Marrying another physician has its rewards and challenges. My husband, Bob, and I may seem like the consummately happy couple on Instagram, but this is just the lens that social media sees us through. Like most marriages, we’ve had our highs and lows. There were rough times during residency where the “D”-word was thrown out in anger. But our commitment and love for each other motivated us to work on our union and learn how to best deal with conflict during stressful times.
For Bob and I, the hardest times were during residency training, when stress was at an all-time high and we had limited time to spend with each other. For a surgery resident, Bob often worked 36 hours at a time and over 80-hours per week. This took its toll overtime, both emotionally and physically. Naturally, I took over most of the household responsibilities since my dermatology residency was less demanding of my time, but these daily tasks were draining and became an inevitable source of conflict between us. I had thought that hiring cleaners was the solution, but then I realized that we'd simply begin fighting over something else after that.
The constant bickering was a symptom of our empty relationship capital at the time because we didn’t make the time or effort to build it. This is a concept that we learned about from a book on marriage that was based on research out of the Gottman Institute in Seattle. Their research showed that it’s the small and constant bid and reciprocating affection which fills the tank of “relationship capital” overtime. An example would be when one partner wanted to share some funny cat pictures and one responds with annoyance by yelling at them to not interrupt with inane things versus another who responds by going over there, laughing and sharing something else in return. Those who are rich in relationship capital will shrug off minor annoyances and bounce back from conflicts without projecting a deeper personality flaw upon the opposite party. For example, the simple mindset of “he forgot to clean the dishes because he was busy” as opposed to “he forgot to clean the dishes because he does not care about me and our marriage”.
With this new way of thinking in mind, it was clear to me that the times of conflict in our family was the result of an “empty tank”, which could be solved by reconnecting more and over the small daily things - not just getting a cleaner or going to therapy.
Spend Quality Time
Once weekly date night helped us reconnect and decompress during busy times. Besides going on culinary adventures, this gave us an opportunity to spend quality time together; sharing funny stories or difficult patient encounters from the week. It was these times that we would share, teach and help each other with our expertise and experience.
Small Gestures with a Big Impact
Don’t discount the small gestures that often can be meaningful. I always try to pack his lunch bag daily to ensure that he has enough sustenance to get through a long day. Similarly, he knows I have a sweet tooth, and would always bring treats back from work when he had the chance.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Lastly, don’t feel like therapy or counselling is only for relationships in danger. Many of you guys may have seen my Instagram post about our EFT (Emotional Focused Therapy). We wanted to have a method of processing our conflict and analyzing our communication with each other, especially in preparation for a family. There are many different types of couples or marriage counseling, but EFT has a lot of data supporting it and not as dependent on the therapist as mirroring or Gottman.
We are still not perfect, and even the longest lasting relationship is not without conflicts. However through our commitment to this marriage, we have identified our major sources of conflict, learned the best ways to de-escalate arguments, and create a loving environment that helps us to growth together.
Now that we are both in practice, we can dedicate more time to nurturing our relationship...one funny cat picture at a time.
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