So You Married a Physician…

 

So You Married a Physician…

By Julia E. Sotile, MSW, LCSW: Mary O. Sotile, MA, LPC; Wayne M. Sotile, PhD.

 

JuliaSotile

Our years of experience working with physicians and their families have taught us that medical couples (both one- and two-physician couples) who transition into and out of medical training deal with a similar dynamic: Each life change comes with joyful anticipation, and each soon results in a “reality collision” that can unsettle any couple. In each case, the relationship dynamics are somewhat predictable. Here’s what we have noticed.

Most couples, medical or not, enter into a marriage and/or life together with a sense of awe. This seems to be particularly true for spouses of physicians. Physicians are (appropriately) revered in our society as smart, powerful, well intended people; people worthy of awe.

But what happens when the excitement and novelty of beginning a life together subsides? What happens to the awe? From the work we have done with countless medical families we have learned that this awe tends to settle into a slightly different version of reality. This reality may take on different forms during different stages of life, but for young medical couples entering into a life together, so often this reality comes as a bit of a tidal wave. Take for example, medical students or residents and their spouses. While the student/resident gets swept along by his or her training curriculum, the life mate may be left to navigate an unfamiliar city with no shepherding presence. So often we hear of physician spouses struggling to adjust to this new reality, and to accept that the awe that once characterized their thoughts about life as a spouse/mate of a physician seem distant to feelings of loneliness and longing for days past.

Most young medical families today are also face with tremendous financial strains and the shock of educational debt. For recent graduates, the reality of a six-figure educational debt, coupled with the “fall from power” that comes with transitioning from senior resident to youngest member of the new group or department unsettles the anticipated “now, finally, we get to celebrate that we’ve made it!” In fact, so many young medical families are overwhelmed by a new reality of “turns out we are just getting started!”

Here’s the good news: Countless couples navigate these transitions and come out stronger for having had the experience. Here are a few guidelines we have taken from the many couples who have allowed us into their lives during these challenging times:

1. Be realistic. The challenges of work/life balance are never ending, and this juggling act is a code that is never cracked. The key is to learn how to appropriately care for yourself and each other, along the way.

2. Keep your eye on the meaning of the journey. Remembering that you are engaged in a noble profession and that, as a couple and a family, you are contributing to the world may sound homespun, but it is key to avoiding demoralization and resentment.

3. Now is as good a time as any to stop “waiting until.” How can we relax and enjoy ourselves and each other when we are on a journey that never stops? That is the medical couple’s gauntlet.

4. Accept that it’s not all about medicine. Relationship dynamics are predictable and manageable, doctor or not. (Much more about this topic will appear in our forthcoming columns. Stay tuned for information about the keys to building a resilience toolkit that can safeguard your relationship, even amidst times of a major transition.)

Physicians today arguably face more work/life challenges than any prior generation. But, here is some more good news: Physicians and their mates tend to be extraordinarily capable, intelligent, high achieving folks. The keys to successfully navigating these challenging times are accessible, tangible, and applicable for you and your families. We hope that you will continue to work to take care of yourselves and one another, and that you will always make efforts to reconnect or continue to embrace that old feeling of awe.

We welcome your comments and insights.

Julia E. Sotile, MSW, LCSW

Mary O. Sotile, MA, LPC

Wayne M. Sotile, Ph.D.

 

The Sotiles are founders of the Center for Physician Resilience, in Davidson, North Carolina, an organization committed to fostering resilience for physicians, medical families, and medical organizations. Over 10,000 physicians and medical families have engaged in their unique, time-intensive coaching/counseling process. They also speak internationally and provide consultation to medical organizations. For more information, visit them at www.TheResilientPhysician.com

 

6 thoughts on “So You Married a Physician…

  1. Great article! Will be sharing on our FB page for Aus Dr’s Spouses. Thx

  2. Rachel White says:

    I navigated college, medical school and the first year of residency as a single woman with a long-distance (3-8 hours at different times in my education) relationship. The man I dated for 7 years became my husband 10 months ago. He moved, at that time, to the state where I am doing my residency; 4 hours from our hometown of Indianapolis. Many of our conversations have reflected the things you have stated in this post. I believe I realized it would be hard for him to leave his family, his friends and the job he was comfortably excelling at. I also believe I realized the first year of marriage would have ups and downs. However, I didn’t realize how he would have to find his identity again or how he would be “left to navigate an unfamiliar city with no shepherding presence.” It took 9 months for him to find a job which has added extra monetary stress to our lives as we were 2 people living on the budget I had created for one person. He is still searching for those friends and mentors to walk with him through this stage in life. I completely feel responsible for moving him from his comfort zone to the unknown. This first year of marriage holds many changes and challenges. However, we are walking through it together with Jesus at the helm. We will continue to take the frequent tumultuous changes of a life in medicine in stride and to take them together. However, I do find we are frequently stating “wait until…” Thank you for pointing out that the “gauntlet” never stops and it’s time to enjoy our life in residency for what it is: time limiting, exhausting, and our first 3 years of walking through life together.

    • Rachel, thank you for sharing your insights. How fortunate that you chose to marry someone who is willing to support you through your training, even at the expense of his own “comfort zone.” There is a steadily growing number of physician husbands who seem to have even fewer support options than physician wives, and we need to find ways to help support non-physician men who’ve married doctors cope. Medical society alliances are open to male spouses as well as female (some Alliances even have men’s interest groups), and I’m sure any local AMA Alliance affiliated organization in your area would welcome your husband with open arms. If you’d like to share information about where you are so we can connect you with a local group, please email editor@physicianfamilymedia.org. We’re also aware of several physician husbands who have taken the lead in connecting to others, and I’ll be happy to pass your information along to some of them so that your husband can begin a dialogue with them. And kudos and good luck to BOTH of you for the journey ahead.

  3. Brenda Smith says:

    I married a physician at age 50, after several decades of being a hospital social worker and a department head. Both of us have found it so supportive to have a spouse who understands at least somewhat the schedules, pressures , ethical concerns and other issues related to work in healthcare .
    I hope that there will be articles in the future related to the family of midlife and older or retiring physicians .

  4. Gabriela Pena says:

    We are at the beginning of this journey, my husband is MS2, we’ve been married for about 7 years, we had 2 children in undergrad and #3 first year of medical school. Being married for a few years before medical school, I was falsely believing that I know what I was getting myself into, frankly we both did. First year medical school changed us, rocked us to our core. We have a strong belief in God and His plan for all His children, I don’t know if we would have survived without that knowledge and commitment to the covenants of marriage. Articles like yours is what puts things into great perspective, it was like an epiphany when I heard…”stop waiting for ‘it gets better’, this is your life”. Honestly its changed our marriage and our life, I can see the children appreciating this journey and sharing their father. We have many more years of training head, but I am hoping as we just accept this life and it becomes our new normal, we will be happier and a closer family! Thank you again for your insight!

  5. Really nice article. Thanks for writing it!

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