Physician Health

4 building blocks for a successful medical marriage

Physicians and their spouses face obstacles—such as workloads, call hours, stress and household demands—in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Researchers defined four themes that work for physician families who have found the formula for harmony at home.

The 4 foundations

Twenty-five physicians and spouses participated in interviews, discussing the strengths that formed the foundations of their marriages. In their report on medical marriages, three researchers from the University of Michigan said that these lessons could serve as examples, especially for medical trainees and junior physicians.

Their research report appears in the January 2015 issue of Academic Medicine.

  • Mutual support. “He’s just really, really supportive,” a pediatrician told researchers, referring to her nonphysician husband. Researchers listed support first among their four foundations. Many participants emphasized the support they gave and received as a key to contentment. That support included encouraging partners to find time for recreation as well as work. “Any time he wants to go do something, he can do it,” a surgeon said of her nonphysician domestic partner. “If he ever said to me, ‘I want to go to Italy for a week by myself,’ I would say, ‘Yes.’” Support was just as important as career goals. “He is very supportive,” another physician said. “If he wasn’t willing to shoulder a large burden of the primary childcare, picking up, dropping off, taking care of them if I go out of town, I couldn’t do my job.”
  • Roles for family members. Participants described how they divided up household jobs such as grocery shopping, paying bills, cooking and home repairs. Clearly dividing up roles and assigning responsibilities was a recurring theme among participants.
  • Shared values. Having common values and priorities, such as career commitment, child rearing and integrity, pave the way for strong relationships, researchers found.
  • Benefits of being a physician. Participants noted that their medical careers provide financial security and skills that can be useful not only at work but also at home. “As an emergency physician, at least I’m able to care for a lot of stuff that might otherwise require us to go (to the hospital),” one physician said. “My kid cut his hand, so I stitched it up.” Participants said they benefit from being better off financially than most and more immune to layoffs, which shields them from relationship stresses tied to finances. “I mean, there is large unemployment in Michigan right now,” a physician said. “(But) neither of us really feels threatened that we are going to lose our jobs.”

A resource for med ed

Researchers expressed hope that, given the importance of intimate relationships to physician well-being, physicians would find their four foundations useful in their own lives. They also hoped their research would become part of the informal mentoring that senior physicians provide their younger colleagues, and eventually become part of medical education programs.

More information on medical marriages