April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Can I Succeed as a Newly Married Man in Medical School?

Dear Dr. Chani,

As a newly married medical school student, I frequently feel pulled in two directions. I want to be a great husband to my new wife, yet I also want to succeed on my exams so that I can become the best doctor I can be. (To a lesser degree, I also feel pulled to keep in touch with my family and friends.) There just does not seem to be enough hours in a day. I would love to hear your advice on how to walk the delicate balance between maintaining my marriage and pursuing my profession.

I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes I regret getting married before finishing medical school. I realize that I have a long haul ahead of me and that if I had waited until things calmed down professionally I might never have gotten married, but I still feel like I jumped into marriage a little too quickly. When I think back to when I made the decision to get engaged, I recall feeling like I was doing “what is normal.” Most of my friends were getting married and it seemed like I was at the right stage of life to take this next step. Maybe I was afraid that if I didn’t get married, I would end up being single for a long time. Yet, now I worry that I was too naive about what marriage is like. I feel guilty when I want to stay in school late studying, or I need to focus on schoolwork when I am at home. I sense that I am abandoning my wife.

My inner struggle is not related to my wife. She is very sweet and caring, and she does not complain at all about my busy schedule. Yet I know that she spends a lot of time at home without me. She is a teacher and she has a lot of free time in the evenings and on weekends. Ironically, we spent more time together doing fun things and having deep conversations when we were dating than we do now that we are married. I fear that I am not being the husband that she deserves.

What should I do about my feelings? How can I manage everything?

Sincerely,
Ron


Dear Ron,

It is very thoughtful of you to sense that your wife is lonely when you are unable to spend time with her because of your responsibilities at medical school. It is interesting that you feel you are “abandoning” your wife, even though she did not complain to you about it. I wonder: What is making you feel this way? Let’s explore some of the reasons you may feel pulled in different directions and what you can do to resolve this.

One of the reasons that you may feel this inner conflict is because you have a model of what marriage should look like and you feel that you are unable to keep up with these expectations. If this resonates with you, ask yourself, “What is my vision of what marriage should look like? What marriages have I observed that have contributed to my model of marriage? What other sources such as my education, culture, media and life experiences have shaped my view of how marriage should be?” It is helpful to reflect on your answers to these questions to gain self-awareness about what is contributing to your inner conflict and feelings of guilt that you are not measuring up to your role as a husband.

Another reason you may feel guilty is because you are getting vibes from your wife that she is lonely, bored or unhappy, even though she has not specifically complained to you about it. Surprisingly, your wife may be communicating her feelings to you nonverbally. It could be that there is a certain faraway look on her face when you walk into a room, or a facial expression or tone of voice she uses when she responds to you in conversation. Whether she realizes it or not, whether it is intentional or unintentional, your wife may be nonverbally communicating to you that she is feeling distant from you or that she resents your absences.

Whether she is indirectly expressing that she is bothered or she is actually OK and supportive of your needs, it is important to have conversations with your wife about how she feels that things are going. Ask her open-ended questions to allow her to fully express how she feels, and lead the conversation in the direction that she wants rather than yes-no questions. For example, you can ask her, “How do you feel when you’re at home and I’m away, or when I’m at home and focusing on studying? How is our day-to-day routine going for you? How does it compare to your expectations of what our marriage would be like?” You can also ask her to reflect on the questions above so that she can share with you her model of marriage and how it relates to your current reality. It is helpful to have these kinds of conversations over time, every now and then at different points of your marriage. Openly talking about how things are going can ensure that you are aware of any issues or areas for improvement and can work on addressing them.

One of the reasons you mentioned that you feel your marriage is lacking is because you compare your dating experience with your lack of time together now that you are married. You recall how nice it was to go out on dates with your wife and you wish that you could continue to have such rich and enjoyable experiences with her. It is wonderful that you would love to spend more quality time with your wife. This is a positive sign of a healthy relationship and I hope for you to continue to feel this way throughout your long and healthy life together.

An important point to keep in mind is that the reason you prioritized spending time going on dates with your wife is because you recognized that it was essential for creating and developing your relationship. There was no other practical way to build your relationship to the point that you would be ready to marry each other. Yet, now that you are married, you are already committed to one another. Part of you may feel that you have the luxury of focusing on your medical school requirements and allowing your relationship to stay afloat in the background. Yet, another part of you may be aware that even though you are now married, you still need to actively invest in your relationship. This results in the tug-of-war feeling inside you.

It may reassure you to know that many people can relate to the challenge of having to balance family and profession. This tension can happen at different stages of a relationship and across many kinds of professions. Your instinct to feel that you should be spending more time with your wife is inherently good. It demonstrates that your wife matters to you and that your marriage matters to you.

Marriage might be compared to a downwards escalator. The default is for your relationship to atrophy and wane, unless you actively nurture your marriage to make it thrive. Marriage needs routine investment, or it will wither. At the same time, this does not mean that your marriage has to consume all of your time, attention and resources. You can focus on your medical school responsibilities and still have a vibrant, healthy marriage.

At the root of a healthy marriage lies a deep emotional connection where each spouse can express their thoughts and feelings to one another. This connection is developed over time, through many conversations and connective experiences. An integral part of spouses’ developing their emotional connection to each other is to have conversations where each patiently listens to the other and tries to understand what the speaker is saying. When an emotional connection is developed in a relationship, it can draw each spouse to naturally want to spend more time with the other.

Yet, if you have time constraints because of medical school and are unable to have meaningful conversations or spend time together very often, focus on quality instead of quantity. Try to carve out quality time on a regular basis where you can give each other your undivided attention and enjoy each other’s company. You can further strengthen your bond by expressing your desire to spend more time together even though it is not possible.

I hope that by reflecting on your model for marriage, discussing your feelings with one another, and scheduling quality time together you will come to recognize what you are already doing right as a husband and identify opportunities for you to make your marriage even better.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist who has specialized in helping people build and enhance their relationships for over two decades. If you would like to improve your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, or others in your life, reach out to her at chanimaybruch.com.

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