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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturdays: I'm a Spouse... Get Me Outa Here!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Survivor Saturdays: I'm a Spouse... Get Me Outa Here!

Residency may not require eating bugs and wading through swampwaters, but spouses certainly step into a big pile of, well, unpleasantness. I'm married to a physician (now physician executive), and I've had my share of moments when I wanted to scream, "Get me outa here!"

When my husband and I began talking about marriage, he made sure I understood that he was committed to medicine. I knew he was asking me to commit to it, too, but I had no idea what that really meant at the time - neither of us did. I tried to prepare myself by reading about others who had gone through it, but I found that many of them didn't survive the long haul! I read that physicians have a higher than average chance of becoming addicted to prescription medicine, and I read that time is often an issue with couples. But nowhere did it say that I'd be pushed to the very edge of my capabilities.

During the first few years of marriage, I felt so trapped. I worked a demanding job, only to have every penny spent on the mortgage and student loans. I had to cook, clean, care for the children, keep the finances, keep the laundry caught up, mow the lawn, even change the furnace filter... all for a small peck on the cheek as my spouse walked in the door and headed to bed. I nearly went insane. When one of the children became ill, Mark would remind me of some patient who was much worse off. I never seemed to rate high enough to get priority.

Those days were hard and resulted in years of resentment and anger. I used to keep a journal of what I wanted to say to him, sometimes pressing so hard I nearly ripped through the paper. Before he came home, though, I would tear out the page and make sure it was destroyed and then write a few sentences of why I fell in love with him.

We made it through those awful years, but not without baggage that would resurface over and over. It wasn't until recently that I could look back and see another side. While I was sacrificing time, energy, and career, my husband was sacrificing in his own way. He was determined to use his abilities to make a future for us all. He missed out on the first steps, the social outings with friends, and he missed out on me. He has holes where memories should be. I hear the sadness in his voice whenever he talks about it.

Not too long ago, another MD's wife lamented of her bitterness associated with being married to a doctor. I asked my husband if he had any insight to share. He reflected back and explained that he didn't WANT to treat me the way he did. He simply HAD to. It was a coping mechanism to survive residency without losing his mind. "It's like being in a war zone," he confessed, "with fighting all around, not a moment to second-guess yourself, and no control over what is happening." I started to flash back to my first experience of natural childbirth. I remembered how everything began to happen at once and I had no control. I don't remember Mark being in the room with me - just a hand holding mine. I knew it was a moment when I should have bonded with him, but I just wasn't able to... not until I caught my breath.That's when I realized how long Mark had sacrificid before catching HIS breath.

So, as a you attempt to reconcile yourself to the demands of your spouse's career, first understand that you and your spouse are both sacrificing for each other in different ways. He may not be able to explain it in those terms, but the truth still remains. Be prepared to have really ugly feelings that will take time to heal, and be willing to let them go when it's time. Don't keep bringing up how much you're suffering when your spouse can't do anything about it. Instead, flash back to memories of good times you shared together and remind yourself why you got married in the first place. Know that better times are ahead and suffering through this together will ultimately bring you both closer. Mark and I discovered (totally by mistake) that constantly reminiscing together about how we met and how he proposed, gave us something to cling to and kept us bonded. Now that we've survived the tough times, we bond together by reminiscing of how we weathered the storm of medical school, residency and the early practice days. We both speak of each other with deep appreciation and know the impact it had on our relationship. A word of warning, though: Nothing happens over night and your bad days aren't over with residency.

After residency, a new war begins. Your spouse will be thrust into a world where he is expected to be perfect. He will be brainwashed into believing that only he can fix problems and that he is called to do so without regard to self or family. He will be measured by his productivity, and he will constantly compared to his peers. Know this and carefully recognize aloud that you understand what he is up against. The less you fight it and instead identify the outside forces, the more likely he is to slowly recognize who has his best interest in mind. Let him explain his reasons for working hard, having to be at the office, etc. so he can reflect out loud. Be patient, and wait. How long do you have to wait for your life to get back to normal? After the first year of practice, you should begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. At that point, you should sit down with your spouse and establish what your family priorities are and how you both will live accordingly. Remember, your spouse will likely have forgotten how to be a good spouse and father. He will have to be reminded, and reassimilated into the real world.

by Kathi Browne

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OpenID joz1234 said...

this is a great post. My husband and I have been fortunate to escape most of this, but I can definitely relate to the part where you described marrying into medicine: "When my husband and I began talking about marriage, he made sure I understood that he was committed to medicine. I knew he was asking me to commit to it, too, but I had no idea what that really meant at the time - neither of us did."

I remember there have been times in the beginning where I would complain about something and my husband would say: "You knew what you were getting into when we got married. We've always known it would be hard."

That always brought me to a stand still. It made me realize that he was right. Just this past couple of years when he decided to add a fellowship to his residency, we started looking at what our living expenses would be like. I now stay at home whereas before I worked. I do NOT want to send my toddler back to daycare for a year in a new city where I don't know anyone. He and I were talking and he said something of this effect again.

This time it bothered me. I said, "Actually, no. When we got married, you were going to med school and then residency--you never said anything about a fellowship or about the possibility that when this was all over you would want to move somewhere for just a couple years to reap the benefits of higher income to pay off loans just to then move us again in a couple years. Your plans have changed and mine have too. I am staying home with our children while I can. If you wish to take a fellowship that is in an area where we cannot afford, then we need to figure out a way to make it work."

He seemed to understand and has sense opened up to the idea of taking out a little extra loan money for one year in order to make this happen.

I guess in all these years, I have been open to whatever happened. When he laid this on me it felt like a sledgehammer. Not because I didn't want it too. More because I am now charged with thinking for my sons. If we do what he wants to do we will move them around quite a bit in elementary school. As a former teacher, I know the effects of that. I want to avoid making it harder on our kids because of my husband's decisions and unfortunately he is so in tuned with his medical training that he sometimes forgets.

He's coming around. He now understands that we can find a place that we might want to be in for a while to move to after residency and still pay off loans. I'm working on him. ;)

June 20, 2009 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Trisha said...

Thank you so much for such an encouraging post. I can totally relate! Thanka!

June 21, 2009 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

I needed to hear this. I was having one of those weeks. Thanks.

June 25, 2009 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Kazenske said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 27, 2009 at 1:38 AM  
Blogger jrobo215 said...

Thank you so much for this post...it is so important to know that I am not the only one who is going through these things and that it's normal. My husband is starting ortho pgy2 today and even though everyone "thinks" they are prepared for what residency is like, we really have no idea how hard it actually is going to be. Everyone thinks that the hardest part will be him not being around or the inability to make plans because of his uncertain schedule. Those things are hard, however, for me, the hardest part has been how preoccupied he sometiems is when he is home. I get so excited when he is on his way home, thinking that we will spend some great, quality time together, but often he either has reading to do, or is on the phone with the other residents, or just goes straight to bed. It's important to know that people do come out the other side. Thank you again for helping me to remember that!

June 29, 2009 at 9:22 AM  
Anonymous dee4delightful said...

Thank you Kathi for that post. It really helps me understand what girlfriends/wives go through. My situation is a little bit complicated... but lets just say my significant other just started his 1st year of residency (PYG1) this week for Internal Medicine and he wants to go for fellowship too, but it's all up in the air. He's already had his 1st on call and I've already noticed how tired he is. I thank god he can still go to church w/ me!

I've been thinking about marriage and I just wanted to know what I would be getting myself in too.. and reading this I think I've better prepared myself marrying in to medicine. I personally think he's scared to not have time for me and is afraid of hurting me, thats why he avoids it, but if i show him that I realize what he'll be going through.. then I think we can make it. Even through the rough-years ahead of us. I've been supporting him since his undergrad. haha. Thanks!

July 6, 2009 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

thanks for the post - I needed to hear this too. My husband has begun general surgery pgy4 and with each year he regrets his choice to go into medicine. It would be one thing to support a spouse who was bearing through residency but still found some enjoyment in the field - but my husband can't find anything he likes about it. I find myself having to be a constant encourager, putting aside my own feelings and cheering him on. Some days (like today) I'm just tired of doing it. I'm happy to find this blog, thanks again for the post.

July 7, 2009 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Great job, Kathi. I too thought I knew it was going to be hard. But nothing anyone says will prepare you for your actual experience. Sad, but true.

Carol, I'm sorry sweetie. That must be really hard. It is hard enough when your spouse loves what he is doing, but having him not enjoy it would add a whole new level of stress. Hugs to you!

July 9, 2009 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Alaska said...

Carol: I'm a PGY5 general surgery resident wife and I would love to talk to you. My hubby is in a similar mind set and I could use a friend. I'm on facebook as Alaska Turner or you could email me at alaskaturner@gmail.com.

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

September 8, 2011 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Thank you for being so candid and real about what you've experienced. Sometimes I feel that my husband's career is tearing our marriage apart. Other days I am able to keep things in perspective and stay positive but it's hard!

November 7, 2011 at 8:10 AM  

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