How's Your Marriage, Doctor?

Michael F. Myers, MD

Physician's Money Digest, November15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 21

About half of our marriages endup in divorce. Understandably,it's not surprising that many ofthe individuals and couples whom I seein my practice have been married before.Most bring a host of good intentions andworries to the table. Here's an example:

Dr. Bullard and Ms. Pratt made it veryclear in their first visit that their relationshipwas going well. They had been livingtogether for almost a year after separatingfrom their respective spousesabout the same time 3 years earlier. Eachhad a joint custody arrangement withtheir children, who ranged from ages 5to 12—Dr. Bullard had 2 sons and Ms.Pratt had 2 daughters and 1 son. Thechildren lived with them for 1 week andwith their former spouses the next week.As best they could, they tried to coordinateweeks so that they had a blendedfamily 1 week and were childless, exceptfor Wednesday night dinners, the next.Overall, the kids got along quite well.

Friction Sparks

And herein lay some friction withtheir former spouses. Dr. Bullard reportedthat his former wife, Dr. Branch, wasvery hostile toward Ms. Pratt and hecomplained that she was "interrogating"the boys about life in their home,asking who made the meals, bathedthem, supervised their homework andmusic lessons, disciplined them, etc. Hesaid, "I don't think that she'll ever acceptMelinda. We met when I was stillliving at home and I know that she seesMelinda as a homewrecker."

Ms. Pratt had a different set of worries.She had grave concerns about herformer husband's competence, maturity,and stability as a father. She describedhim as a closet drinker and occasionaluser of marijuana. She complained, "Hehates me, loathes me, for leaving him,but it was largely his immaturity andtemper tantrums that drove me away. Itried for years. He only attended 1 sessionof marital therapy and concludedthat the therapist was useless. My ex is apsychologist and is very critical of mentalhealth professionals. He doesn't deservejoint custody. I worry constantly duringthe week he has the kids staying withhim. Thank God for the nanny; she doesthe majority of the child care and I reallylike and trust her."

Unexpected Meeting

I gave Dr. Bullard and Ms. Pratt achance to vent their individual concernsover 3 visits and attempted to reassurethem that time is the best healer. Ofcourse they knew that, but needed tohear it from a seasoned clinician. I wasable to offer some hope. Then I suggestedsomething that shocked them—a visitwith me that included them and theirformer spouses and their partners.

At first, they were reluctant to haveto disclose that they had come to see me;I told them to try to see this as a strengthof their relationship, not a weakness,and that it was in the best interests oftheir children. To their surprise, the otherswere willing to attend, and the visitwent reasonably well.

I tried to strike a balance between allparties, offering them a chance to expressconcerns (without attacks) andstick to the agenda (ie, the children andhow they were all faring with the newfamily constellations and various stepparents).I sensed that everyone left thismeeting with a lessening of ill will andan enhanced degree of mutual respect.

Michael F. Myers, MD, a clinicalprofessor in the Department ofPsychiatry at the University ofBritish Columbia in Vancouver,Canada, is the author of Doctors'Marriages: A Look at the Problemsand Their Solutions (Plenum Pub Corp;1994) and How's Your Marriage?: A Book forMen and Women (American Psychiatric Press;1998). He is the past president of the CanadianPsychiatric Association and welcomes questionsor comments at myers@telus.net.