We are currently in the last year of med school, and I’m wondering; what are some practical, everyday things we can do to keep our marriage strong? Especially with intern year coming up.
Don’t confuse character with situation. When the demands of life become overwhelming, it is easy to attack your spouse’s personality when in reality it is the situation you are angry about. The hospital demands that accompany some rotations may make your spouse unavailable to you during the day and home late at night. It is easy to misconnect those dots and assume, “I’m not important to her,” or “He cares more about work than he does about me.” The ugly reality of medical life is that at times, many elements will be out of your and your spouse’s control. Attacking your spouse’s character when the situation is to blame is unfair.
Make time each day just to be together. Find the time every day to connect. The couples I speak to have become very creative at making this work. One woman tells me she gets up early with her husband every morning before he goes to work. Another client told me they started putting their children to bed earlier every night in order to have some time alone. Try going to bed at the same time, putting work away at a particular time and spending the rest of the evening together, or doing routine activities like walking the dog or washing dishes together. Whatever you come up with, find a way to make this happen every day.
“Please” and “thank you” are still magic words. It’s amazing what a simple thank you can do. Indeed it communicates gratitude, but perhaps more importantly, it communicates an acknowledgement of the other person and his or her sacrifice. I think I can honestly say that in 14 years of marriage, my husband has never once forgotten to thank me for dinner — even when he is warming up leftovers. It doesn’t matter if your spouse has been doing certain things for years without you saying thank you — start today. Notice the little things and express appreciation for his or her sacrifice. Even if you have created defined responsibilities and roles in your family, you can still acknowledge the effort and sacrifice it is for your spouse to fulfill those roles.
Make coming home to each other the best part of your day. In a letter to his son Michael before his wedding, Ronald Reagan wrote, “There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.” The same is true for women. We all need to know that at the end of the day we have a safe someone to come home to.
Both of you will have long, hard days, and it will be surprisingly easy to take out your exhaustion on the ones you love most. Make an effort to greet your partner with a kiss and a smile. If you come home and find the house is a wreck and dinner isn’t planned, that’s a good indication that your spouse has had a bad day too, and needs your help rather than your criticism. Likewise, coming home from work late to an angry and bitter spouse will not change the uncontrollable schedule, but it will create resentment.
Never speak negatively about each other. I guarantee you that your spouse will make mistakes and hurt your feelings. At times, the mistakes may even be monumental. It is sure risky, however, for your spouse to try again if those mistakes are publicized to your co-workers, friends, parents, and Facebook contacts. Relationships require loyalty in order to grow and thrive. Throwing your spouse under the bus each time he or she screws up will destroy trust and create emotional distance.
During residency, some friends of ours had a sign hanging above their front door that read, “Your name is safe in our home.” Let your partner know that his or her name is safe with you.
You will need the support of others when things get hard. Just remember that it is one thing to complain about the situation; it is an entirely different thing to complain about your spouse.
Eliminate all or nothing accusations. When you are angry and feeling disconnected from your partner it is easy to start in on the accusations and blame. Some of the most painful accusations begin with “You never/always:” “You never listen,” “You’re always on the computer,” “I always have to remind you.” The problem with this line of thinking is that a) it is not true and b) it automatically creates a defensive response. An attacking stance and a defensive stance is perfect positioning for a fight — not for you to get the support and connection you need. Try explaining what you need rather than accusing your spouse of being inadequate. “I need to spend some time with you tonight. Can we put computers and projects down for the evening and just be together?”