“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Doctors are from Krypton”, according to Dr Greg Skipper from the Alabama Physician Health Program and he has a point, Medical Marriages face many of the same stresses and strains of any marriage but there are some unique issues that face both dual-doctor and doctor/non-doctor marriages.
Although there is no evidence that divorce rates among medics are higher than other occupational groups, studies suggest that many medical marriages may be chronically unhappy, yet stable. This is not helped by the well documented inability of many doctors to seek help, especially when their relationship is in trouble. But it’s not all bad news. A group of doctors, married to doctors and non-doctors, were brave enough to tell their me their opinions on the issues affecting medicine and here they offer some tips on how to have a thriving (rather than merely surviving) marriage.
What are the benefits of being married to a medic?
Understanding and Empathy
This figures highly. As one general practitioner (GP) couple put it, “They understand on call, call outs, and after hours work. They understand the “busy day”, which is someone out of the control and the implications of mistakes in medicine”. It can be useful to have a sounding board at home who has “insight into when a doctor is being manipulated by members of staff, or patients”. Another GP couple felt a major benefit was “knowing you’re not alone and having empathy for each other at difficult times”.
Conversation and having interests in common is another perceived benefit benefit-but this also has its pitfalls. “We have great discussions. No over dinner silences, but we always seem to end up back at medicine-in any conversation” (general practitioner couple).
In a dual-doctor marriage there is no need to explain technical details and it can be useful to get an “instant second opinion”. It also helps keep things in perspective-“We have a mutual understanding that allows us to a laugh about some of the situations we find ourselves in” (female junior doctor).
This also got a mention. “This is sad but true,” as one doctor put it. The financial rewards of a dual-doctor marriage means, “We have a reasonable income and therefore a better standard of living”. But with the income achieved, there are often “expenses to match”
What are the pitfalls of being married to a medic?
When two doctors are unable to get jobs in the same area.
Time, Tiredness and Workload
Not enough time, too much work. “When both partners work long, demanding hours it places excessive demands on family life”. One male consultant explains, “sometimes both of us are very tired, balancing family life and career, and need a break. I’ve had to learn to make sacrifices, try and avoid going on too many “jollies” and conferences, and put my family first before saying “yes” to an increased workload”.
Balancing workload with family life isn’t easy. “You find levels of tiredness never experienced before, and I’m surprised how one can still carry on!” ( female general practitioner)
In order to avoid long periods of separation, or when children arrive, often one of the medical couple, usually the female makes changes to accommodate the needs of the family. For example, one former staff grade doctor, married to a consultant, has taken a career break while their children are young.
Doctors seem to socialize with doctors. As one doctor put it,-“We have a narrow social sphere-most our friends are medics or health professionals. You need to work hard to have friends outside of, and interests other than, medicine”.
What of you’re married to a non-medic?
Lucky you! The benefits are, “They have regular work hours and, sane jobs and different moans to your own”. They can also offer a different perspective to the familiar medical view. You get to see more of them, and the “career competition is less of an issues”.
There are some drawbacks, however. “My partner often feels left out of medical conversations as medics tend to be a bit cliquey! Also, he doesn’t share my fascination with details of work”. In addition, some non-medics may have “difficulty understanding the implications of working in medicine”.
Medical marriages face similar problems to other marriages, but there are also some specific issues given the demanding nature of the vocation of medicine. The big things to pay attention to are time and compromise. As one medic put it, “give your marriage the same attention you give your career and you’ll be over half way there”. And finally-“marry your best friend and go for lifestyle opinions when possible. Life is too short not to know your family”.