I have been married to a doctor for 5 years. Well, technically in medical school he wasn’t a doctor yet, but I have been supporting a doctor or doctor-in-training for 5 years out of our 7 years of marriage. Sometimes when I think about that it makes my head spin – that only two years of our marriage were not part of this “let’s make my husband a doctor” journey.
On this journey I have learned some things about being married to a doctor that I WISH I would have known at the beginning. Not because it would have changed my decision of who I married or his career choice. But it would have made my life (and my husband’s life) so much easier! These nuggets of wisdom are things I have learned through my own experiences (and many, many mistakes). I’ve also gone to other doctor’s wives for some valuable advice.
And so, my fellow doctor’s wives, here are 10 things I wish I knew years ago about being married to a doctor:
1. Live and love your life NOW
This one is number one in my book. The years and years of schooling and training can make you think, “I will be happy when we are finally out of medical school” or “Things will be better once boards or over” or “I just have to survive until he is done with intern year!” or even “We will be happy once he gets a better job. This one is just temporary.”
No. No no no. This journey is too long and life is too short to be lived like that! Your life can be beautiful NOW, regardless of the stage you are in, where you live, the friends you do (or don’t) have, the rotation DrH is on, the job your DrH eventually gets, etc etc etc.
I say, flourish and grow wherever you may be in this journey. Easier said than done, of course. It is hard to do sometimes. But make this a priority, to live and love your life now. I promise you, it is worth the effort.
You can sign up for my newsletter and receive my free program, “5 Tips to Live and Love Your Life Now” for some ideas and materials to help you live this way.
2. Lower your expectations
This one has been a hard pill for me to swallow, but it’s so true. Now I am not saying don’t have ANY expectations. Absolutely not. Having no expectations is not truly a marriage. Expectations are what encourage us to grow, stretch, reach, achieve, and become better people.
But as a doctor’s wife, your life (and your husband’s life) will be easier if you lower your expectations somewhat. For example, I live my life almost never expecting DrH to be around. Then, when he does actually have time off or he is able to make it to something, I am pleasantly surprised and it is a rare treat. This way I haven’t spent my time frustrated or upset that he isn’t there – it just is what it is because I’ve lowered my expectations.
Along with this is lowering your expectations of yourself. You cannot do and be everything. Give yourself a break. With everything you have on your plate, something has to give. Your house may be a disaster, not every meal may get a 5 star rating from your family, and your kids may look like street urchins instead of well-groomed children. It’s ok. Just do your best, your best is enough.
3. Don’t lose yourself
I feel super passionate about this one, because this completely happened to me. I lost myself for a period of time and it was crazy scary.
Don’t let his job define who you are. Have goals, do something you enjoy EVERYDAY, follow your passions, and live your life fully. Take care of yourself. Yes, as doctor’s wives we sacrifice so much for our husbands’ careers. Sometimes the process of becoming a doctor can seem almost all-consuming, for both you and your husband. But do not sacrifice your whole self. Hold onto who you are.
4. Be Independent
Can I get an amen?!! This one is so true! I learned this one early on. The only way to survive as a doctor’s wife is to be independent. If you are always waiting for your DrH to be around you are going to be disappointed.
It is ok to do things on your own. Parent teacher conference on your own? No problem. Road trip with kids to visit family by yourself? Can do. You can even do crazy things, like take your two kids under 4 years old to Disneyland by yourself. (I totally do this one all of the time and love it). If you feel like you aren’t independent yet and this is hard for you, you will learn. Just keep stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things that you thought you’d never be able to do on your own. After a while you will look back and be amazed at what you can do by yourself.
5. Realize that other people will not understand
Just so you know – if you have friends or family members who are not married to doctors, they will not understand. I don’t care how close you are with them. They will have no idea what you are going through.
It was surprising for me to realize that even my own mom, who is one of my best friends, will never understand what it is like to be married to a doctor, especially a doctor-in-training. I would try to vent to her and I quickly realized that she had no idea what I was talking about.
The only people who will understand what you are going through are other doctor’s wives. So make sure you have someone in your life who has been there too. We need each other!
6. It really is harder than what everyone tells you
Remember when you told people your husband was applying to medical school? Or that you were engaged to an orthopedic surgery resident? Remember how those who have lived it warned you how hard it was going to be?
Well they were right. It is hard. Actually, it is harder than what they told you. So buckle up and be prepared for it. Get rid of those daydreams of being married to the handsome doctor with the big paycheck and having a cush life. You can be married to a handsome doctor with the big paycheck, but it is a lot of work and there are a lot of sacrifices.
7. You really do have to pay back the loans
Speaking of sacrifices….. Loans. You really do have to pay them back. And it really is a LOT of money. We aren’t at the point of paying ours back yet since we are still in residency, but I am dreading it. Sometimes when I think of the amount of debt we are in it makes me shudder. So my solution to this is to just not think about it until we have to pay it back. Sorry for the harsh reality check!
8. Medicine will change your husband
This is one I have just barely come to realize and understand. The challenges of medicine will change your husband. It’s unavoidable. The stress and responsibility of having patient’s lives in his hands will change him.
Medicine has changed my husband, for good and for bad. Along with his newly acquired flaws he has also gained some incredible insight and knowledge when it comes to caring for his patients. He is definitely not the same person I married 7 years ago. I think the key is to be aware of the fact this will happen and to grow with them. I was not aware of this and it completely floored me. So I am telling you now so you can handle this with more grace than I did.
9. Always practice good financial habits
Eventually your husband will be done with training and he will have a real job, complete with a real paycheck. However, until that time, finances will be tight. Don’t spend your money thinking, “It’s ok, DrH will be making bank later so we can spend it now and pay it back later.” That kind of thinking can lead to unnecessary debt and a lot of financial stress.
Practice good financial habits during the training years to minimize your debt. Then practice good financial habits even AFTER he gets his big boy job in order to pay back loans and build up a safety net of savings. If you’ve been living frugally during the training years, you will have built up some fantastic financial habits that will serve you well as you transition to the “We are finally done with training!” job.
10. Remember you are on the same team
Remember, you are both on the same team! This can be easy to forget. You both are giving so much and it can be easy to overlook what the other person is contributing. Especially when you spend so much time apart. Try to remember that you are both on this journey together, working together, even if you are both filling very different roles.
Don’t let your DrH take you for granted. You need to be valued in your relationship. Stand up for yourself and don’t let him forget that fact.
Don’t you take him for granted either. He studies, goes to school, or works day in and day out for you and your family. He needs to be valued and loved too. Take time to slow down and express appreciation and love for him in the way he understands it best. Just love on your man for all of the good he does for you and his patients.