How's Your Marriage, Doctor?

Physician's Money Digest, June 2006, Volume 13, Issue 6

Not long ago I received a call,"Dr. Myers, this is Mrs. Jonescalling. Will you see my husbandand me? I've given him an ultimatum—marital therapy or else I'mleaving. I'll explain when we see youin person."

I set up a visit for Mrs. and Dr. Jonesthe following week. Mrs. Jones beganwith, "I'm dying inside. It's loneliness. Ithought I was lonely before I got married.This is 10 times as bad. My husbanddoesn't talk. I'm living with astranger. Some days I think my head isgoing to burst with rage. Other days Ican't stop crying."

Dr. Jones responded, "Irma is right.I'm not a talker. I've always been quietand inward. I feel badly that she's sounhappy. Maybe we made a mistakegetting married. I didn't know theground rules."

I asked a few questions and learneda lot. Mrs. Jones was a landscapearchitect and Dr. Jones, a pathologist.They were both age 36 and had beenmarried for 3 years. They met onlineand married 9 months later, and thiswas a first marriage for each. Communicationwas not a problem at thebeginning. Talking had slowly diminishedover the last 18 months or so.There did not seem to be a particularstressor or recent event in either oftheir personal or professional lives thatmight have triggered their problems. "Idon't think I'm depressed either," Dr.Jones said. "Irma has asked me whetherI'm having an affair, and I am not."

I scheduled individual visits witheach of them, but it's my visit with Dr.Jones that I would like to highlight. Hewas correct that he was not depressed,in a clinical sense; however, he was sad,preoccupied, and broken—and forvery good reasons. Dr. Jones' backgroundwas punctuated with loss.When he was 11 years old, his onlysibling, an older sister, died of Reye'ssyndrome. Her death was devastatingfor his parents, especially his mother,who had administered aspirin to hissister during a bout of chicken pox.

"My mom never really recoveredafter Tanya's death," Dr. Jones said."The light went out of her eyes. I neverheard her laugh again. She never forgaveherself. Psychiatrists tried hard tohelp her with antidepressants and therapy,but nothing seemed to work."

What happened next was difficultfor Dr. Jones to talk about. "I lost bothmy mom and dad together. My motherhanged herself 17 years ago," Dr.Jones said. "Five days later, just afterher funeral and as I got off the planereturning to college, the police greetedme with the news that my father wasdead. He shot himself in the heart ontop of my mother's grave. I don't knowhow I survived this. I still don't."

Dr. Jones was willing to begin ongoingindividual therapy with me. Hehad never really examined the impactof losing his entire family so violently.He finds our sessions helpful, and Mrs.Jones is beginning to see positivechanges in him. He's more animatedand open with her, and they are regainingintimacy.

Don't let childhood losses and traumaruin your marriage. Seek professionalhelp. It's a gift to yourself, yourspouse, and your family.

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 myers@telus.net.