How's Your Marriage, Doctor?

Physician's Money Digest, April 2006, Volume 13, Issue 4

Combining the rigors of residencytraining with a newmarriage can be tough, but itis even tougher when both spousesare residents. Here is the story ofDr. Emily Baird and Dr. Tim Austin,spouses who are also internal medicinethird-year residents.

"We hope we're not wasting yourtime,"began Dr. Baird. "Tim and Ithink that our marriage is strong. Imean, we love each other and haveno plans to separate. We're bothhealthy—no medical problems or psychiatricillnesses that we're aware of.But we need some help getting throughsome of the stuff that we think allyoung married couples face."

"What Emily means is that we don'targue very constructively,"Dr. Austinsaid. "In fact, we're both a couple ofhotheads. Neither of us backs downeasily or quickly. Defensiveness is mymiddle name, but at least I have thisinsight. Our arguments drag on forhours. Then we don't speak for up to 3days, except at work. We make up andmove on, but do we solve the underlyingissues? Not really."

I asked Dr. Baird if she wanted toadd anything. "Tim has summarizedthings well. There are two other issues:our sex life and his start-up business.He's setting up a medical software companywith a college friend. Is it highrisk? Yes, but that doesn't worry me asmuch as the time it takes away fromour relationship. It's as if he has a mistresswith this venture. You can imaginehow much time we have together astwo doctors with long work days andlots of on call. It doesn't take a rocketscientist to figure out why we're havingtrouble in the bedroom."

I told them that I, too, believe theyhave a sound marital infrastructure.They are both bright and resilient. Theyare also interested in marital improvementand willing to work on change. Ialso said that their arguing is in partrelated to their respective strengths.Their work demands taking charge,and sometimes this behavior can spillinto the intimacy of home.

Dr. Austin acknowledged his start-upcompany's intense time demands. Herespected his wife feeling short-changed.Fortunately, his very capable—andunmarried—partner was willing to takeover some of his responsibilities.

I asked them to keep a master scheduleof their commitments, and to protecttheir time together. They go on 30-minute micro dates during the work dayand when on call. Because they are lesstired, their arguments are now truncated.I've introduced the notion of apologizing,which is not about giving uppower, but maturity and reflection.Their periods of silence after a disputeare now much shorter.

It should come as no surprise thattheir love life has also much improved.

Michael F. Myers, a clinical professor in the

Department of Psychiatry at the University of

British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, is the

author of Doctors'Marriages: A Look at the

Problems and Their Solutions (Plenum Pub

Corp; 1994) and How's Your Marriage?: A Book for Men and

Women (American Psychiatric Press; 1998). He is the past

president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and welcomes

questions or comments at