The Doctor is Out: Managing Resentment
By Kelly Houseman
(Our son, a few months old. All the doctor, none of the drama!)
I recently received an email from a new friend asking how I was able to make it through med school, residency, fellowship and now attending life without harboring resentment and while staying supportive. I laughed. I have not always been a doting superwife and mom. We argue, we ignore each other, we avoid the conversation. But we also love each other and have somehow managed to only get stronger year after year despite the hours, the patient complications, the late nights and the absence on the holidays.
The short answer is I haven’t always and I still don’t know how we get through every day. The longer answer I broke down into a few parts that have worked for us over the past 10 years. Here are some of the things I remind myself of when I start to get that bitter feeling creeping in:
1. Keep busy. I was in grad school during his training and worked full time. I found that it was helpful to kind of throw myself into that, as well as working to keep busy. Over time, that transitions to other hobbies/jobs/kids/things to do as well and evolves. The biggest thing I found to keep my sanity is really living MY best life and chasing after MY dreams and what makes me happy. I am his biggest cheerleader but I never stop cheering myself on too.
My husband is married to his job first and me second, and it sounds horrible and sad, but neurosurgery is that lifestyle where the job almost has to be first due to the high stakes nature of it. Accepting that was tough at first, but now I know it just is what it is. I always remember: even though his job is #1 he still loves me more than his profession.
2. Perspective. He is not out at a bar at happy hour every night or staying out late going clubbing ( I feel old even typing the word clubbing – ugh, my 21 year old self hates me. but I can’t stay out past 10 PM anymore!). He is stuck at work (a place I know he would rather be anywhere else BUT). He wants to be home but is putting his life on hold to save others. Surely spending Christmas in an OR instead of holding his new son crushes him and would never be a choice he would choose to make.
3. Patience for Patients. When he is at work he is doing and seeing scary, horrible, amazing, life-changing things. Medicine really is a calling and they are changing someone’s life. What a blessing and a burden to have that challenge daily. I feel bad complaining about dishes in the sink when he comes home and tells me how he was able to help someone walk again. Sure, I would have rather gone out to brunch with him, but that person who he was with this morning instead of me was given another chance at a healthy life. He has received cards and letters thanking him and been given many tear-stained hugs by the patients he was with last Friday until 3 AM or on Thanksgiving Day. He sacrifices his time so that other people can enjoy theirs more.
3. Sanctuary. I try give him some space to decompress and relax. This is so hard for me! Typing this out is a reminder that I need to work on this more. I have my own counseling practice and take care of a young child, so I am chronically exhausted and need some “me” time, too (I get it). I want to make home a sanctuary where we both can relax and unwind. I can get resentful and want him to talk to me about the bills, and upcoming events and play with our son and help around the house, etc., etc., as soon as he walks through the door. But then, I remember the insane hours he’s just worked, and how he’s worried about a patient he operated on being paralyzed or if his patient in the ICU is doing OK.
Doctors take their work home with them and never stop worrying. He needs a few moments to himself just like I do (or else I will completely lose my freaking mind). I want our house to be as drama free as possible and a place to which we both enjoy coming home. Although with a one-year old, a nice quiet house is an oxymoron these days, hey, we still try. Even just 15 minutes to himself when he walks in the door will go a long way.
4. Doing my own thing most days. I don’t really plan things around him and just assume he will be stuck at work. I do what I want and what interests me, and if he can join in, it’s a bonus. I see friends and go to concerts and hang out with our squishy toddler. We also have to physically pencil in (sharpie in?) a date night once a week on the family dry erase calendar hanging in the kitchen. It’s really important to do something fun together and remember what it’s like to be us outside of “Dr. and Mrs.”
I will say I am not always positive at all. I can be nasty and resentful sometimes (maybe more than sometimes). I have taken it out on him and he has taken it out on me, and that’s not right. Eventually, you just find your own groove and how to help each other though the tough times.
At the end of the day, I love him and want to make his life worthwhile and fun and meaningful, and I want to see him happy. I know he wants the same thing for me, too. Really, no matter what profession you’re in, mutual respect and love really can get you through anything. We are in our third year of him being an attending. We met when he was in medical school and are still figuring out how to make it work – but I know it has all been worth it.
Kelly Houseman is the wife of a neurosurgery attending in Detroit, MI. They have a one-year-old son who runs the house, along with their miniature schnauzer. Kelly owns a mental health counseling practice and enjoys blogging in her spare time.
(Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared on Kelly’s personal blog, Kelly’s Reality. You can read more from Kelly here: www.kellysreality.com.)
I loved reading all you’ve had to say! My husband is currently getting ready for med school applications so I really appreciate the glance into your lives. There is a deep fear of the unknown that rises up in me every once in a while but my husband and I talk about it and the possibilities regularly so I’m able to find peace amongst all the unknowns. Thanks for sharing!
Keep up the good work! ex husband and I gave it our all for 18 yrs and finally had to part ways. We were young when we married, 21/23 and went thru it all together with 3 children. Those children are now 62, 61 58 with children of their own—-my oldest grandchild has my 2 great grans 8mos and 3yrs. Dad is in med school…..things are very different now and I hope easier. I pray every day that they make it. Congratulations to you 3. Inga McKinnon
Thank you Im so glad it resonated with you. It can seem like a daunting road with so much ahead of you but it will go fast! Trust in your relationship and yourself and hang in there 🙂
It is certainly a hard road and it can get the best of some people no matter how hard they try. You sound like a great, supportive mother and grandmother. Good luck to your son in his training.
Side By Side is a global Christian organization that encourages couples to embrace the medical journey. We look to Christ for our answers in our medical marriage. Our women meet weekly in chapters across the country and support one another. We have one chapter in Japan. http://www.cmda.org/sidebyside
Kelly, I love your honesty! You’ve captured the experience of being married to medicine perfectly. My DrH (also a surgeon) has been an attending for almost 2 years now and we still sacrifice a lot for his profession. But it’s a cake walk compared to the rigors of residency! All the best to you and your family!
Thank you for this. Sometimes I wonder if it IS really all worth it. And how on earth anyone can cope with having to be second..