Medical Marriage Q&A: Developing Emotional Connection
By Kim Blackham
(Editor’s Note: In this week’s post, Marriage and Family Therapist and medical spouse Kim Blackham responds to a reader’s question from her September post on medical marriage.)
Q: We have been married 16 years, have three kids, and have been in this medical life for 12 years. This is good advice for the business side of the marriage, but what about the more emotional side? I feel like we are business partners at best. After work, kids, and finances, we have no time to actually share our thoughts and feelings (which are hard to pry out of him on a good day).
A: The last several decades of research in the field of romantic relationships have shown us that strong relationships are not built on communication or problem solving skills, but rather on strong emotional connections. We live in a society that values emotional independence and the demands of a medical career often require it. It will take a concerted effort to fight against these tendencies and remain emotionally close with those we love.
Make Moments Matter
Unfortunately, we may only have a few minutes each day to connect. Make the most of that time. Frequent texts and emails, as well as phone calls, to check in throughout the day can help your spouse know he or she matters and you are thinking about him or her. Take an interest in your spouse’s work – whether that is in medicine or as a stay-at-home-parent. Sincerely ask about his or her day and value what he or she does. If your partner has a few free minutes at work, stop by for a quick lunch or dinner break. Hire a babysitter and join him or her at the hospital for a few hours while he or she is on call.
Ask For What You Want and Need Without Being Critical, and When Your Spouse Delivers, Let It Count
We often feel that if we have to ask for what we want and need then it doesn’t count.
In disgust, one woman told me of the day her husband brought her flowers after she had mentioned the night before that it would be nice if he would do that more often.
“He only did it because I asked him to,” she said. “That doesn’t count!”
I pointed out that it is pretty remarkable to have a husband who listened to her and made an effort to respond to her request immediately! It took some time, but eventually she began to see that it did count when she asked for something and her spouse responded.
Both of you are likely exhausted and preoccupied with a zillion other thoughts and concerns. It is unfair and unreasonable to assume that your partner will know everything you need if you are unwilling to tell him. Don’t make him or her read your mind and don’t assume you automatically know what he or she needs either. Ask him – frequently, and then make every effort to fulfill your spouse’s requests.
Get Away Alone Together
Regularly leave your responsibilities behind and just be together. Find an activity you both enjoy and creatively work it into your lives now. It could be as simple as going out to dinner or as elaborate as a European vacation. The point is to find time just to enjoy each other on a regular basis – now. Use that time to connect and talk about how you are both feeling rather than another planning meeting to coordinate your busy lives.
Develop Rituals For Comings and Goings
Ask your physician partner to call you on thte way home from work to talk about the day. When your partner walks in the door, stop what you are doing and greet him or her with a kiss.
It is likely that your physician spouse leaves the house long before you care to be up for the day. Are you willing to be awakened as the doctor is leaving to kiss you goodbye? Or would you consider getting up a few mornings a month to start the day together?
Spend More Time Snuggling
When we snuggle and are physically close to a loved one, our brains release a natural chemical known as oxytocin. Recently, oxytocin has received a lot of well-deserved attention. Researchers now understand that this hormone, which is naturally released in the brain during orgasm, cuddling, breastfeeding, and labor, is nature’s way of building strong emotional bonds. Some researchers suggest that oxytocin may play a role in building trust and decreasing infidelity.
Instead of watching TV on opposite sofas, cuddle up on the same couch. Rather than quick pecks and short hugs, take a few minutes each day to stop what you are doing and tune into each other. Challenge yourself to slow down and shoot for 30 second kisses and two minute hugs.
Make time for sex. When you are both exhausted or when there is emotional disconnection, it can be hard to want to be physically close. We will talk more about strengthening a sexual relationship in another post, but for now, despite all the potential roadblocks, try to make physical intimacy a priority in your relationship.
Kim Blackham is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist. She has extensive training in Sex Therapy and Sexual Addiction Therapy and is a frequent contributor to both online and print media. As the wife of a surgeon, she is passionate about helping couples in medical marriages. She and her husband have four children ages 3-12 and live in Tampa, Florida. Visit her online at www.kimblackham.com or contact her directly at [email protected].