“My Family Comes First” & Other Lies Doctors Tell Their Wife

“Liar liar, pants on fire!”

You have no idea how many times I have wanted to blurt that out over the years. Totally mature, I know. But honestly, over all these years, there have been numerous times when I have felt so defeated and so let down because of the little un-truths that were said.

Here are four little “lies” that consistently popped up…and still do (but now I know the truth behind them):

Lie #1: My family comes first.

Truth: Medicine is number one. I don’t get personal days or really even any sick days.  I would rather be at my son’s baseball or my daughter’s recital , but I just can’t. I can’t leave my critically ill patient, or in the middle of check out, or leave my team scrambling to cover for me.

Helpful Hint: This is especially true during med school, residency, & fellowship. Not only are they there to learn, but they are under so much pressure to perform and find favor with their attendings. It’s a tough road but the sooner you can accept the fact you will be carrying most of the responsibilities at home, the better. It’s not fair. It stinks. But that’s just how it is. 

Lie #2: I’ll be home soon…I’m leaving in 20 minutes.

Truth: I really have no idea when I am leaving the hospital but I feel guilty I’m not home yet, so I’ll tell you a time because that’s what I think you want to hear. And I really wish I can leave in 20 minutes, but I who am I kidding?

Helpful hint: I made the rule with my husband that he is not to call me until he is in the car on his way home or even better – about 5 minutes away. Seriously, this has prevented many arguments. 

Lie #3: Sure, honey, make those plans to go out with your friends next week…I’ll be home in time to put the kids to bed. You don’t need to call a babysitter. 

Truth: I really want to be home in time so you can go out and have a break, and I hope I actually am able to. But honestly, I have no control over those patients who get admitted at the very last minute or the surgery that lasts longer than planned or the emergency that popped up right as I’m supposed to be “off.”

Helpful hint: Call a sitter. Nine times out of 10, he probably won’t make it home in time. If he actually does, apologize to the sitter & give her some gas money. Done. Now go out and have a fun time.

Lie #4: I promise life will get better when I’m done with residency/fellowship.

Truth: Don’t expect much. Yes, our salary will increase but my schedule won’t change a whole lot.

Helpful Hint: That is pretty much the truth. The increase in salary has been a HUGE burden lifted. But my husband hasn’t had a weekend off since September. He left the house this morning at 4:30a.m. and I’m not exactly sure when he’ll be home tonight. Set the bar low, my friends…set the bar really low.

truth lie

It took me a few years (and countless tears) to recognize these patterns. But when I was finally able to figure out what my husband was actually trying to say, I realized he made those promises with good (or maybe even guilt-driven) intentions.

He WANTED those things to be true. He wanted to leave in 20 minutes. He wanted to be home with the kids. He wanted to be there on their 1st day of school or for Dads & Donuts Day. And he wanted life after training to be dramatically different.

And now a little confession for the ladies:

THE BIG FAT LIE DOCTOR’S WIVES BELIEVE

Lie: This is too much. It’s not fair. I didn’t sign up for this. 

Truth: For better or for worse…For richer or for poorer <– You had no idea, right?! I don’t think any of us can ever understand what we are walking into when we said we’d marry a guy who is on the medical path. Even if someone tries to explain it, it’s not something you can truly understand until you live it…which makes it a very lonely place to be sometimes. You two are in this together. It takes a special woman to walk the path you are on. You’re guy loves you (even if he falls asleep mid-sentence) and he’s lucky to have you. You can do this.

Helpful Hint: So this is the hard part being married to one of these guys: You have to learn how to extend grace and forgiveness time after time after time. Because you will be disappointed. A lot. And if you don’t learn to forgive (or aren’t willing to), anger and bitterness will take root. It will find you in the dark and lonely places and feed you more lies. And that, my sweet friend, is the truth.

And I know that’s the truth…. because it happened to me.

…Or at least that’s what my therapy bill is telling me…

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27 Responses to “My Family Comes First” & Other Lies Doctors Tell Their Wife

  1. Kelly says:

    This post made me so thankful I went into pediatrics! I’m a pediatric resident and my program does a pretty good job preserving our work-life balance. Thanks to the new duty hours we’re mostly doing shift work, which means at the end of the day I can usually get out on time. I think that even though many of my work days are 12-14 hours, being on a shift-based schedule helps me know when I can plan things with my husband.

    On another note, they had to make a law that says I can’t work more than 80 hours per week! Crazy, right? I had short call yesterday and got home at 4. I patted myself on the back for how glorious it felt to have a “half-day” and then I realized that what felt like a half day to me was actually still nine hours!
    Kelly recently posted..Giveaway :: Numi Artisan’s Tea Blending KitMy Profile

  2. Nicole says:

    So true. And, then there are those who do the residency years fellowship years, being the primary bread earner and domestic caretaker only to have the physician spouse leave taking the kids and his high income. All of a sudden he has a lot of time to go on all kinds of trips with his young girlfriend and spend time with the kids. Note that like your blog states he “wasn’t” able to until he found someone else. Guess that’s a perk he gets for all those sacrificial years in training and initial practice establishment. Was I traded in? Yes. Was it kind or fair? No. Am I hurt and resentful? Yes. Is my situation rare? I hope so, but know it happens too much. That “doctor” title carries a lot of weight in this world. Doesn’t matter who sacrificed right along with him to get that title, he is often placed on a pedestal and lives are destroyed in their glow from their own mirror.

  3. Naomi Johnson says:

    I am not a Dr’s wife, but a wife. So easy to agree with all you said and I love how it’s so eloquently expressed! We could laugh or cry through each lie depending on how we choose to read/see it. THANK YOU! You should be a therapist for so many! Wait, no, then your children would have no one. You are doing the best job out there!

  4. Andi says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It found me at the right time and is very reassuring! October was a very crazy month for us with fellowship interviews and I found myself being constantly disappointed and have started to feel the resentment and bitterness roots taking hold. As much as I am reassured that “things will get better”, I get so frustrated! This post is a good wake up call to get rid of my expectations and accept that he is trying his best.

  5. Kristy says:

    My husband is wonderful and does his best, but I have learned it’s best to have no expectations. That’s when I get frustrated. :) I laughed at your “I’ll be home in 20 minutes” comment. I’ve just learned to mentally add an extra 30 minutes to whatever time he says and then I’m usually close. :)

  6. Lauren says:

    Hello,

    I’m currently applying to medical school and have been following medical mondays for a while now. It seems like there are a ton of “doctor wife” blogs. Can you please send me any links for “doctor husband” blogs? I don’t really understand this. Why aren’t they out there writing about all the injustices they must endure as doctor husbands? Also, I have a few blogs I read that are written by female residents/physicians, but do you have any recommendations in particular for this?

    It’s been helpful for me to read about how terribly sad and stressful life is for you (and all the other doctor wives) being married to a physician. It has made realize that I am just going to have to go through life without a partner, because I, as a future physician, don’t want to subject someone else to these “lies” that I’ll inevitably have to tell. I know it’s for the best but it just breaks my heart knowing that I essentially have to pick a successful career over a happy home life. I wish it wasn’t so black and white…happy with a career, or miserable with a career and a partner. But there’s just no way I would want to subject someone to these lies.

    Thank you,

    Lauren

    • Jessika says:

      Lauren,

      I am a Pediatrician and my husband is a stay-at-home dad when I’m at work. We got married after my 1st year of medical school, so he has been with me through nearly all of the medical ride. We have both had to make sacrifices and compromises, but I can honestly say it was so much better to have him there with me all along the way than to do it alone. I hope you can find a man who loves you so much he is willing to stick it out with you and support you through what will be your toughest but most rewarding years. If medical school is really for you, you’ll find a guy who will support you through it. My husband never thought he would be or planned on being a stay-at-home Dad. It just kind of worked out that way. But he loves it (for the most part. As with any parent, there are days when he wishes he was not at home with the kids. But I sometimes feel that way on Thursdays, my “mommy days” when I am out of the office. ) and doesn’t regret it at all. He gets told these same lies at times I’m afraid, but we have learned how to communicate better to make it better. I too loved the “i’m 20 minutes away” comment. I’m not allowed to call or text my husband until i’m in the car on the way home. it’s just better that way. for now, I’m going to run home to have lunch with him and my 2 darling kiddos. good luck on your journey! never give up the hope that you will find your own prince charming (you may even find him in medical school. there were a bunch of people in my class that ended up getting married to each other!)! You just have to find what works for you.

      A fellow doctor, with a doctor’s husband.

      Jessika

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Jessika,

        Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it. Unfortunately it just seems like the sub-context of all of these doctor-wife blogs is “DO NOT MARRY A PHYSICIAN IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY”. Therefore I take that and translate it to my future life (that of a physician), and assume “I SHOULD NOT GET MARRIED BECAUSE I’M A PHYSICIAN AND WOULD RUIN SOME MAN’S LIFE”. I KNOW that there are happily married physician couples out there (like yourself), but the doctor-wife blogs don’t seem to come across that way. So I appreciate your comment about how you’ve worked it out. I honestly don’t think I’ll be that lucky to find any man in his right mind to marry me, but that’s okay because I’ve chosen to put my career first.

        Best,

        Lauren

    • Frank says:

      Hello Lauren, OP, and all,

      I am a doctor’s husband. She is a 3rd year OBGYN resident, and our story began in undergrad. We essentially started dating the day before she got accepted to medical school, and the rest is a long history. Around her 3rd year of med school, I began law school, and because we were battling our own career paths, we developed a lot of common ground and the ability to say that we can get through anything together.

      The law market is horrendous, and I have had to take some steps backward in my own career, and there have also been times where I felt that her and I could not row in different directions, and we had to turn and focus on one of us, and it happened to be her residency.

      Doctors need a teammate. I can say bluntly that residents tend to live in their own bubble with very little time to connect to the outside world, other than through the lens of the hospital. Business sense? Knowledge about the economy? Politics? There is a lot for the other spouse to bring to the table. Residents don’t often have a lot of time for those things.

      I believe that there are plenty of driven men that can do this without feelings of inadequacy or loss of intimacy, etc. Those men just have to know what the challenges are and know how to compensate for the mutual sacrifice for the sake of her OR his, devotion to medicine.

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Frank,

        Thank you so much for your reply, I appreciate you giving your perspective on being with a medical professional. It’s nice to hear that there are supportive partners out there, I just have to find one!

  7. Kelly Marie says:

    Someone posted this in our drs wives favebook group yesterday and it is fabulous! As a fellow drs wife I can relate to all of these. However, I will say, that I feel life improves tremendously after residency is over. The schedule can still be challenging but it is amazing how much the improved financial situation can change your world. Plus my husband has much more control and respect now. Fabulous blog-can’t wait for more!

    • Amber says:

      So glad you stopped by Kelly Marie! And I agree with the financial situation being better, but having 4 kids, it would helpful to have him around more at home. But I guess it depends on their specialty too.

  8. Thanks for linking up with Medical Mondays Amber! Brilliant as always. We have the same deal about time… he isn’t supposed to promise he will be home until he is on his way – too many disappointments when he tried to guess.
    From A Doctor’s Wife recently posted..Medical Monday’s In NovemberMy Profile

  9. All true!!! And so right about being busier AFTER training and fellowship!! It is CRAZY time 100!! And you want (or maybe you don’t) another truth?? You go through the attending phase waiting for retirement. Then, guess what?? You realize, he’ll NEVER retire the way you thought he’d retire. His idea of retirement is cutting back to a .6 and not carrying the pager. Somebody hand me a bucket. I think I’m gonna puke.
    BTW… love the new picture! Thanks for linking up for Medical Monday!
    Emma @ Your Doctor’s Wife recently posted..Medical Monday {November, Volume 2}My Profile

  10. Lauren says:

    YES GIRL YES! I tell my friends: when I married my husband (who is in medical school), I made sure that I was prepared to live like a single woman, and eventually be a single mother. I tell them that only a strong, independent person with his/her own interests can marry a physician – because if I didn’t have my own life, I would be the 3 B’s: bored, bitter, and a complete bitch. Thank you for your post!!!!

  11. This post was sooooo awesome, Amber! I loved it and shared it on Facebook. :D
    Jillian @ Hi! It’s Jilly recently posted..Halloween Candy Buy BackMy Profile

  12. Chrissie says:

    These are sad, but so true! I just about laughed out loud at #2. I’m actually worried that my husband’s schedule is going to get even busier after fellowship next year- what with trying to build a reputation and bring in new patients. Note to self: lower bar, then lower it again!
    Chrissie recently posted..Medical Mondays- Negotiating for the Real JobMy Profile

  13. Erin says:

    YES to the “call me when you’re in the car” rule!!! ‘Cause you’re so right…leaving in 5 minutes has never happened! Sometimes I think living across the street from the hospital would be nice, sometimes not ;)
    Erin recently posted..A Chance to BreatheMy Profile

  14. Meredith says:

    Hi Amber!
    Thanks for this post – this all is too familiar, but I agree – it’s out of good intention. We also just made the rule, “don’t call until you are in already in the car”. That way I won’t be waiting, and waiting, and waiting…
    Always a great reminder that forgiveness and grace are essential (maybe more so if you are married to someone in this field, but everyday requires some sort, on both ends :)
    Meredith recently posted..Vanessa and Andrew {Meredith Allyn Photography} + SomeMy Profile

    • Amber says:

      The waiting around is the worst! And that’s when the anger and bitterness sneaks in. I know my husband has had to extend the grace & forgiveness part to me too. It’s all part of this fun thing called marriage ;)

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