a three hour, $10, coach ride away, rather than a seven hour, $700, flight. My motivation to go to Tuck was in part to be closer to her, and I’m anticipating a much easier time over the next two years compared to the previous two.

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