University students balance married, campus life

Bill Karr, a University graduate student, married Olivia Russell-Karr in July.

By Mara Shapiro

To Bill Karr, graduate student in LAS, marrying his high school girlfriend seemed natural. Karr and Olivia Russell-Karr, University alumna, met while taking ballroom dancing lessons and working on tech crew in school plays.

“Getting married was easy,” Bill said. “The proposal was much scarier.”

After Bill nervously proposed to Olivia on Jan. 1, 2014, the two married at Our Lady of the Greenwood Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Indiana over the summer on July 11.

Bill knew he wanted to marry Olivia since 2013 after the passing of his grandfather, who died from Leukemia only six months after being diagnosed.

“I thought about it at the funeral. I told my dad and grandmother about it. It was very eye opening. I thought, ‘If we wait three more years, then how many other family members won’t be here to see it?’” Bill said. “My family was very supportive. I also talked to Olivia’s parents and met with them in person. They also were supportive.”

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Now, the newlyweds are learning how to balance married life with their school and work commitments. Olivia works at The Pavilion Behavioral Health System, and if Bill is home, he will try to pick her up after work.

Bill said neither were in a rush to get married prior to his grandfather’s passing, as they were already living together and figured they were going to stay together for a while.

Olivia said she thinks it’s a good idea for couples to live together prior to getting married.

“It’s more of a trial run to see how you get along,” Olivia explained.

Bill agreed and praised her as a roommate, saying they are both good about cleaning up after themselves and taking care of their cat. Olivia said she is impressed with Bill’s thoughtfulness toward her, especially when he brings pizza when he picks her up after work.

But even though the two have found married life to be fairly easy so far, they are adjusting to introducing themselves as a married couple to people around campus.

“I have to introduce myself and say, “I’m actually Bill’s wife,” she said.

Bill Karr said the title has taken some time to get used to.

“On a campus where nobody is married, it’s interesting to tell people I’m actually married. We are the old married couple,” Bill joked.

When the couple is not busy with work or school, Bill DJ’s at Chester Street Bar in Champaign. The couple also likes to debate politics, with Bill identifying as a libertarian and Olivia as a liberal.

While Bill agrees that couples should live together pre-marriage, he says people shouldn’t do that unless they are fairly positive they will get married.

“Don’t end up living together if you are not planning on getting married because it can be dangerous if you become financially dependent on a person you don’t end up marrying,” he said.

Even though Bill and Olivia are happily married, Jill Bowers, researcher and project coordinator at the University’s Family Resiliency Center, explains that this is not the case for everyone, including herself when she was in college.

“Many individuals who get married while in college have motivations, priorities, and everyday experiences that differ from traditional students,” Bowers wrote in an email. “College and the responsibilities that come with earning a degree can be overwhelming for many people, regardless of marital status. Those who are married may place additional pressure on themselves or experience more distress due to the work/life balance.”

Furthermore, Bowers explained that it can be difficult for married students to find a good balance.

“Finding that balance may not be easy when you are going to school, working at least a part-time job, and managing household chores, caring for others’ needs in your house and striving to maintain positive relationships,” she wrote. “Additionally, students who are married may feel disconnected from their peers or classmates when their daily lives and responsibilities seem so different.”

Bowers began her first year as an undergraduate with a child, and had two by the time she was earning her Ph.D. She explained that she felt frustrated when fellow students would complain to her about their seemingly less-complicated lives.

“I remember being an undergraduate and listening to my peers talk about how busy they were and feeling frustrated to learn how very little they really had on their plate compared to the responsibility I felt. … I realize that was not fair to seemingly assume I was busier than other more traditional students whose perceptions of their busy schedules were very real, yet I felt lonely and disconnected at the time,” Bowers wrote.

Bowers also works with the Intentional Harmony and Illinois Extension program, who helps working couples learn how to balance their careers with their home life through planning and organizing, valuing a good relationship work ethic and healthy communication.

She wrote that support from partners is key in relationships.

“I believe it’s important for partners to have realistic expectations of each other; maintaining intimacy, ensuring your partner feels appreciated and understood, engaging in active listening about your partner’s day, making time for date nights, and being intentional with one’s relationship work ethic in general takes time and energy. For some, it can feel emotional exhausting to do this while in college,” Bowers wrote.

While the Bill and Olivia have only been married for four short months, they do have advice for those who are married or are thinking of getting married.

“Don’t keep score about things. I was always taught that from my dad. There will be couples where the one will say something that the other won’t like and the person won’t bring that up until later when they’re fighting and make things worse,” Bill said. “And we’ve never been like that.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bill Karr and Olivia Russell-Karr married at the University’s Saint John’s Catholic Newman Center. The article should have stated the couple married at Our Lady of the Greenwood Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Indiana. The Daily Illini regrets the error. 

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