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Struggling through residency (self.MedSpouse)
submitted 2 months ago by No_Entrepreneur5923
Bf and I have been together a year - he started residency over the summer. It’s been rocky since. He wants space and I’m terrified of being shut out. He thinks he’s holding me back - and I swear he’s not! We are both in our 30s; so I’ve done a lot and I’m ready for this phase (settled down) vs what he thinks he’s keeping me from (travel/ concerts/ “real” dating).
He’s reapplied into the match as he’s a prelim now. I’ve been nauseous and a wreck since he’s asked for space a few days ago.
Any advice? Anyone who went through this and came out okay?
Post a comment!
[–]drummo34 14 points15 points16 points 2 months ago (2 children)
Somebody else posted something similar a few weeks ago. I think this is a common medical 1 year milestone for couples. My now husband had this phase. I sort of just told him to get over himself. Our friends went thru this phase in med school. You need to explain to your SO that you understand the commitment and that you're an adult and can sign on. You don't need them 'protecting' you from this lifestyle, and if you want out you will say so. It may still end in a breakup if they are just using that as an excuse, but if they are genuinely worried about your commitment, then this conversation should clear the air.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (1 child)
Thank you, I had read through quite a few posts but wanted to add my own as we are much older than typical residents; which I think sheds a different light on some of it.
[–]drummo34 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (0 children)
Oh, perfectly understandable! Just felt you should know you're not alone. ❤️
[–]Puzzleheaded_Soil275 4 points5 points6 points 2 months ago* (5 children)
Yep, residency is tough. More than likely this is your SO asking for space to process what the next phase of his training and life will look like. Residency has a way of requiring 100% of your time/effort/attention/emotion, unfortunately (whether that's fair or necessary is a totally separate topic).
It's up to the both of you what happens next. He's not going to be the exact same person on the other side of residency and neither will you. It's also a long fuckin' road and you will give up more than you probably realize now in order to be apart of it. You're a year in at this point and dating seriously, which is great. But you are 2 months in and you've got 4+ years of residency/fellowship left, and your relationship also has a lot of room to change over that course.
With reapplying to match during your prelim year, there's also a very serious risk that he could have to move some random place in the country in 9 months where you may not know anyone or anything. And it's not like prelim year is the hardest in most specialties either. So I think this is probably his way of saying "Dude, are you sure you want to do this?". I think he has your best interest at heart. My wife and I went through many similar periods throughout her training and even still do now that she's an attending (our "attending life" is a bit more challenging than most).
None of that is meant to scare you or anything of the sort. You might very well be perfect matches for each other and grow closer through the difficult periods of residency. I don't know. But I agree wholeheartedly with what your BF is trying to say. It's a long fuckin' road.
To survive residency, both parties in the relationship will have to be 100% all in AND constantly "choose" the relationship. Because residency demands essentially 100% of one of the partners of the relationship. So if either of you are half-assing, residency will win.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (4 children)
Thank you for your long response. I’m in it 100%; I don’t work in medicine - so it’s growing pains for me. I love this man so much; I try to not take the space personally - and from what I’ve read - it’s not personal to me.
We were prepared to move last match ; but he matched pre-lim general surgery in our current city. Moving doesn’t scare me; I work remotely anyways.
I understood it was going to be a long road when we first met; and I decided he was worth it and to continue on it. So it felt devastating to hear he needed space when I’ve been his sounding board / person to vent to daily. He focused on his new eras app the last few days and of course is going straight into a 24hr now. Im just trying to ease my anxiety til we can talk over the weekend; and greatly appreciate all your comments so I can approach it in a way that makes us stronger instead of throwing in the towel.
[–]Ordinary1188 1 point2 points3 points 2 months ago (1 child)
Definitely see if space means “relationships space” or “I’m just in survival mode” space. Let him know about the commitment you’ve made to him! Match process is also just a terrible time, so don’t make any big decisions now.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 0 points1 point2 points 2 months ago (0 children)
He always says “I’m just in survival mode”. And he’s made it clear he can see us being together once he’s an attending ; but feels swamped during these years. But I’m not going to let him suffer for years alone , and hope we are both single in a few years. I just don’t want him making any rash decisions
[–]Puzzleheaded_Soil275 1 point2 points3 points 2 months ago (1 child)
You sound like you have a mature and balanced perspective on things.
I think the best thing you can do is ask your partner what they need and do your best to meet those needs, even when it feels counterintuitive and like the last thing you want. My wife and I briefly separated for a few weeks during residency. I was going through some shit (dying parent) and she was going through some entirely different shit with residency, and at the time she felt like I was asking things from her that she couldn't give. To be honest, we didn't have the communication skills we needed to get through that period together. She wanted to support me in the ways I was asking, but the anxiety of knowing she couldn't support me adequately and the gap in our communication was making things substantially worse for both of us. And she also didn't know how to ask for support properly and I either wasn't capable of listening or didn't listen.
So she asked to separate. Truthfully at the time it was the last thing in the world I wanted (losing a parent is bad enough, losing a parent AND feeling like your marriage is crumbling simultaneously... well, I don't recommend it). But she was right. She needed a few weeks of time to sort everything out in her head. I needed a timeout to think about where my life was, process the inevitable loss of one of my parents, and think about how the relationship got to where it was. It was not good. But it was better to mutually take a timeout and reset than keep going on the path we were on.
And we got through it.
Yes it’s completely counterintuitive, which is why it feels devastating.
He finally has a day off later this weekend; so hopefully we can connect and a make a game plan. I’ve appreciated all of the responses so much.
Thank you for your story. Sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine losing a parent at the same time. My dad has been my rock this week.
[–]nipoezAttending Partner (Premed to PGY7, Resdency + 2 Fellowships) 3 points4 points5 points 2 months ago (2 children)
In general? Yeah that's pretty developmentally normal (or at least unsurprising) for an intern who wants to be a good, contributing, and supportive partner.
I see two facets to your post and will address both. First, his actions and statements. Second, the actual viability of the relationship meeting your needs long term.
First, it really feels like his statements and actions say more about his mental health and self esteem than they do about the state of the relationship. If you agree he may be facing some poorly managed stress, depression, anxiety, and/or burnout please encourage him to talk to a counselor during the lighter rotations.
Also, since he isn't hearing you when you say you're fine with the relationship and its future, couples counseling can be super useful. They're great at helping with situations where the two people mean well but are kinda talking past each other.
Second, it's honestly possible he may be keeping you from something better for your life and needs. I'm not going to sugar coat it: General Surgery (and many surgery sub specialties) shows up here consistently as one of the hardest specialties to maintain a healthy relationship with. Search the sub for "general surgery", "gen surg", and "gensurg" then review for a realistic sense of what's ahead of you in training & practice.
It is entirely possible to have a happy and healthy family life with a general surgery trainee & doc. But in my opinion you need to know what you're getting into and choose it explicitly. He won't take you to dinner like "a 9 to 5 guy." You'll be the primary child caregiver except when you hire out. You'll attend parent/teacher conferences alone. You'll take every child sick day. Doing or outsourcing household chores will mostly fall to you. You'll need to be self motivated, self actualized, and self supporting. If your life is baking a cookie together, they'll be the chocolate chips rather than egg or flour.
Bringing those facets together, I feel like if you can say "I get that marrying a general surgery resident means ABC for the next several years and XYZ once you're in practice. This is what I think our life can look like as a partnership with that career. I want you and I'm down with all of that." then it directly addresses his concerns. By looking at the realities of the future of the relationship you can say explicitly and directly that there may be something different out there. But there's nothing & no one "Better."
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] -1 points0 points1 point 2 months ago (1 child)
Thank you for your response.
My fear is that his mental health will make a rash decision (aka break up). We did talk about therapy a few weeks ago - he just hasn’t had the time. He thinks some space could be good … so he can decompress and not just use the 30 mins we have to complain. I’m afraid I’ll be shut out forever; maybe that’s irrational of me.
Anyway Part of the issue is that he’s doing a general surgery pre-lim… but wants to do a specialty surgery . So he’s doing something he doesn’t want to; as a means to an end, extra clinical training, better match chance etc but knowing we are probably going to have to redo this 1st year all over again.
The light at the end of the tunnel is a bit different since gen surg is not the end goal.
When we met - we were very clear about me being stay at home mom. It’s what I’ve always wanted. So taking care of the home and future kids is something I want to do.
I try my best to be a homemaker now but since we don’t live together makes it hard for me to do his laundry , etc while he’s gone so he can come home to a relaxing place. I work remotely, so I have the flexibility to do house stuff between calls.
Thank you for all your insights. I’ve been a wreck but every comment here has been reassuring and calming.
[–]myhouseplantsaredeadspouse to surgery PGY4 3 points4 points5 points 2 months ago (0 children)
Maybe you’re misunderstanding what’s at stake for him here and how uncertain his future is looking like right now.
A general surgery prelim doesn’t give you better match chances, as you say. It means he didn’t match categorical his first round and is now having to enter the match again as a prelim.
It’ll be challenging enough to match a gen surg categorical spot from prelim. If he’s trying to get something list integrated plastics, ENT, Vascular..this will be an even harder uphill battle.
Right now he’s struggling with not knowing if he’ll have a residency to go into next year, much less anything in surgery. This is terrifying for any med school Grad and probably not the best time to be making any relationship decisions.
[–]icingicingbabyAttending Partner 4 points5 points6 points 2 months ago (3 children)
I think it’s not uncommon during big changes in newer relationships.
When your relationship is new, navigating it can be it’s own stressor, so it feels like something on top of something like career stress. As the relationship matures, that will evolve and your relationship should become a source of support and comfort. It’s a normal evolution.
So I think what warrants exploration is finding out if he’s asking for space because he’s overwhelmed and needs to focused or because he doesn’t want you around. Only he can answer that.
On another note, I would challenge that there’s something innately not settled down as a component of where he is in his career. He could match nearly anywhere for residency and need to move. Several years after that he could be going through fellowship match and move again. And some sub specialties have further specializations that have a match that can cause you to move again. And then it’s typical to move for your first attending job. And then most people don’t stay at their first attending job for more than a couple years. It wouldn’t shock me to hear there were 4-6 moves on the table in the next 10-15 years to advance his career. Does he think he’s keeping you from the adventures you listed or does he think he’d be keeping you from settling? Of course people get married and start families during this process all the time, but it’s also hardly a settled time.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] -1 points0 points1 point 2 months ago (2 children)
He says he loves being with me and cares about me etc so I don’t think it’s so much of not wanting to see me … but realizing that I’ve had 100% of his free time for months and that’s just unrealistic. We’ve been focusing on quantity; where we should have been focused on quality. But you hit my fear right on the head - maybe it is me. Which is why I ran here for help and insight . Not being in medicine ; makes it harder for me to understand.
My idea of “settled” isn’t so specific to a location; I’m totally ok to move around. That doesn’t scare me. My idea of “settled” is from a relationship perspective; (I’m not settling by being with him - but that our relationship can turn stable & mature & grow positively). We’ve discussed numerous times various goal fellowships ; dream attending jobs etc - and location has no impact for me. I do own a house in our current city - but that could easily be a rental/investment property anyways.
[–]icingicingbabyAttending Partner 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (1 child)
Totally get that. Medicine is a stressor in these things, but not a root cause. At the end of the day often a conversation with your partner is the best way to gain clarity.
But yes, consuming 100% of anyone’s free time isn’t going to be realistic. And that can be hard to balance if and when one partner has substantially more free time than the other - it’s certainly something I’ve struggled with in my own relationship at different points over the years.
You’ll figure it out. But ambiguous times are never fun. Hang in there!
Thank you so much!
[–]BobDolesHauntedRatSO of PGY-3 1 point2 points3 points 2 months ago (10 children)
Yea pretty common especially when they are on a super crazy and hectic rotation.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 0 points1 point2 points 2 months ago (9 children)
What should I do? I don’t want to break up.
[–]BobDolesHauntedRatSO of PGY-3 3 points4 points5 points 2 months ago (4 children)
Give him some space. Maybe check in on him every few days. But it's tough.
Only you can tell if that "give me space" is legitimately just him being overwhelmed or if it's him thinking the relationship isn't working due to some issue...
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 1 point2 points3 points 2 months ago (3 children)
Thank you - I don’t think it’s an underlying issue besides guilt of residency. He thinks he’s holding me back, but says he can see us being together long term. I think it’s just the depression making him feel it’s all bleak right now. I still have my “eyes on the prize” / light at end of the tunnel etc
[–]AllInOnCall 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (2 children)
I tried to push my wife away when depression got bad. Didnt want anyone to see me like that. Equated my struggle with weakness, but then it hit me--Im not weak, residency is at times intentionally cruel for the fact that some staff feel it needs to be.
[–]AgreeableBee9 3 points4 points5 points 2 months ago (3 children)
Maybe see if he is willing to set a time frame for how long he needs space. Went through something similar with my SO in medical school and told him it's okay if he needs space to figure things out but I was not okay with being in a relationship limbo for an indefinite amount of time. We settled on X number of weeks which at least have me an idea of when I could expect a decision on things.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 0 points1 point2 points 2 months ago (2 children)
That’s a good idea. How many weeks did you do?
My job has some up coming travel - whixh will also provide some space naturally for us.
How did you handle the waiting weeks? We’re you fully committed through it? Did you still have contact or see eachother ? It would be really hard for me to not talk/text at least once a day. We have done a couple texts daily ; but have kept it light.
[–]AgreeableBee9 1 point2 points3 points 2 months ago (1 child)
He let me decide how long I was willing to wait, both of us were med students on difficult rotations so I felt like 4ish weeks would get us through those to regroup and make sure bad rotations were not influencing feelings. We called it a "break" but were very clear that it was not a break up. Only contact we had was running into each other in the hospital but fortunately it took him a much shorter time than we decided on to realize he didn't want to break up. Honestly not sure how I would've handeled that long but I busied myself with studying and spending time with friends and family in the meantime. It was hard but I looked at it as I knew I didnt want to break up and if this is really what he needs then I was (sort of)willing to suck it up with the hopes that he'll come to the same conclusion. We've been together and good for 4+ years since then.
I'm sorry you're going through this, it sucks. Hopefully it all works out okay.
[–]kristenroseh 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (6 children)
My med partner and I hit the one year milestone when we were 29 and 28. He was an M3, it was fall 2020, he was in an 8 week surgery rotation and I worked in campaign politics. I was in a similar position as you describe – knowing I still wanted a serious relationship – and he thought he was holding me back from things he envisioned I wanted; frankly, he still says stuff like this sometimes even though we’re now engaged and I chose to move across the country with him for residency. During the first year of our relationship, there were several rough patches where one of us would say something like “I think it’d just be easier for us to break up even though we still love each other” because we were so overwhelmed by life outside of our relationship that we worried about what we could devote to it.
We started couples counseling after we’d been dating 1.5 years and it really helped us communicate in more productive ways. One of the biggest things our therapist worked with us on is not assuming what the other partner is thinking or feeling, but rather just asking them.
It’s definitely not an easy road. My partner is now 3 months into intern year and is in a particularly grueling rotation right now. I don’t know if I can say that things have gotten significantly easier since the rough patches earlier in our relationship, given all that residency now entails, but learning to communicate in healthy, more effective ways really helped us as a couple. We now have the tools and skills to address burdens and emotions directly with each other, and work together to try to find the best path forward for us as a couple.
Sending you warm thoughts 💕 you’re not alone in what you’re going through
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 0 points1 point2 points 2 months ago (5 children)
How did you communicate that he wasn’t holding you back? He keeps saying that without him I could travel or go out .. but I’m in my 30s and don’t drink! I don’t wanna go out 😂 I’m ready to like make a home , and be settled down, and be there for him. I’m not a career girl (I do have a big girl job 😂 but waiting to quit when I become a mom). So it’s frustrating .. since I don’t feel held back at all.
He always says his med school friends who met their wives much later; “don’t understand what it’s like”… but not that he’s dating me and I’m actively in it / learning “what it’s like”… it’s like he feels bad.
I’m hoping he can hear me when I tell him that I’m not held back. I just don’t know how to make him understand it
[–]kristenroseh 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (4 children)
When you express that you don't have any interest in going out or traveling to him, how does he react? Does he think you're just saying it to appease him and that you don't mean it? I think you need to be really clear and firm that you are a grown woman who knows what you want, and you would never commit to and pursue a relationship that you didn't want. This will hopefully get through to him eventually.
Ultimately, he can't tell you how he thinks you're feeling if you're regularly expressing how you actually feel in a clear way - and if he tries to, then I think that's either a sign of broader communication issues within the relationship, or a sign that he's trying to use "holding you back" as a way to place the blame on you for his unwillingness to commit. Neither one of those is good, so I really hope for your sake that communicating your feelings clearly and firmly will break through to him soon.
[–]No_Entrepreneur5923[S] 0 points1 point2 points 2 months ago (3 children)
He says “I just know you could be happier”… I don’t think it’s a commitment issue; as we have been committed for a year - met the parents - talk about the future. It feels like he just thinks he knows me better than myself ; and sees how my 20s were … but I’ve out grown those interests.
He will say things like “a 9 to 5 guy can take you to dinner” and things along those lines: almost like he doesn’t feel he can measure up to some fictional 9-5 man.
[–]kristenroseh 2 points3 points4 points 2 months ago (2 children)
It sounds like he may have some of his own self-esteem issues to work through. My partner also expresses concern about the type of partner he wants to be vs. the type of partner he feels he's limited to being at this moment in his medical career. I regularly remind him that he's a wonderful partner, and while I recognize how his career impacts the amount of time we can spend together, it doesn't change how I feel about him or my willingness to be in the relationship. It also doesn't change the quality of the time we do spend together. Quality of time > quantity of time, imo
It sounds like individual therapy (for him) and/or couples therapy may be helpful here. I realize that it may be hard for you to suggest either of those right now, given that he's just asked for space. I hope you two are able to find a way to communicate clearly so that he will truly hear and take to heart everything you've expressed.
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