doctor's spouse

How To Manage Feelings of Resentment As A Doctor’s Spouse or Partner

It’s real and it’s ok. The real question is, what can you do when resentment rears its ugly head as a doctor’s spouse or partner? Before addressing how to deal with it and what to do about it, let’s first get something clear: resentment is a completely normal feeling that most doctor spouses and partners will feel at one point in time during their relationship. You’re not a bad person, nor are you an unsupportive spouse or partner if you’re feeling this way. How you deal with the resentment, however, is a whole different animal (one that you may not want to be).

Navigating these waters can be exhausting for a doctor’s spouse or partner, especially when you’re trying to be understanding of the demands of a physician’s schedule and the requirements of their training. We’re all human. Resentment can start to build, little by little. Before you know it, it’s taken over and your life isn’t what either of you dreamed it would be. 

Below are some signs that you may be feeling resentment as a doctor’s spouse or partner. 

  • Easy to anger
  • Possess feelings of frustration or hostility
  • Keeping score
  • Obsess over things that are wrong instead of what’s right
  • Avoid your spouse/partner
  • Lack of interest in sex or intimacy with your spouse/partner
  • Talk poorly about your spouse/partner to others
  • Purposefully trying to annoy or upset your spouse/partner

If you’re feeling any of these things, here are some tips and tricks to help you manage to get past them. 

Determine Root Cause

Just like any problem, determine the root cause and it will be easier to solve. Life looks different when your significant other is a doctor; therefore, the root cause may be comprised of multiple factors. Long hours at work; not helping with the family and household; moving to another state for residency, thus leaving career, community, and family. Do any of these seem familiar?

In medicine, long hours at work don’t generally translate to avoidance or infidelity, but rather more likely due to a difficult case or chart completion activities. Not helping with the kids or around the house after a long day isn’t necessarily a sign of laziness, as much as it’s related to mental exhaustion. Moving to another state resulting in the spouse or partner quitting their favorite job is not a decision physicians generally get to make on their own. 

While these explanations are not excuses, they can still be a hard pill to swallow.

When resentments build, the waters get muddied and it can feel like anything and everything is a problem. It’s only when you take the time to do some soul searching that you discover when you began to feel this way and you can determine the root cause.

Where do you start? If you haven’t already, think about bouncing your feelings off of a friend who understands what you’re going through. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust to be level-headed, unbiased, and non-judgmental may help ease the burden. This can help you work through some of your feelings before you address them with your doctor spouse or partner. 

Also, ask yourself these questions to gain some clarity: 

  • Why does this bother me? 
  • What bothers me and what just annoys me? 
  • Am I mad at him/her or am I mad at “medicine” in general? 
  • Do I feel resentment because of the season of life or is this something that will continue after training, with a new job, etc? 
  • What do I think would help to resolve the resentment?

Communicate Feelings of Resentment

Let’s be honest. While communication is key to any relationship, when you’re feeling resentful, sometimes you don’t want to talk to that person about your feelings. Sometimes, you may even feel ashamed to admit what you’re feeling. 

Here are some tips to get the conversation going:

  • Prepare for the conversation. Depending on your style, sort it out in your mind; write down talking points; memorize what you want to say. If you think it might help, say these things out loud in front of a mirror to know how you will sound, which will also allow you to tweak your words if you don’t like how they came out.
  • Anticipate how your spouse/partner may react. Put yourself in their shoes, with compassion. He/she may be completely surprised or completely aware. What is your response to either perspective? Be prepared to give examples; be prepared to listen if they decide to share. Don’t worry. If you listen, you’ll have the opportunity to talk.
  • Decide when to have the conversation. Even though you may feel like it, it’s not a good idea to spring your feelings on your partner in the heat of the moment; as he/she is getting ready to walk out the door; or right after they come home from a long day. Take a minute to assess the best time for both of you to talk about your feelings and leave enough time to have a productive conversation. 
  • Decide where to have the conversation. If you’re feeling heated over a subject, think about having the conversation in public, at a restaurant, or in a park. Only you will know if you can maintain your composure in this situation. Perhaps the privacy of your own home, where you are comfortable, works best for you.  
  • Get in your best frame of mind. Make sure you’re addressing your feelings in a productive way. Approach it from your perspective with “I feel like [feeling] when I’m home for such long hours…” Do not use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, as such exaggeration will likely make things worse. Avoid saying ‘you do this’ and ‘you do that’ as it will put the recipient on the defense from the very beginning. Remember, the desire is to have a productive conversation that results in an improved relationship, not another level of resentment…now by both parties.
  • Know what outcome you desire. What do you want out of this conversation? Do you want change? What change do you want? Do you just want your spouse/partner to acknowledge your feelings are valid and show appreciation? Regardless of what you want, ideally, you want to leave your conversation with a ‘next steps’ or a plan to address your feelings of resentment. 

Although this may not be something you want to do, it’s something you must do if you want to heal these feelings of resentment and improve your relationship. These feelings didn’t come about overnight. They’re not going to be resolved that quickly, either. Going through the effort, however, will be worth it! Also, remember, in every interaction, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. 

Make A Plan

Have you ever heard the quote, ‘If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”? 

So many times in life we make the decision that ‘something’ will change or ‘something’ will happen and it never comes to fruition because we fail to plan. The only way to work through your resentment is to make a plan. It could be something as simple as finding a way to fight that feeling because it’s a small bump in the road, to something as big as making an appointment for couples therapy. Whatever you do, walk away with a plan and put it into action. 

Below are some common themes we’ve seen with resentment in medical marriages and ideas, or ‘plans’, to help you and your doctor spouse/partner get past them. 

How much time you spend alone, without your doctor spouse/partner:

  • Schedule regular date nights – This doesn’t have to be weekly, nor do you need to go out, just set an evening aside on a regular basis where you know the two of you will have dinner without interruptions and can focus on each other. 
  • Designate times for family – 1-2 hrs before/after dinner is spent with the family.
  • Shift work physicians – Be flexible and committed to identifying designated family time (this can be tough but well worth it).
  • Ensure the small bits of time together are more personal – Life gets busy. Make an effort to ask questions and wonder about each other’s feelings. Volunteer your thoughts and fight the resentment if they haven’t asked you. This can be something as light as what you thought about a movie, or as deep as you’re sad because you miss your family. Practice makes perfect. The more you make an effort to hear what’s on their mind and share what’s on yours, it will become a natural activity you’ll both look forward to. 

Being pigeon-holed in the support role:

  • Identify tasks and responsibilities for both parties – Sometimes it’s easier to assign the responsibilities at home in order to manage expectations. Who takes out the trash? If I make dinner, you clean up. We both help with bathing the kids, then we alternate reading a book before bedtime. 
  • Have a weekly reset meeting – Review what needs to be done for the week, who’s going to do it, and how you’re both feeling about it. 
  • Ask for your partner’s participation – It’s easy to fall into the “it’s easier if I just take care of it” mentality. Make a plan to communicate your need for their assistance and have the patience to allow them to rise to the occasion. 

The career you lost because of a move or need to stay at home with the kids: 

  • Make time for something else that fulfills you in a different capacity – Is there a volunteer opportunity in your new community? Check out the Ikigai formula to discover a new purpose.
  • Find a virtual version, similar to your previous job – Fortunately, there are many remote opportunities for people who want to work from home. Maybe your old company would even allow you to work from home, in a different capacity. 
  • Find help so you’re able to fulfill your desire to work – Find a daycare, a family member, or ask your spouse for help (can your physician spouse/partner do charts at home instead of at work?).

Focus On The Good 

Study upon study shows that focusing on the good improves quality of life. There are many positives to life in medicine, sometimes you just need to pay more focus to them. Also, express gratitude. Think about where you might show appreciation; what you are thankful for in your relationship, and in your life. 

When To See A Therapist

You should consider seeing a therapist if:

  • You’ve had multiple conversations and continue to feel like you aren’t making any progress. 
  • One or both of you aren’t willing to listen or one of you is gaslighting the other’s concerns.
  • Your doctor spouse is making career decisions that don’t involve you or take your concerns into consideration.
  • You feel like your conversations need moderation and/or a deeper understanding in order to move forward.

Some things will never change in medicine – doctors in training will always work long hours, there’s always the possibility that training will move you across the country, and patients will always come first. Some situations are temporary and some are not. To fend off resentment as a doctor’s spouse/partner, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and be honest when it comes to feelings about moves, job changes, career requirements, etc. While it may not change the circumstance, you and your partner will have the opportunity to manage through the challenges together in a happy, healthy way.

If you’re interested in more information to help physician spouses and partners manage life in medicine, check out more Family & Relationship articles on The MedCommons

  • Elizabeth Landry

    Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

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