What It's Like to Partner with a Medical Student/Resident

Medical school was a big undertaking for my husband and I. He had been accepted to pharmacy school, and decided that wasn't the roll for him. We packed up and moved across the country with our little 6 month old girl. Looking back now that he is in residency, I can say that there is one thing that ended up being our saving grace: being REALISTIC. My husband and I agreed that we would be okay with C's throughout medical school, busting through board exams, and traveling for residency interviews, we stuck to our motto: be realistic. Be realistic about the time it's going to take, what specialty to apply to, if you can be away from family support, and what your emotional needs are. I remember having a conversation with a friend that was asking me questions about medical school. So I tried to paint a realistic picture of what it was. I was overwhelmingly proud of her when she said, "emotionally, I can't be away from him like that". It's that type of awareness of who you are as an individual and a couple that will save your relationship in any career. - CH Common Challenges to Be Aware of 1. Often your emotional/physical needs will not be met This tends to happen due to the intense hours that medical students and residents have to work. When they're not in work or in class, medical students have to study and engage in multiple board exam completion. And aside from studying, working, going to class, or completing their rounds, medical residents also have to engage in some form of self-care like sleeping, exercising, etc. So where does that leave you as the partner? Partners, in my opinion, are the unsung heroes of medicine. Partners keep the family homes together, take care of children if there are children in the picture, take care of the bills, etc. You may find that with the increasing amount of time necessary for your partner to participate in their program, there leaves little time for you, your emotional needs, and intimate needs, etc. As someone who is very emotional, I was very honest with myself and with my partner about what was working and what was not working for me. I learned that a core love language for me was quality time. I expressed when I needed quality time with him, and even if we had 10 minutes to spend quality time together we did so. Often, scheduling it when we could was what was helpful throughout our relationship. - JB Contrary to my co-author, I am not an emotionally dependent person. So going without really wasn't a huge struggle for me. But going into school we both tried to be clear about our expectations with one another. Those talks still happen as we are just past his 6 month mark into residency. We know that it won't always be like this, but there are certain habits that we can't get into, like one spouse pulling all/or none of the weight at home. I knew in being realistic with what we chose to do, that I would need to do whatever I could at home to ease any concern in his mind about not being the "man of the house". 2. You'll spend more time on your own/without your partner than previously Medical students/residents will also have to study and work during important milestone events such as birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. You'll find that you have to spend quality time with yourself, with extended family, and friends in your life. You'll experience the joys of certain milestones with your partner somewhat on the sidelines or sometimes not at all. I was completing my Masters in Social Work during the same time that my partner was in medical school. One of the hardest moments for me was when he could not attend my graduation. On top of managing medical school demands, we were also in a long distance relationship. What I had to do in that time and moment was grieve. I allowed myself to feel the sadness of not having my partner's physical presence during my graduation. I did realize, too, that I had so many other supportive people in my life including family and friends so I made sure to celebrate my milestones with them. Knowing that I wasn't alone and that I was loved by everyone was my saving grace (We talk a lot about reframing thinking in this blog). -JB Yeah, the hubby has had to work on holidays and birthdays. My family was always really big into celebrating holidays. Initially, it was a tough shift, but one that we've been able to make, and now its no big deal. The kids know that sometimes we have to move birthday parties around because dad is taking care of the sick people. Every time that I saw myself struggling with this, I reminded myself that he was spending time away from us on Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc, so that someone else could have more holidays with a loved family member. There were many opportunities to serve those students that were also away from their families. I was the Vice Pres of the Student Advocate Association. Some of those students have no one, they aren't sleeping or eating well, and are just a strung out as your significant other. There were many times that individuals were crying outside the school. My daughter was 9 months old running around outside and just as happy as can be, so I decided to stop and talk. All these other individuals are also working towards their dreams. That one person that you help that is deep in the struggle with you? They will soon be a physician, helping save potentially thousand of lives. Don't get blinded by the day in and day out grind. -CH 3. If you're not mindful, and you don't work hard at it, you may find that you will grow apart during the time of residency and medical school. When individuals embark on their journeys through medicine, they grow and change. Some of it, as the partner, you will understand, and some of it you will not understand, because it is their journey. And it's important to allow your partner to grow when sometimes you might not even get it. You will also be dealing with your own growth as the spouse but also as your own person. Be careful. Because if both people grow solely individually and not as a couple, it will be very hard for couples to come back and work as a team. - JB Oh yeah it will happen. They are developing into professionals in a very demanding field, just make sure they don't forget that you're there. You will need to speak up, express yourself clearly, and make reasonable requests. I have seen that if you kick and scream to someone that is already overwhelmed in every sense of the word, they are just going to push you away and not listen to your demands. One thing that really helped us through this is being aware of what our love languages are. This is something that I use a lot in couples therapy. Set your expectations of a relationship off of that. They are going to spend time away from you, but make sure that you are celebrating the small and large victories together. -CH 4. It may feel like your relationship is moving very slow This will depend on your expectations of time-frame for growth in your relationship. This was my experience. For me, I wanted to experience engagement, marriage, and children within the first several years of our relationship. However, my partner wasn't ready. Looking back I understand it. He was going through this insane journey of becoming a doctor, of memorizing and learning insane amount of complicated information, and contending with the crazy expectations that medical school and residency had on him. He also embarked on incurring a lot of debt and dealing with the financial implications of becoming a doctor. It makes sense why the relationship and the pace of the relationship was somewhat in the back burner and moving slowly. - JB My partner and I worked through a lot of issues in couples counseling because we've had several trials and tribulations throughout the years. And there's no shame in realizing that sometimes things suck, and you'll need to get help. One of the important aspects I learned from couples counseling is learning how to appropriately communicate my feelings and needs. It was a reminder that my needs were important and that my partner needed to understand them and be there for them. We each learned what our love languages are, and we practiced meeting one another's needs through love language understanding. My heart goes out to all of the partners of residents and medical students, and partners of individuals in very demanding fields. We hope that this informal blog offered some insight on some basic tips or at least allowed you to feel like you're not alone in the common challenges that are faced. Follow us on Instagram @therapy_with_janetb and @chynahopkinslmsw