What Do We Know About “The Medical Marriage?”
Nobody understands doctors like their spouses and doctor/doctor marriages come with their own set of issues and challenges. Physician’s families face some unique challenges not well understood by outsiders – and indeed, not well understood by physicians, residents and medical students just now entering their marriages.
A recent article, Understanding the Medical Marriage: Physicians and Their Partners Share Strategies for Success, published in the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges recently took an in-depth look at the challenges of being married, being a doctor, and being married to a doctor. The findings were encouraging: They found that doctor’s marriages started later in life, but lasted longer than those of the general population and were more resistant to divorce.
The authors, Rachel Perlman, Paula T. Ross, and Monica Lypson, all physicians themselves, uncovered four main themes though their interviews with 25 individuals:
- The reliance on mutual support
- Recognition of the importance of each family member
- Importance of shared values
- Recognition of the benefit of being a physician.
Physicians’ marriages must survive in the face of dealing with some stresses not found in many other professions:
- Work stress
- Unpredictable or odd hours
- Social pressures of an affluent peer group
- Long hours at work
- Lack of time for intimacy
- On-call hours
- Professional commitments spilling over into personal time
The authors found a number of strategies these families used. Among them was role definition. The respondents reported that it helped to have a good arrangement concerning household roles and duties. These weren’t necessarily traditional male-female responsibilities. For example, one doctor’s husband reported:
“She’s in a position of leadership and leadership can be lonely. So I give her sort of a sounding board that she can go over issues and get my ideas about things so I think I am helpful that way.”
The study’s authors also reported that the breakdown of roles and responsibilities within the household was not so important as having a good idea of one’s expectations of one’s spouse, and what one’s spouse expected of them.
Doctors who married other doctors reported significant benefits from their shared commitment to medicine and the understanding each spouse had for the career requirements and circumstances of the other.
The study’s authors did not focus on the disadvantage of medical careers in marriage and relationships, so it is possible that the challenges may have been understated in their study. For example, they did not mention the significant challenges of couples faced with the very high debt levels that frequently come with attending medical school.
The Value of Marriage
Other social scientists however, have reported that a successful marriage – and lack of divorce – has an important positive effect on one’s financial prospects later in life. For example, in his research for the well-known book The Millionaire Next Door, author Thomas Stanley found a significant correlation between successful first marriages and the tendency to accumulate wealth throughout one’s life.
As a long-time financial advisor and insurance agent to hundreds of physicians, I can state first hand how beneficial a successful marriage is to a prosperous medical career – even where the other spouse is also a doctor and has significant career challenges of his or her own.