medical marriage

Medical Marriage: 6 Traits Doctors Need To Be A Great Spouse 

How happy are you with your medical career? What about your relationship with your spouse or partner? Now ask your spouse/partner how happy they are with both and that should give you a pretty good indication of how things are really going in your medical marriage. 

It’s easy for physicians and their families to coast into autopilot when schedules are busy and everyone is constantly running in opposite directions. Taking a few minutes to evaluate how your relationship is going and what you can do to make improvements can go a long way to create a healthy, happy partnership. 

The fact that you’re here is a great start.

In ‘Dating A Doctor? 10 Traits You’ll Need If This Is Meant To Be‘, we provided helpful hints to help your spouse/partner navigate through a relationship with you, as a physician. Now we’re turning the tables to help you understand what they may need in order to build a relationship that withstands the demands of your medical career. Here’s what you need to know.

Appreciation + Gratitude

Appreciation is the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something. Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation. 

Mutual appreciation + gratitude for each person’s contribution to the relationship sets the foundation for a healthy partnership in medicine. While these are important attributes for any couple, most relationships don’t have the same dynamic as relationships in medicine. 

For example, there’s a well-known sacrifice of time, effort, energy, stress, and money that goes into becoming a physician: 

  • ~$350k in medical school debt
  • 7+ additional years of education and training after college
  • 80+ hrs work weeks during residency
  • MCAT, USMLEs, board exams

These are sizable sacrifices that paint a clear picture of how truly difficult it is to become a doctor. By and large, there’s also a very clear picture of benefits reaped from these sacrifices: a comfortable income and home, the ability to save for the future, etc.

Now let’s take a look at a picture that’s not so clear. One where physician spouses and partners make everyday sacrifices to support their loved one’s medical career. Oftentimes spouses/partners: 

  • Move away from their friends, family, careers, and community to support their loved one’s medical career, leaving them alone to start over in a new community.
  • Spend a considerable amount of time without their partner/spouse, making them feel alone and isolated. 
  • Become the default parent, responsible for making the majority of decisions for their children’s care, socialization, and activities.

These are just to name a few.

Each of these things alone may not seem as grandiose or as obvious as hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt or years of intensive training. Let’s be honest, though. Added up, these sacrifices build a foundational support system for the physician family and are essential to physician wellness.

Here’s the good news, showing a bit more appreciation + gratitude for your loved one requires minimal effort that will reap significant, positive results. 

  • Reset before you walk in the door. While your days may look very different, your partner probably had a hard day, too. You’re about to see your best friend, the love of your life. Walk in with a smile on your face and your arms open wide. Research shows such physical contact helps the emotional state of the giver and receiver.
  • Be aware of your loved one’s state of emotion. If it looks like they’re struggling, tell them ‘thank you for all you do’ and let them know how much you appreciate them and their sacrifices. 
  • Feeling it and saying it aloud are two different things. You may think to yourself, “they know I love them and how much I appreciate them.” It always feels good to hear it, though. Make it a forever thing. It becomes harder to say as life goes on if you don’t make it a regular practice.

Communication

Physician spouses/partners spend a lot of time waiting, working, and planning around a physician’s schedule. We understand a busy patient schedule can sometimes get in the way and alter plans. Be understanding of the frustration that comes from your partner when there’s little to no communication about such delays. 

Again, it takes little effort and time to think about how these changes affect your partner and be a good communicator. Sending a quick text or calling to have a 10-minute conversation can go a long way in satisfying the need for communication.

Learning and practicing open communication can only strengthen your relationship. Make it second nature in the daily routine and it will serve you well in areas such as: 

  • How you’re feeling after a tough shift so your partner understands how they can help and/or help you seek support if necessary. 
  • Honesty and assurance when discussing any close relationships with other hospital staff. 
  • Career concerns or any feelings of physician burnout. 

Listening To Understand

We get it. After seeing patients all day, you may feel like you can’t listen to how one. more. person. feels. or what they need. However, your home is your safe zone, your soft place to land. If you cherish it, taking the time to truly listen will benefit you and the person who needs you to hear them the most. 

Not so great at listening to understand outside of medicine? This may be a worthwhile skill to research. Read about it or watch a YouTube video (such as this one) on active listening, and practice! Here are some helpful hints:

  • Ask how they’re doing, sit and listen. Make eye contact (as in, put your phone in your pocket). 
  • Repeat back to them in different words to show understanding.
  • Ask probing questions to dig deeper.
  • Do not jump to solving their ‘problem’ before they ask for your advice or you’ve fully listened to them.
  • Hug them to let them know you care. You’ll get through this together.

Encouragement

Definition: the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope; persuasion to do or to continue something.

How do you feel when someone gives you sincere encouragement? Exactly. It feels great. 

Physician spouses and partners can get so busy putting other people first, they can easily get stuck in the support role and don’t know how to take care of themselves. Be thoughtful for and about them. Encourage them to have a ‘me day’ or to take the time to pursue a passion while you take care of the homestead. This kind of encouragement helps breathe life into the relationship, as it will give happiness and confidence to your spouse/partner.

Compassion

Love and compassion go hand in hand. Expressing them does not. ‘’I love you.” “Thank you.” “You’re the best.” All beautiful, loving sentiments. They’re much-needed and should be said often. This, however, is not what your spouse or partner is looking for or what they need when they’re sad, lonely, or frustrated. 

What do they need? Again, do not try to solve the problem before you’re asked. Try to put yourself in their shoes, go back, and use the hints in ‘Listening to Understand.” Listen carefully without judgment, and provide encouragement and understanding.

It takes both partners actively participating to build a strong, thriving relationship in medicine. Take a look at Dating A Doctor? 10 Traits You’ll Need If This Is Meant To Be and share both articles with your loved one. Let’s face it, only good will come from taking heed of these recommendations. Practicing them will have you well on your way to relationship bliss.

If you’re interested in more information to help physician spouses/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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