Chapter 29: Making your marriage work – keeping your better half happy
|"The family you come from isnt as important as the family youre going to have."
- Ring Lardner.
It’s true that being a physician is hard – but often being married to a physician is even harder ! Many doctors acquire personality traits such as perfectionism, compulsiveness, and workaholism which help them provide better care to their patients, but end up making them problematic spouses. They expect to be in "control” all the time; and since they are so used to their patients putting them on a pedestal, they expect their spouses to do the same too – so that they can be quite impossible to live with. Many take pride in being married to the profession, as a result of which they spend little time and energy in nurturing their spouse or cultivating intimacy. Most of their friends are other doctors , and usually they end up talking shop when they "socialize” , as a result of which the wife is often left out in the cold. Unreasonable hours and being on call at all times are part of the doctor’s job description – and the spouse has to put up with these.
To add insult to injury, rather than being admired and appreciated for having to put up with such a difficult husband, she is considered to be lucky because she is married to a doctor. Society expects her to be a martyr and to sacrifice her personal happiness in order to keep her husband happy. Playing second fiddle is not so bad in the honeymoon years, when some of the glamour of being a respected doctor rubs off on to the spouse. However, when the novelty wears off, many spouses chafe as being treated as second class citizens. They never have an opportunity to develop their own independent identity, and many remain just " Dr X’s wife” . While some play this role successfully by becoming the manager of their husband’s practice, others end up feeling stifled and suffocated.
Many spouses cannot understand why their husbands who are so understanding, caring , and thoughtful towards their patients in the clinic become so thoughtless when they reach home . Many doctors literally enact the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde when they move from their clinic to their house daily !
Often it’s upto the non-medical spouse to shoulder the burden of keeping the marriage together, and because she is often the junior partner, doing so can be hard for her – she bears the responsibility, without having the authority to make the needed changes. The medical spouse will often retreat into his work, and to keep the façade of a happy marriage intact, the wife will often have to sacrifice her own interests and desires. In order for your spouse to be happy spouse, she first needs to be happy herself as an individual - people who are unhappy can never create a happy marriage. www.medicalspouse.org has a lot of information which can help you help your spouse cope better with being married to a doctor.
Just like an unhappy marriage can create an enormous amount of stress which can poison every part of your life, a happy marriage can add a phenomenal amount of bliss to everything you do ! Is there a prescription to keeping your marriage healthy and happy ? The truth is that most of what you need to do to keep your spouse happy is based on simple common sense – spend time together; respect each other; have fun together. Even simple things like just phoning to say you are thinking of her can go a long way. However, even though most of us know all this ( and in fact, dispense this advise to our patients on a daily basis), we are not very good at putting this into practice in our own lives.
Men are often responsible for not providing their fair share of input towards making a marriage work. It is true that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus; and you need to learn to see things from each other’s point of view. Remember that a marriage is a dance – you are both equal partners, but your partner can dance only as well as you let her. If you have an understanding spouse, count your blessings – but you can’t keep on taking advantage of her . Women will often spend a lot of energy on cementing the relationship so you can grow together, but you need to reciprocate for this to work well. While it can be hard to juggle career, work, marriage, and family, it’s helpful to remember that your marriage should be your first priority. If you don’t go to work, someone else will fill in for you – but if you don’t look after your wife, there is no one else who can do so ! A happy marriage is vitally important for your children because it provides them with happy memories for the future and lays the foundation for an emotionally secure adulthood. A bad marriage can ruin not only your career, but your happiness - and your children’s happiness as well.
Incidentally, by making your marriage your first priority, you will not be sacrificing your career. Ironically, you will end up doing even better at work ! A good marriage can help you become a better doctor – a happy personal life will help you perform far better in your professional life. Both of these are closely linked together, and it’s stupid to try to compartmentalise them. Few things feel as good as marital harmony, and people who live in a supportive and loving marriage thrive . Increasing intimacy in your life may be the best way of ensuring your health, productivity and happiness. Making your marriage work can be the best thing you ever do – the rewards will far outweigh the effort. Being a doctor can be demanding , and the positive energy of a committed marital relationship can help you perform even better !.
A marriage needs to grow as you grow, and as you mature, you need to nurture it. Most marriages move through the following stages.
Stage 1 Romance Youre perfect"
Stage 2 Fault Finding ""Youre flawed"
Stage 3 Blaming" You do it to me"
Stage 4 Acceptance "You just do it"
Stage 5 Transformation "We grow together"
Many couples get stuck in stages 2 and 3, and so much hurt and damage can occur in these stages that many married couples decide to divorce, while others either withdraw from one another and live in a politely superficial way, leading lives of quiet desperation; or they continue to fault-find and blame and may verbally attack each other for decades.
Some couples naively believe that if they have managed to stay married for 10 years, their marriage is stable. This is not true. You still need to continue working at it, otherwise you may grow away from each other . The second half of marriage can be a time of renewal – a time to renew your teamwork, your friendship and your romance, so you become one of those "wise couples” whom younger people secretly aspire to emulate. If you know such couples, observe them and learn from them – they have much to teach !
All marriages have their ups and downs, and conflict is a given in every marriage, However, divorce is often the worst solution. Not only doesn’t it solve anything, it often makes matters worse , leaving behind a lot of bitterness, for both the partners, as well as the children. Learning how to deal with conflict as in integral part of your marriage . Work to create an "us versus the problem” attitude rather than a "me versus you” mentality. Remember that healthy negotiation can solve most problems – after all, you are both on the same side ! The rules are simple: listen; validate your spouse’s perception; show that you care; focus on the problem; don’t rake up the past; emphasise where you agree; and learn how to say "sorry”. Nothing feels worse than not getting along with your spouse – all the money in the world is not worth having an unhappy
mate ! Use your resources to save your time and energy, so that this can be used to spend time with each other and your family. Remember, you are intelligent people - create a support system to simplify your life so you can beat stress together.
There are some common issues which often threaten to break up a marriage. These include: money and financial arguments; infidelity and affairs (doctors have many opportunities to succumb to temptation !); boredom and staleness; career crises ;
children – especially when they grow up and leave home ( empty nest syndrome); and retirement, because doctors often have no clue what to do with themselves when they are not working. It’s helpful to be aware of these stressors, so you can take appropriate action at these times to bolster your marriage.
Medical marriages in India are often exposed to more stress than those elsewhere. For one, many marriages are "arranged” and a doctor is considered to be a prized catch , which means the spouse is forced to look upto him right from the night of the suhaag
raat ! Not only can this be a pain in the neck, a marriage between unequals is doomed right from the start. Moreover, since the joint family system is still common, this often leads to increased pressures on the non-medical spouse, because she is supposed to adjust to her husband’s demands. Also, since divorce is still not considered to be a socially acceptable alternative, many marriages continue to be quietly and desperately unhappy.
Making a marriage work well can be an uphill task for all couples – but it can be especially hard when both are doctors. At first glance, a doctor-doctor match sounds ideal because both understand the long hours and the stresses of medical practice; they speak each others language and the spouse is a respected colleague whos always on hand for consultation. However, doctor-doctor marriages are not a bed of roses. Tightly packed schedules allow little time to deal with family commitments; and because both are so busy fulfilling work pressures, there’s little time for husband and wife to be alone together, and they may end up growing apart.
Marriage, just like a medical career, requires a serious commitment to succeed. If you fail to invest the necessary time, problems are bound to arise. Unfortunately, time is one thing physicians dont have a lot of, which explains why conflict in medical marriages is so common. The simplest advise is to treat your spouse as your most important VIP patient ! Do this for purely selfish reasons – a loved spouse is also a loving spouse, and will take much better care of you . It will be the best investment of time and energy you can ever make !
The wise words of Kahlil Gibran are worth remembering.
" You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. "