What is marriage? A partnership. A commitment. A demonstration of the love you share with your spouse. And also, an investment.
Our marriages are some of the biggest investments we will make in the course of our lives, not just emotionally but also financially. Moreover, divorce is expensive and carries the potential to financially devastate even a high-income professional. The 2018 National Retirement Risk Index shows that most people would need an increase in income of about 30 percent to maintain their standard of living after separation from their spouse.
Emotionally and practically, going through a divorce would likely involve significant distractions from your work, as well as personal complications such as moving and downsizing, legal disputes, and issues with childrearing. Investing in your marriage is the best way to prevent divorce.
Physician marriages have unique strains placed on them by the medical career journey, which can entail frequent moves, long hours, unpredictable work schedules, and mental exhaustion and burnout for both the physician and the physician spouse. Multiply those strains by two if you are in a dual-physician marriage! These factors combined can wear down a physician marriage without regular, intentional investment in the relationship.
How do we invest in our marriage?
You should invest in your marriage on a regular, preventative basis, just like you do for your house and your car. And just like with your house and car, regular, preventative maintenance is more economical than emergency repairs in your marriage. Preventative maintenance in your marriage means that you put work into your relationship with your spouse on a regular basis. Marital preventative maintenance includes date nights, counseling, and “continuing education” opportunities.
1. Date nights
Even if you can’t afford to go out weekly or even monthly on a date with your spouse, you can still engage in regular “date nights.” Try these ideas for date nights on a budget:
- Order in takeout so you don’t have to also pay for childcare
- Go to a park and take a romantic walk
- Cook your favorite food together
- Rewatch your favorite movie together, or try a new movie from Redbox or a streaming service
- Play a two-person game (e.g. Scrabble, Dominoes, Battleship, Checkers/Chess, Bananagrams, Ticket to Ride, Sequence...There are so many great options!)
- Ask each other the 36 questions to fall in love
Marriage counseling is not just for couples going through tough times. Every couple has areas in which they can improve. Just as you go to the doctor for your annual checkup, it’s appropriate to engage in marriage counseling a few times a year or every few years. Many counselors now offer virtual counseling or night and weekend hours. If you’re still in medical school, residency, or fellowship, you may be concerned about affording counseling. Frequently, communities will have counseling offered on a sliding scale to make therapy accessible to people with lower incomes. If your spouse will not engage in marital counseling with you, I still recommend individual counseling for the same reason.
3. Marriage “continuing education”
The nature of marriage is similar to the field of medicine in that it will grow and change over time. For this reason, I recommend that you commit to marriage “continuing education,” just as you do continuing education in your medical career. Marital CE comes in a broad spectrum of offerings and includes books, marriage classes, weekend intensives, and online marriage courses such as the one I developed. Residency-Proof Your Marriage is the self-paced online video course for physicians at any stage of medical training or practice who want to build their marriage to withstand the pressures of a medical career.
Investing in your medical marriage will yield financial and emotional returns. If you do not currently regularly work on your marriage, I encourage you to begin doing so immediately. It’s worth it!