As you may have read from my About Page, my husband and I moved to the Midwest so that he could complete his medical training. We are currently halfway through his residency and are so thankful for this opportunity. We don’t take it for granted.
That being said, being a resident physician is extremely taxing and requires YEARS of sacrifice. It’s no secret that when you’re married to a resident, you will be sharing that sacrifice.
If you’re reading this, you probably anticipated the obvious sacrifices of time and energy. I did. I remember thinking to myself “man, he’ll probably be stressed out and busy and it will be tough living so far from our families”. All of those things are absolutely true. However, there are SEVERAL things that I was completely unable to anticipate until I was waist deep in it.
Many of these lessons became especially obvious this past year, when I became friends with the wife of a new, incoming resident. I was really empathetic towards her frustration because I know how it feels to make such huge adjustments that you weren’t prepared for!
It’s really hard for those who can’t relate to understand so as someone who gets it, keep reading for some of the most surprising experiences about marriage during residency.
Surprising Things About Being Married to a Resident:
#1 – HOW COMPLETELY UNGLAMOROUS IT IS
Society as a whole attributes a high level of prestige to being a physician. And to be honest, that prestige is generally well deserved. Physicians sacrifice much of their own lives learning and training to save other peoples lives. However, not many people see behind the scenes.
If you don’t know already, being married to a resident physician is anything but glamorous and there are several reasons why:
- The work to life balance favors work MUCH more than it favors a high quality life
- You may end up in an undesirable location or tough housing situation
- You miss many significant life moments
- Burnout (+ it’s effects on mental and physical health)
- Residents are not as high on the totem pole as people think and that can be extremely discouraging at times
- Let’s not forget that the pay is disproportionate to the amount of time invested
- & much more!
Despite all that, many people simply think “oh your spouse is a doctor? you guys must be doing so well in life!” The average onlooker won’t realize how draining it can be on our medical resident spouses and our families.
If you are struggling with some of the less-than-glamorous aspects of life during medical training, Amy Rakowczyk wrote a great checklist called “Coping With An Overwhelmed (Medical Resident) Spouse” that I recommend that you check out.
#2 – UNSCHEDULED TIME IS NOT NECESSARILY FREE TIME
In the beginning when I didn’t understand this, I would jump to plan extracurricular events during any free weekends I could identify on my husband’s schedule. To be fair, I did it with pure intentions. With my love language being quality time, I wanted us to catch up and stay intimate.
However, over the course of our first year, I came to realize that just because my spouse wasn’t scheduled to be on call on a particular weekend and just because he got home earlier than expected one day DIDN’T mean that he was scotch free to do whatever he (or I) wanted.
Unfortunately, the time that he isn’t spending at the hospital or clinic is likely time that he has to spend studying, prepping for the next day, finishing notes or doing administrative work. Besides all of those things, he also needs time for mental recovery.
Sometimes, that can mean sleep or just peace and quiet at home.
Other times, it can mean that he spends time on a hobby that has been neglected for too long.
It’s important to hash out the difference between “unscheduled time” and actual “free time”.
I have a lot more understanding about this and I communicate much more clearly before stuffing our schedule.
#3 – MONTH TO MONTH, LIFE CAN BE AS DIFFERENT AS NIGHT AND DAY
Because medical residents typically change rotations each month, life can change drastically from month to month. I didn’t anticipate just HOW drastic this change could be.
Picture a month where your spouse works an 8 to 6 schedule and gets home before or around the same time you do (if you work). During months like that, you’ll probably eat dinner at a consistent time, talk regularly during the evenings then go to sleep and wake up at “reasonable” times. Then, just like that, on the first day of the next month, he or she is gone from 4am to 10pm and you go days without actually speaking in person. You may eat dinner by yourself and spend all weekday evenings… by yourself. Yup- that’s not uncommon. There have been months where I go from having a husband to being single and not really wanting to mingle (lol).
The lack of stability is challenging but it gets easier to navigate with time.
(Learn From My Experience & Read: 5 Creative Ways to Spend Time Together When Married or Dating A Medical Resident)
I can assure you that before you know it, you’ll be planning things rotation by rotation and will be able to anticipate what your months will be like just by glancing at your spouse’s schedule.
#4 – HOW MUCH ALONE TIME YOU WILL HAVE
Like I alluded to in #3, there will be seasons when you spend a lot of time alone. At the beginning, this felt like a curse. I had just gotten married and moved across the country, only to struggle with isolation.
I am blessed to have had a job from the very beginning because I truly believe that going to work every day kept me sane that first year. My heart goes out to those who aren’t able to work and have moved away from family and friends.
It took about a year for me to not just survive the alone time but to begin to thrive in it. I began to take advantage of having so much focused time to aggressively pursue self & skill development. One major accomplishment that was birthed from that is this blog! Developing this blog has made me extremely grateful for this period in my life because I can now share my experiences with all of you!
To anyone struggling with (or anticipating) a period of isolation, I encourage you to use this opportunity to challenge yourself and do that one thing that you’ve been putting off for a long time. You may not get another focused opportunity like this one, to accomplish certain goals!
#5 – HOW MUCH YOU’LL HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS
I have become an absolute expert at fielding questions and complaints from family and friends. I remember a situation when my parents really wanted us to come visit them as it had been too long since our last trip. They just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t come home more often.
I can’t really blame them- they didn’t sign up and agree to the program rules and requirements like we did. However, at some point, I did have to break down the hurdles that we were facing in detail so that they would cut us a break. I did it without even involving my spouse in the back and forth because to be honest, it was just another source of stress he doesn’t need.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg unfortunately. There are plenty of weddings and get togethers that we’ve missed, family trips that have to be coordinated within an extremely tight window, and frankly, just people that we’ve disappointed.
I’m going to tell you right now, only a select few are going to understand. And that’s okay.
I understand now that the situation is foreign to most people. It stings at times but I try not to take it personally. It always helps to remember that this is a TEMPORARY sacrifice.
#6 – WORKPLACE POLITICS ARE VERY MUCH REAL
I am no stranger to workplace politics. I understand that no workplace out there exists without a certain level of “drama”. However, my initial assumption was that as a resident or learner, my hubby would be nurtured closely and shielded from any major conflicts. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always turned out to be the case.
It has made my heart sink to hear him explain some of the work situations that he has had to deal with. Things that have nothing to do with learning medicine! Personalities (and roles) have clashed, evaluations aren’t always objective and some things are far from fair.
It makes me angry at times, but I know that all I can do is to be there for him and encourage him as much as possible.
#7 – THE “SMALL” MOMENTS FEEL EXTREMELY PRECIOUS
There are moments that many other couples take for granted, that will regain their novelty when you are married to a resident. Simple things like waking up on a slow Saturday and talking in bed become extremely special. Going to the grocery store together or cooking a meal together will feel really exciting.
It’s a beautiful thing to renew your appreciation for the simple joys of life. Knowing that they don’t come around often helps me to deeply treasure them. Make sure you bask in those moments when they arrive.
I hope this post sheds more light on what to expect from your relationship during medical residency. Always remember that it’s a temporary sacrifice and a fleeting season.
Interested in more RELATIONSHIP experience?
Read “6 Hard Lessons I Learned During My First 2 Years of Marriage”
I’m interested to find out some of the other things that surprised YOU about life when married to a resident doctor.
Please comment and share below!