Married To A Medical Resident Advice

Married to a Medical Resident: Advice for a Healthy Relationship

During our second year at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, my husband and I were asked to speak to a group of medical students about healthy relationships in medicine. It was for a lecture series called, “My Story.” So, I thought I’d share a bit about the Practical Practices for Healthy Relationships in Medicine we went into and add a bit more to our discussion!

Some of these topics will help you establish a healthier attitude toward your relationship and medicine. Others will cover more of the logistics and practical things you can do to maintain healthy relationships while on the medical journey.

Now, a disclaimer on these: These are principles and practices that we have personally found to be helpful in maintaining our own relationship. We don’t claim the lack of doing these things will lead to a poor relationship. We do believe that if these points are put into practice, you will see improvements and strengthen your relationship.

I would encourage you to find ways to implement these ideas in your life. It’s going to look different for everyone and there is no right way to do it.

Embrace Mutuality Over Individuality

Mutuality is an important principle in any committed relationship. You strive to be on the same page when it comes to love, trust, benefit, and support. It is about we—not he, she, or I.

In a medical relationship, mutuality is especially important. The road is long, demanding, and hard. Which is why it’s so important that you have shared goals, especially when it comes to medicine.

It is my husband’s dream to become a doctor. It is also my dream that he becomes a doctor. His goals become my goals, and my goals are his goals.

Which is why I always say “we” are in medical school. Yes, Blade (my husband) is the medical student, but “we” are on this medical journey together.

It goes both ways.

He is just as supportive in my personal goals. Blade supports me as I write and wants me to find fulfillment and purpose in what I do. He is such a good sport and even reads my posts before I publish them. Not to mention that he puts up with my “just one more picture.”

Blade strives to make what is important to me, important to him. I strive to make what is important to Blade, important to me. We feel this is key in healthy relationships. Gordon B. Hinckley said…

“True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well-being of one’s companion.”

How Do You Increase Mutuality in Your Relationship?

Well, you can’t have mutuality if you don’t talk about it. What are the other’s desires and goals? Are you on the same page when it comes to expectations? Do you consider how your decisions and actions affect the other person on a daily basis?

Start by asking questions, showing interest, and giving consistent support. Ask for the other’s opinion on decisions you need to make.

To demonstrate what this mutuality mindset in medicine might look like, I wanted to share our approach to choosing a specialty.

Blade is really interested in orthopedic surgery. However, the road to becoming a surgeon is long and demanding. A surgeon’s lifestyle is notorious for long hours and being on call. Training is generally a lot longer and even as an attending, life can be hectic.

I am personally worried about if we as a family and couple can handle the stress of it. I want our kids to have quality time with their dad. It’s important to me that our kids know Blade loves and supports them. Will they know that when he is gone so frequently?

I also have a fear of essentially being a single parent for a time and season. I love spending time with my best friend and our whole family. Is the lifestyle associated with a surgeon’s life what we want for our family? I also want Blade to find fulfillment and be happy in his role as a physician.

So, I am making sure to do my due diligence in learning about surgery. I am asking questions, talking to medical families in surgery, and listening to podcasts. Doing so informs me and helps me keep an open mind.

Blade has similar fears as mine. His family is his number one priority. Can he balance his roles and still feel like a good surgeon while being a good dad and husband?

After learning about what to expect somewhat within the surgery field and speaking with multiple surgeons, Blade began to look into other specialties that might be more family friendly.

We are both making the effort to be open and consider the needs of the other and our family as a whole. I talk a bit more about this concept of a mutuality mindset and more on the Married to Doctors Podcast, episode 100, Medical Marriage: Mutuality Over Individuality.

Understand the Demands on the Other

Demands on the Medical Student

Healthy relationships strive to understand one another. As the non-medical student in the relationship, if I don’t understand the demands that are on the medical student, I am probably going to put a damper on things. I will be the one making it harder on my medical student.

I likely won’t be very understanding when you have to study again. You can bet I’ll be a little annoyed with how much time you spend with medicine instead of me. I may become clingy, frustrated, needy, and even resentful. Plus, I’ll likely make my medical student feel bad because of my attitude.

I need to understand the demands on my medical student.

The stress of performing well. Understanding the amount of material you have to know is like a fire hose. Knowing that you also are expected to apply what you’re learning in clinic with real patients. 

Being fully aware of the board and shelf exams you have to prepare for and how they will affect the specialties you can pick and residency programs you could match with. Having an appreciation for how they must always be “performing”, especially during clinical rotations.

Oh, and don’t forget about the research articles you should be publishing, meetings you have to attend, and that you should be actively building your resume for residency with leadership positions and community involvement. Add in the lack of sleep and eating and it is a wonder how you even have time for a relationship!

But, guess what? You do it. And for that, we (all of us on the other end of the relationship) thank you.

So, to the non-medical student, strive to understand the demands on your med student. What do they have on their plate? Why are they extra stressed today? How can you help?

Demands on the Non-Medical Student

Now, this is a two-way street.

Ask my husband and he will tell you it is just as important for the medical student to understand the demands on the non-medical student.

Medical school can become consuming. For both parties.

Many significant others of medical students I know are working in some capacity, going to school, putting off school until after residency, moving for medicine, giving up job opportunities, or working hard as a parent.

Strictly speaking from the view of a stay-at-home parent (who is also working part time), life can be lonely, frustrating, and monotonous. There are times where I feel like what I’m doing is not as important. I miss learning and feel that my progression in life no longer matches my spouse.

So, to the medical student, strive to understand the demands on your significant other. They are there to support you through the challenges of school. But, they also need your support and understanding. How do they feel about the stress of medical school? What is on their plate? How can you support them?

When we feel understood, it helps maintain healthy relationships.

I’ll say that again. When we feel understood, it helps maintain healthy relationships.

Sacrifice Becomes Easier

Once you understand the demands on the other, sacrificing becomes easier.

For example, there was a day where my daughter was driving me up the wall. She was recovering from being sick so we hadn’t really been out of the house for a few days. She was whiny and in my face constantly even after one-on-one time all morning.

I was working on a big launch for my job and I HAD to get certain tasks done that day. But, with a toddler climbing in and out of my lap, whining, and demanding I play “Baby Shark” again, I couldn’t get anything done.

Blade and I had been texting throughout the day and he knew I was about to lose it. So, he sent the following text: “I’m coming home. I’ll catch up what I miss in class later tonight.”

He saw my needs and filled it. I felt seen and heard. And even more, helped.

Now, I wouldn’t be angry if he hadn’t offered to come home. I know how important it is for him to attend class because I understand the demands on him as a medical student.

But he saw an opportunity to meet my needs. He knew he’d have time to catch up on the material that evening so he talked with the professor and left.

On my end, when I know Blade is going to have an extra long day, we try to meet up for lunch. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try to drop by with our kids to say hi and give him a short break.

I find that it comes back to doing the small things that may seem inconvenient or insignificant that make the greatest difference.

Now, I said sacrifice would become easier. Understanding the demands doesn’t make it any less of a sacrifice. You are totally allowed to feel frustrated, sad, angry, lonely, depressed, anxious, unimportant, and well, sometimes just plain ticked off. I can totally validate you on those feelings because I’ve had every single one and more.

Keep Important Things Important

This one is pretty straight forward.

It can be really easy to let things get in the way of important things within your relationship because medical school, residency, and beyond is…well, important! This goes for the non-medical student too.

If you don’t keep important things in a relationship important, they will easily be forgotten. Strive to be flexible and compassionate with each other as you work together to do so. What is important is going to vary for each couple. Birthdays, a monthly date night, anniversaries, dinner time, sexual intimacy, and more.

For example, our five year anniversary was November of 2019. We had wanted to do something extra special and go to Chicago since it’s only a five hour drive away. But, as luck would have it, Blade had his musculoskeletal final the day after our anniversary. Add in parental responsibilities and taking an anniversary trip can seem out of the question.

So, we opted for a night in. We ordered some yummy food from our favorite restaurant and watched a movie. It was simple and perfect.

BUT we also made arrangements and pushed our trip back to late November.

It would have been nice to have been able to go on our actual anniversary, but that’s life in general. Things come up and you need to be flexible. The key is to not miss celebrating the actual day in some way.

The how of being flexible and keeping what’s important, important is going to look different for everyone.

Either way, make sure you communicate with one another about how you plan to be flexible and keep what’s important, important. If you don’t, one of you will likely feel forgotten or hurt. Healthy relationships are based on communication.

Make Time to Connect

When it comes to connecting, if you don’t make it happen, it won’t happen.

There will always be something more you have to do or can do, but there are things you should do regardless.

When it comes to connecting, if you don’t make it happen, it won’t happen. There will always be something more you have to do or can do, but there are things you should do regardless.

Find or make a ritual of connection for your relationship.

When trying to set new habits, I find it easiest to stack it. Stack your new habit (connecting with significant other) with something that you already do every day.

When you eat dinner, sit down for class, get in the car to go to work, lay your head on your pillow, or feed your toddler lunch, let that be your cue to connect.

Connecting with each other will look and should look different for every relationship. Here are a few ideas:

  • Lunch dates
  • Send an appreciation text every morning
  • Pick up their favorite treat each Friday on your way home
  • Verbally express what you love about them each day
  • Schedule a weekly or monthly date night
  • Work on a shared hobby or skill you both want to learn
  • Take the time for pillow talk before hitting the light

Something we do each evening is taking the time to read scriptures (even for five minutes) because our faith and relationship with God is important to us. We also love a good Netflix!

Plan Your Week Together

Another important way we take time to connect is through weekly planning.

Every Sunday we do weekly planning. It has helped us understand the demands on the other, connect, and stay on the same page amidst the craziness of medical school. I talked about this in Year One as a Med School Wife and truly feel this is a key to healthy relationships.

It is essentially a planning session where we can prepare for the coming week, set goals, and check in on our relationship.

We use a white board with dry erase markers for our calendar. I even color code each component of planning. You can use a big calendar, your phones, or daily planners. But I find it is key to get it written down somewhere where everyone can see it.

Having your week written down and planned out doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. In fact, it allows more flexibility when you know what to expect.

Below are the components that make up our weekly planning sessions. I know plenty of people who do something similar. So, make your weekly planning your own.

Schedules

We quickly walk through each other’s schedules. I write down when Blade will be gone, if he has any tests, meetings, or other commitments for the week. I do the same for me with work, church responsibilities, mom duties, or other plans.

We also jot down any errands or chores that need to be done like grocery shopping.

Having our schedules written down helps us stay on the same page. I can be more aware of when he will need more time to study and around when he will be home. He in turn is aware of my schedule and needs with the kids so he knows where he can help.

This is such a great tool to help each of us understand the demands on the other.

Meals

We also plan out dinners. Sometimes we are great at following our meal plan, and other times it all goes out the window.

But having an outline of potential meals not only helps you make and stick to the grocery list (which saves money), it cuts out what can seem like the biggest dilemma of the day: What are we going to eat for dinner??

You may laugh, but it’s because you know it’s true!

Planning out meals gives us plenty of options. That way we have back ups if something doesn’t sound good or if we don’t have all the ingredients we need because we didn’t get to the store.

Pro tip: Make extra so you can have leftovers as one or more of your meal options!

Weekly or Monthly Dates

To be honest, this is something we are not great at. Yet.

We have good intentions and need to improve our game when it comes to planning and carrying out date night.

At one point, we tried to switch off who plans the date night….But that just didn’t work. So, we are still trying to find something that works.

Often our date nights look like cuddling up on the couch with a movie, Oreos, and a glass of milk. We also often do family lunch dates on campus when Blade has a busy day.

I guess sometimes the difference between a “date” and a “non-date” activity is as simple as calling it a date and treating it as such. Put forth the effort to have a good conversation and some fun together!

Dates are the insurance for your relationship and definitely a way to maintain healthy relationships.

Finances

We actually call this portion of weekly planning our “money date.” We only do this once a month, on the first Sunday to be exact. (I put it in my calendar on my phone so I don’t forget!)

It’s well known that money is one of the biggest reasons couples argue. Which is why it’s important to discuss often to maintain healthy relationships, with significant others and kids.

This finance section is actually a recent addition to our planning session. Here’s why we added it and why you should too as a medical family…

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may remember my post about paying a whooping $645 for STEP 1 and having some unexpected medical expenses that we thought insurance was covering because Blade is a Type 1 diabetic.

It got us thinking that we should start being more proactive in saving for future inevitable expenses like STEP 2, residency applications, and residency interviews. So, we started a sinking fund for these big expenses.

If you want to learn more about sinking funds, here are a few resources I’d recommend:

To figure out how much we should be saving, I polled 136 medical spouses in a group I’m a part of about how much they spent for residency prep. Not going to lie, the responses made me want to throw up. The large majority of them spent between $8,000-$10,000, some even spent $15,000.

Least to say, we were unprepared with how expensive it is going to be.

So, we’ve set goals for our sinking fund and added the possibility of a down payment on a house/moving depending where we match. If we save more than we need, there is always debt reduction/living expenses. Add in an awesome rewards card and a money date at the beginning of each month, and we should be able to stay on track.

But still. This medical journey is EXPENSIVE.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be many other expenses for board exams, license renewals, insurance, and more.

Hence, why we made a commitment to have a money date once a month. All so we can strive to be on top of our finances and not be in debt for the rest of our lives. Ok, exaggerating, but debt for medical school and residency is a real thing.

The finances portion of planning for us right now is as simple as updating an excel sheet with the most recent numbers. Bank account totals, income, expenses from the previous month, upcoming expenses, when loans are going to disperse, and how we are doing with our sinking fund.

We also make sure to pay off the credit cards and pay tithing to our church.

Even just the process of putting this all down on a spreadsheet gave me some peace about it.

Conduct a Relationship Inventory

We also call this “companionship inventory” because it’s a concept we both learned while serving missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

(Special Note: If you have deep-rooted issues in your relationship, I encourage you to go see a therapist or counselor.)

This is probably one of the most important parts in my opinion to maintaining healthy relationships in medicine. We implemented this within the first year of our marriage and it has made all the difference. We ask each other three questions.

  • What went well?
  • What can I/we work on?
  • How can I help you this week?

Now, this may seem formal or awkward, especially the first few times! But I like to compare it to doing dishes.

If we let the dishes pile up over the week, by Saturday it’s going to take forever to get everything clean. There is going to be mold and crusty old cheese from Monday’s enchiladas stuck on the pan. Oh, and don’t even mention the smell.

You’ll have to let things soak for awhile, put quite a bit of elbow grease into it, or break out the power washer.

If you do the dishes daily, rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher or clean them right after dinner, your sink and dishes remain clean.

Checking in weekly with a relationship inventory, marriage meeting, or whatever you want to call it, can help maintain our relationships so the “dirty dishes” don’t pile up.

Relationship Inventory Conversation Example

Here is a quick example of a relationship inventory.

Person A: I really appreciated it when you sent me those encouraging texts in the middle of the day. Made me feel loved. Something you could work on this week is to not be on your phone so much when you’re home. We could both work on that.

Person B: Responds to Person A’s comment.

Person B: You are always so willing to help others in need. Like this week you did…(fill in the blank). I really love that about you. This week if you could take out the garbage, that’d be great.

Person A: Responds to Person B’s comment.

Both follow up with how they can help the other in the coming week.

To be clear, this is not just a time to discuss frustrations, argue, or bring up every petty issue you have with them. To be even clearer, this is not just a time to discuss frustrations, argue, or bring up every petty issue you have with them.

That would actually create an unsafe zone.

This is about recognizing each other’s (and the relationship’s) strengths and helping improve weaknesses.

Benefits of a Weekly Relationship Checkin

So, here are a few other benefits we’ve found from having weekly relationship check-ins.

  • Having a set time to come together, like weekly planning, provides a safe place to talk openly and honestly to share any concerns, frustrations, or hurt feelings without fear of judgement.
  • Gives you time to cool off and come together with level heads.
  • Can lead to needed forgiveness conversations.
  • Helps you recognize the good in the other and increase gratitude.
  • Encourages improvement in the relationship and the individual.
  • Helps keep important things, like your relationship, important.

How to Conduct a Relationship Inventory

Start With the Good

If you aren’t in a good place with your relationship to give each other constructive feedback, start with the good.

For the first few months, focus only on the good. Compliment each other and look for reasons to do so. Here’s a few questions to get you thinking:

  • What were your relationship victories this week?
  • When did they make your day?
  • What do they rock at?
  • Why did you appreciate them this week?
  • What do you love about them and why?

Be Open to Honest Feedback

This can sometimes be a hard thing to do. But if you both approach the relationship inventory out of love and desire to improve, it can make it easier when you don’t get the best of reviews that week.

Keep It Simple

This conversation should only take 10-20 minutes. If you find you are coming with a long laundry list of issues to address, maybe assess your own expectations. Given, if there are some more heavy topics you want to discuss, this is a great place to do so as well.

Also, don’t forget that last question! How can I help you this week? It makes all the difference.

Chose to Fight for Your Relationship

While both of us will agree that our marriage is pretty good, we also know there are things we can and need to work on. Our relationship and marriage is not perfect, by any means.

Marriage and maintaining healthy relationships is hard work.

Sometimes our planning sessions suck or there are multiple days or weeks in a row where we don’t seem to really connect.

When days are long, it can be hard not to argue or be short with each other. Sometimes one of us just wants to be done with med school and quit.

So, we can either accept that reality and work within it. Or we can give up, and lose what we’ve fought so hard to keep.

It will take time as you figure out what works for your relationship. Maybe you only focus on one or two things from this that resonated with you. Either way, it will be worth it in the end to work on having healthy relationships.

Choose to fight for your relationship. Don’t become one of the statistics whose relationship falls apart because of medicine.

  • Come learn with me how to navigate the other side of med school before, during and after. I am the blogger behind The Med School Wife (themedschoolwife.com). I hope to be a resource to those applying to medical school and their significant other. Some posts are more formal and informative, others are casual and personal.

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