I feel like my husband is constantly trying to reassure me (read: make excuses) by saying things will get better “once I finish this rotation,” “once I take this test,” “once I finish this project.” I try my best to embrace the “live in the moment” mentality. How do I encourage my spouse to do the same when it feels like the cycle just repeats itself?
So much of medical training is getting through to the next thing. Medical students and spouses quickly realize that if they look too far toward the finish line, the task will feel impossible. Instead, physician couples begin segmenting the difficulty into smaller, more manageable pieces. Just as you mentioned, the test, the rotation, the project, the research paper, all become a bite-size piece they can chew until the next one comes along.
During residency, I learned there were several reasons my husband would use that phrase. First, for him, things often did get better. Each rotation, each year, each step along the way led to him being more competent. That meant less scut work and more operations. Even if things didn’t change at home, from his perspective, things did get better. Second, it was hard for him to know the difficulty of medical training meant many sacrifices for me. I think a lot of the “it will be better” was that he wanted the next thing to be better – for my sake, and it felt out of his control. Third, delayed gratification is how they have become successful. Staying home from the party during undergrad in order to study for the MCAT got them into med school. Staying up late, even though they were tired got them through those board exams. Standing for long hours in the OR even though they were hungry and needed to use the restroom allowed them to retract their first operation. Delayed gratification is what they know.
Learning to live life today is a skill. Here are four suggestions that may help:
Recognize the Trap
Delayed gratification will not lead to greater success in the end. It will lead to burnout, disillusionment and marital distress. The real secret to success is learning to see the good in today and finding ways to incorporate goals, dreams and interests now. Reject the notion that if you sacrifice now, you will have time later. It’s not true. You cannot sacrifice the things that matter most to you – particularly relationships with family – and hope they will be there later. Putting off the things that matter most until some later arbitrary date will leave you with a lot of regret.
Choose to Live
You can choose to have a great marriage now. You can choose to build family relationships and memories today. You can choose to find and pursue your own passions. I highly recommend the book How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. He clearly outlines the importance of finding balance and putting first things first – while creating a successful career.
Magnify the Blessing
John Wooden said, “If we magnify the blessings as much as we magnify the disappointments, we would all be much happier.”
Don’t misunderstand; this is not the Pollyanna glad game. I’m not suggesting you pretend that things aren’t hard or that you don’t wish they were different. I know it is hard. I know it can be overwhelming. But magnifying the challenges often makes it harder and even more overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, physically exhausted, and emotionally spent, finding the good can be difficult. Start small and look for it in the most unlikely places.
Make Moments Matter
As a busy physician family, moments are often all you have. When you ignore moments, it’s easy to begin seeing the world with a scarcity mentality. How often do you find yourself saying you don’t have enough? “I don’t have enough time,” “I don’t have enough money,” “I don’t have enough energy.” A scarcity mentality will make you miserable. Slowing down and taking advantage of small moments will allow you to create a much more fulfilling and balanced life. It only takes a few minutes to read a child another story or lovingly greet your partner each day. Those moments add up and become very significant over time.
Kim is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist, popular presenter and speaker and media expert. As the wife of a surgeon, Kim is passionate about helping medical marriages thrive. She leads marriage retreats for physician couples, hosts the Nurturing Medical Marriages Facebook Group, and meets privately with couples for intensive marital therapy weekends. You can find more information by visiting her website www.kimblackham.com, joining the Nurturing Medical Marriages Facebook group, or contacting her directly at NurturingMedicalMarriages@gmail.com.