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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Stories: Having a Successful Medical Marriage

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Survivor Stories: Having a Successful Medical Marriage

After nine years of marriage (and 11 years together) my husband and I recently experienced a first.  Our close friends told us they were divorcing.  We were shocked.  They are the first of our friends to divorce, although I sadly accept that they probably won’t be the last.  While we were not only shocked at the news of the divorce, we were more surprised by the circumstances that ultimately caused the end.  This was a professional couple that worked a lot, but they seemed to have a great connection and healthy relationship during their limited time together.  It made me wonder how anyone stays married to a professional, specifically a physician. 

I started seeking advice from physician wives I know.  Their answers to my questions were so powerful that I expanded my interviewing to other seasoned wives willing to take the time to answer them.  I focused on wives who have been married to their physician husbands for over 30 years.  I felt that 30 years certainly qualified them as an expert on the subject.

Their insight was amazing.  And with their words came examples of hardship, frugality, adaptation and most importantly, independence.  Not only did it show me how possible it is to have a loving, long-term medical marriage, but was also critical in showing me how much MY attitude, effort, and commitment is needed to make this work.  Given our blog post limits, this is just a snippet of the interviews (one response per question).  The respondents are all anonymous so their names have been changed.

TRAINING What part of training was the most challenging? How did you get through it?

Linda – “Internship was definitely the hardest.  At the time my husband was an intern we had 4 children one being a newborn.  He worked probably 120 hours a week (no kidding!).  I just learned that we had to go on with life with or without him there.  We ate dinner at 6:00 and if he was there great, if not he ate when he got home.  We had to keep a schedule for the kids’ sake.”

SUPPORT SYSTEM What is and was your support system for challenging times? How did you keep your sanity?

Karen –“ I would say our biggest support system besides each other would have to be our friends that we were close with in the Emergency Residency program.   Our family on both sides was out of state and too far away to see much more than on holidays and summers.   So, our support system became our fellow residency friends who were going through the same things that we were at the same time.  We soon learned that they were our new “FAMILY” who we could count on and go to in an emergency.  About 3 weeks after my husband started his new residency, I had a miscarriage, and needed to go to the hospital.   Since we had to find someone to care for our 10 month old daughter quickly, we called our new friends, a couple we had just met in the residency program a few days before and asked if they could help us out with her while we went to the hospital.   They were our angels and came to our rescue that day in a time of crisis and need, which was such a gift for us and our daughter.  We realized that day our new friends were our  "new family” and to this day our connection to these special people is a priceless treasure.”

SACRIFICE What personal sacrifice have you made for your husband's career? Has this created problems in your marriage? How did you overcome any resentment?

Susan – “Well, me not having a career.  When my husband and I got married I kinda knew what I was getting into, although we didn’t have a lot of physicians in the family our next door neighbor was a surgeon and I noticed he was never home.  So I kinda knew it was going to be a rigorous schedule for my husband.  And we talked about that and I made the decision, we made the decision together, that I was able to stay home with the kids.  And that was definitely a gift.   It didn’t create any problems.  I accepted it, and had been in fashion merchandizing which did not have great pay, and the next level would have meant travelling and doing buying and I didn’t see that fitting into the equation.  I really wanted to have two or three children and that’s a big commitment.  Somebody’s got to be there and frankly, now that I hear the stories after they had grown up, apparently I missed a few things along the way – even though I was home full time.  So I can’t imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t around.”

FAMILY PLANNING  When did you join your husband on your journey? What is the best time to start a family? What types of things did you do to keep consistency in your family life? 

Mary - “We had our first child when he was PGY3 and second child when he was moonlighting while starting a new practice.  I have to give my husband the credit for keeping as much consistency as possible.  He insisted on "family dinners" every night - whether in or out.  I, on the other hand insisted on date nights every weekend!  Still do!  I needed something to look forward to by the end of the week.  We employed local teens to babysit when we moved 30 minutes from my parents.  We also took weekend trips alone - something I usually planned --again, something I needed to keep sane.”

MARRIAGE Did you know what you were getting into marrying a physician? How do you nurture your marriage?

Nancy – “My best friend's mother was married to a busy general surgeon.  She raised six children almost on her own.  She was a marvelous role model - a woman of grace and elegance, who sat me down six weeks before my wedding and told me how he wouldn't be around for most of the important things in our lives - and that if I couldn't handle that without making him FEEL BADLY about it, I shouldn't dare walk down that aisle. She told me he would already feel badly enough about everything he would miss, and that if I showered resentment on top of that, we wouldn't have a good marriage.  She was right, and I recount that story to every potential physician partner I've ever met.”

FAITH Did faith have an impact on your success as a married couple? 

Patricia – “We are not involved in organized religion, but we share the same values and desire to be decent people. We believe in God, that people are more than just themselves and part of something bigger, and we believe things happen for a reason that has a greater purpose. Our faith is something we have in common and one of the reasons we have remained in love. In other words, we admire each other’s values even though we know we are imperfect and make mistakes. We’ve never doubted that we are well-intended and that helps us approach challenges between us.”

FINANCIAL What's one piece of financial advice you can give to younger medical couples? 

Patricia – “ My advice is to realize that money represents different things to different people and when you’re dealing with money you aren’t really talking about dollars but people’s fears and dreams. Know what money means to your spouse… what it represents (security, self-worth, social acceptance, freedom, etc) and then work from there. Without understanding this, the potential for conflicts over finances unnecessarily increases.”

FUTURE OF MEDICINE What are the new challenges for today’s physicians? Did you or would you encourage your children to pursue medicine?

Linda – “I don’t think today’s physicians are treated the same way as they were years ago.  There are to many insurance worries for a physician NOT to order to many tests because there is always the fear of being sued.  There seem to be less physicians so their work load is greater.  Would my husband do it again…maybe.  None of our 5 children went into medicine because I think they saw how hard it was on their dad, the hours, the time away from family, they see the money is nice but not the hard work and pressure it took to get to this point.”

BENEFITS At what point did you feel like it had all came together? What is the best part of being a physician’s wife?

Karen - “For me, being a physician’s wife, has been and is an honor, with many more positives than negatives.    It is a mixed bag with many sacrifices and frustrations, but also many blessings.  One of the most sobering parts of being a physician’s wife over the years is the awareness that because my husband’s chair is empty at our family dinner table, somebody in the ER just might be getting a second chance at life because my husband is there running a CPR code, saving a heart attack patient from dying far too young, or running the trauma room on a young accident victim.  There is a certain joy in knowing that because our Daddy/husband is gone from our dinner table tonight and is working, that somebody else’s Daddy will be alive and will return to his family’s dinner table next week.”

ADVICE Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything along the way? What lessons of life have you learned?

Mary – “Wow, a tough one.  Everyone has to live their life the way that's most comfortable for them -duh!.  For us it was being a couple, having a family, and just being the true people we are.  No faking it.  You are who you are.  Medicine is not a glamorous job, but with it comes respect and admiration from others.  Don't abuse that.  Make your marriage come first - you won't be sorry.  A lot of women I know put their children first above all else, and end up with lousy marriages.  I never felt that way.  With our kids out and on their own, you only have each other - keep up the fun, the love and the sex!”

If you would like to read more, I have all of the responses compiled into an eBook that is available for free on my website (see below).

 Amber Stueven is wife to an EM physician and mom to two little girls.  She has a website for physician spouses at www.PhysicianSpouses.com *not affiliated with LDW.

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