“I am definitely the arm candy, but she isn’t my sugar mama!” Confessions of a doctor’s husband.

This post is written by a anonymous member of the Brotherhood of the Doctoring Wives aka someone who is awesome enough and crazy enough to married to a fellow female physician.  Hope you all enjoy!

A few weeks ago, my wife and I received an invitation to THE premier charity event in our city.  The invitation made it quite clear to wear your most formal attire, guys wear tuxes with tails and women wear cocktail dresses.  When we looked closer at the invitation, the envelope was addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. ___”.  My wife quickly pointed out in her raised voice, “YOU ARE NOT THE DOCTOR!”  I rebutted even quicker, “Well, I’m sure as HELL NOT the MRS. EITHER!”  All too often, assumptions are made when there is a doctor in the family that the title belongs to the husband.  These minor assumptions, while we are able to joke and laugh about them, can be very irritating and offensive to both the husband and wife.  While I’m happily married to a physician, many do not realize the heavy burdens physicians and their spouses take on personally as a result of their profession, regardless of gender. As my wife would say it, “The struggle is real.”

My wife and I started dating as undergraduate students, so I’ve been there with her through every step – studying for the MCAT, medical school, internship, residency, and now private practice. Looking back, the last fifteen years have seemed to fly by, but at the time, the struggles of balancing marriage with medicine made some days feel like a lifetime.

On the outside looking in, a person might assume this couple has it all.  We are both highly motivated, goal-oriented people with successful careers. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Economics and earned my MBA while working full time in the banking industry. I even was recently named a Top Forty Under 40 by the local Business Journal. However, it can be difficult to balance my own career aspirations with the time and geographical restraints of my wife’s occupation. Each milestone in her profession seemed to produce a new set of challenges, both personally and professionally, for us as well as for my own life’s ambitions.

Although medical school presented a social scene where medical talk and jokes predominated (Um, no, I DON’T Want to hear about all those foreign objects you have retrieved from a variety of orifices, thanks) which make me lightheaded by the way, I thought things would even out once she was a resident. However, that process presented its own challenges. Match Day occurs in late March, and this is when medical students find out where they will be spending the next 3 – 7 years of their lives in residency. No, they don’t really get to choose – they make a ranking list, the programs make a list of the students they want, it gets plugged into a computer, and voila, “Here’s your future!” Well, because of no knowing where we would be living until 3 months ahead of time was stressful to say the least. The year leading up to Match Day essentially meant I had to put my career on hold. I was going to have to find a new job, and I had no idea where it was going to be! To whom and where was I going to send my resume if I couldn’t even tell them if I was actually going to be moving there or not?  Oh, and let’s get married right in the middle of this…Find a job in 3 months or not be able to support my new wife? Yeah, no biggie. Luckily, I had job contacts in the city where she matched, and my job transition was as seamless as I could have ever hoped.

Sweet! Match Day – check, Wedding – check, new job – check, new house – check – all downhill from here… or so I thought… until July 1 came. Then I realized I was the most wrong I believe I have ever been.

July 1… a day of infamy in academic medicine. When medical students become doctors… the beginning of residency. As a man, one of the hardest things is to have a crying wife. 1. Probably because it’s my fault and 2. Because if it isn’t my fault, I can’t fix it. After my wife’s first 24 hour shift as an intern…. Well, let’s just say it ended with a migraine and sitting in the bathtub sobbing. Alright, I tell myself, here I go, I’m now a husband, not just a boyfriend, “I got this”.  I take a deep breath, channel my inner Lou Holtz, and give her a rousing pep talk worthy of a Super Bowl Halftime. Yeah, well, needless to say, that $hit didn’t work. And, I’m pretty sure I might have made it worse. That night, after she went to sleep, I remember distinctly sitting on the couch and mistakenly (again) thinking, “Okay, although my Lou Holtz impersonation might need some work, first shift is done, it’s gonna get better now.” Yep, you guessed it… wrong again.

One of worst fights of our marriage happened soon after.  We had just moved into our new house. I was setting up the stereo system in our new home and realized there was no way for me to hide the wires to my massive speakers.  Yes, remember those old speakers – the bigger the better.  My wife didn’t want our home to look tacky with exposed wires.  Well guess what, I didn’t care.  I rarely got to see my wife, and when I did, I swear she had been replaced by a human version of Grumpy Cat. Although I am well aware of the old saying, “Choose your battles carefully”, I just didn’t care. The frustrations of a resident’s spouse had taken on a life of its own. The pressures of getting married, moving to a new state, purchasing our first house, starting a new job, my wife starting her job as a resident and all of its resultant stresses just led to my breaking point. I huffed and puffed and cussed and pouted. Yeah I know, over some speakers. Anyways, that was one of those moments l should have just stepped away from and realized how stupid the whole situation was.  However, that’s what residency does to a young married couple.  It puts pressure upon pressure upon pressure until one day, someone breaks.  In this case it was me.

The strains medicine has on a relationship are not for the faint of heart. Company parties missed, birthdays “rescheduled”, and holidays spent alone. Our very first Christmas together was spent with me sitting on the couch all day watching movies… by myself… while she worked non-stop. It was one lonely Christmas. I knew I had to build a network of reinforcements. So not long after this, we adopted the smartest and coolest pound puppy ever and I quickly became friends with the other resident’s husbands. Thankfully my wife belongs to a specialty with a lot of other physicians with male spouses, I know that is not always the case – I feel for you Surgeon Spouses! Anyways, we became the brotherhood of lonely spouses and started going out for beers once a week to share best practices on how to deal with our tired, over-worked, stress-out wives.

Oh, remember those medical school jokes that I never got?  Well, it got worse in residency. I actually tried to inject my own humor in these social settings.  Each year, the director of the program would throw four social gatherings a year for prospective residency students.  The decision for a top candidate to come to the program is not only for the soon-to-be physician, but also the spouse; therefore, the spouses got the invite as well.  The program is extremely competitive so all interviewees are on their top notch behavior.  However, we, the brotherhood, we realized pretty quickly (after a few mishaps involving the bashing of other people’s football teams) we were such a minor part of the social gathering that we had t-shirts made up for these events which read – “Insignificant Others” on the front with a caduceus and on the back “Not A Resident”.  We wanted all prospective residents to know not to waste their time talking to the people that had no bearing on whether they got into the program or not.  It worked so well, that all the attending spouses wanted a shirt as well.  We all wore them to the rest of the social gatherings. If you would like one as well, just let me know… I’ll hook you up.

Although residency was four years of working crazy hours, not seeing each other for weeks at a time, and a general cloud of stress hanging over our heads at all times, we pushed through and now were ready to get started on our real life together.  By this time, I was smart enough to realize how bad this was potentially going to suck.  We were going to have to move… again…right in the heart of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And let’s not forget, I’m a banker.  Jobs in the financial services industry were almost non-existent.  I had worked my entire career to get to this point and now I was possibly looking at being a stay-at-home dad to a dog.  This would be the worst possible outcome for someone who loves the thrill of working towards a goal and reaching new milestones in life.  Fortunately, I had great mentors and found a great job. But again, I was starting over… again. And starting over in your career is tough enough the first time… This was now going to be my 3rd job in 5 years. You continuously have to prove yourself and build relationships from scratch.

Today, my wife and I are quite settled in at our jobs, our home, and normal routines. She still works odd hours, but I sleep quite comfortably through her pager going off in the middle of the night or when she has to leave at 2am to deliver a baby. I frequently get a shocked reaction that I didn’t even know she had left in the middle of the night and come back. Many people are astonished about her crazy schedule or how we balance our lives and calendars together, but it’s normal to us now. Compared to the craziness of the first ten years of our relationship, this is a piece of cake.

I have found there are many benefits to being married to a doctor, but I guarantee you the benefits are vastly different from what an outsider might think.  In fact, the financial implications that are routinely made aka I have a “Sugar Momma”, I find to be insulting and degrading. Although I know I am piece of insanely sweet arm candy, I hold my own, peeps. I make my own money, have my own successful career, and my own identity. This is one of those implications that is just as irritating as getting a piece of mail addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. -”.

I am a better man for being married to a physician.  I have a wife that pushes herself each and every day which makes me want to do the same.  When you have a partner at home that pushes you emotionally, spiritually, and physically (yes, she does crossfit and has run a marathon), then you become automatically better yourself.

I wouldn’t trade the years with my wife for anything in the world, and I am a better man for being married to a physician.  She is my best friend and I love her dearly. The stresses medicine place on a relationship are real… both for the doctor and the spouse.  I am proud of her accomplishments and to be called a physician’s husband.  I hope the next time you see your doctor, you have a better understanding of what it took for them AND their families to wear that long white coat and the sacrifices they make for your better health.  And for any budding members of the brotherhood, a few pieces of advice:

  1. Buy some stock in Ben & Jerrys or become a part owner in a winery. In other words, unless your wife’s tear ducts have been surgically removed, tears are likely going to be involved, and at the very least, stress is going to be involved… And YOU need to have a strategy that probably doesn’t involve channeling a college football coach. Figure out how to best to reassure, soothe, and encourage your wife.
  2. Prepare your dog house… because you will probably be spending some time in it. While you are trying to achieve #1, you will mess up, and you both need to return to your corners and give each other some space. So, you might as well deck out your space with some nice speakers, for example. Which leads me to #3…
  3. Channel your inner boxing champion. You don’t see prize fighters going at it without sleep, adequate food, or preparation. Not fighting is not reality, and just leads to a lot of baggage later. Learn how and when to fight – and right after she is finishing up working 30 hours in a row is not going to lead to a good performance by anyone.
  4. Brotherhood, Unite!  Fighting off loneliness is the key to success, and building a good support system is a huge part of this. And this is sometimes easier said than done, it is still commonplace for the majority of physician spouses to be female… we are in the minority, and finding similarly situated guys can be difficult. But with a little effort, you will find us. We are out there, and we are growing in numbers.
  5. The backseat is the best place to makeout, in my opinion. In other words, your career, hobbies, and sometimes your life will be taking a back seat to medicine at times. But as stated above, the backseat isn’t always a bad place to be. And, you need to understand that being in the backseat does not mean you are unimportant or that your wife doesn’t value you, your career, hobbies, etc.
  6. Join AA. Okay you don’t really have to do this, but the point is to take step 1. Admit the problem. Not that having a spouse in residency is a “problem” per se, but recognizing that you both are going to be stressed, unhappy, and lonely sometimes (or a lot) helps you prepare and recognize when you, or your spouse, have reached the breaking point.
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13 thoughts on ““I am definitely the arm candy, but she isn’t my sugar mama!” Confessions of a doctor’s husband.

  1. Thank you! I don’t even try to explain my life to non-medicine people, but it’s nice to read that others have similar struggles. We’re still in the residency stage but we’re past the halfway point. Your six pieces of advice are spot on.

    I appreciate your candid comments about the candidate dinners. I’ve just stopped going to them since my wife’s program doesn’t have many male spouses, and I end up just babysitting my kids in somebody else’s house that isn’t kid friendly. I do need to make one of those Insignificant Other t-shirts for the 2 that we host each year…

    Cheers

  2. Oh man, today was my first day of residency (orientation). We’ve been married for 4 years (during med school) so while I hope it’s not as bad for us as this husband’s experience (I’m in Peds), I’m grateful we’re in Boston with a great support system (my husband’s 3 siblings and their families). Cheers to the Brotherhood of Doctoring Wives!

  3. You had it easy!…3 yrs medical school, 4 yrs residency, marrige, 2 kids, 4 yrs private practice, 8 moves and address changes, 3 yrs fellowship, 3 months World Health Organization Internship in Geneva Switzerland, and the next step is for her to get a job at a academic institution which will include another move. I am a professional real estate investor and serial entrepreneur with my own goals and aspirations. If your brotherhood has a Board of Directors I wouldn’t mind helping out 🙂

  4. GREAT post. I loved reading it and brought back memories of my days as a resident. I am not a “doctor” either, at least not in the medical sense. It’s probably worse as a dentist actually. Nor am I married but I did date seriously during that time. Needless to say, both me and my ex probably would have benefitted from reading this post haha. The brotherhood t-shirt is genius. Thanks for a great read and start to the weekend!

  5. Yes sir! You are spot on. We are at mid point of residency. She is an OBGYN as well. Only difference we add is that I have taken really good jobs in my field in other cities including across the country in DC. My favorite is question is always “well why doesn’t he just move out here and support you.”

    Also, friends don’t get the time part. They don’t understand that they spend so much time working that we find it better to both be busy and then schedule our times together. They don’t understand that if I can be successful in my field too it allows for resources across our family to do the things that make Med school and residencies in way off ville that much more accessible.

    I guess they think the house, vacation and savings were put there by this decade long training course.

    But all said, it’s really fun as hell with her until she wants to tell me a story about “this procedure.” Ha ha, she gets a one a day limit unless the first doesn’t make my stomach hurt.

  6. Amen. My wife just activated as a navy ortho-surgeon (boys club within a boys club) and now I am looking for another job again, and obviously won’t be the last. The greatest thing for us is her crazy hours has made us value our time together. The 5 am alarm clock and the steady diet of “I don’t know’s” when asked when she would be home makes one block out days when she was available, even if she was home reading. Knowing her schedule makes me appreciate how we do make it work, and thankful I didn’t do something foolish like go to medical school. In all seriousness, I commend physician couples that can make sure their orbits intersect at least occasionally.
    For me, it has worked well to get to know her coworkers. I am a networker naturally (sales) and get along with most people. It does change the dynamic as the lines between coworker and friendship blur, but we tend to make it work.
    Do the rest of you ever wonder how you would fair taking boards with the amount of “sponging” that happens without even trying? From flash cards in undergrad and medical school, to quiz bank study tools, to resident bbq’s at our house, it would be fun to really know how much I have really gleaned.

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