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Cultivating relationships during residency training

Many residents cultivate friendships during residency, others cultivate more intimate relationships, and some cultivate their marriage relationships. One thing is certain; personal relationships take more effort during training due to the demanding hours and stress. They also can suffer without that effort. 


One of the most important things my husband and I did during medical school and residency was learn how to carve out time for ourselves as a couple.  I know this is a common thread for all parents, no matter their professions, but we were definitely on the overloaded/swamped end of the spectrum. I love the analogy of marriage being a garden and the need to tend it so weeds don’t take over and it doesn't die off due to neglect.  


On the day-to-day, we used a strict bath and bedtime for the girls to save space for ourselves.  After the kids were tucked in, we had time to chat, watch a movie, conquer the original Myst or Zelda, read together in the same space, work on a project together, or go just go to sleep early.


In the bigger view of time, we had a goal of one date night per month and one weekend a year for just the two of us.  We didn’t always meet that goal; we did meet it more times than not, though.  Sometimes the date night was a meal with just the two of us while someone watched the girls for an hour or two.  The weekends were sometimes only staycations while the girls stayed with the grandparents.  We did manage an occasional getaway to Orange Beach, Perdido Beach, or the Grand Hotel in Fairhope when we had the funds to splurge.  (Sunday Brunch at the Grand Hotel is a favorite indulgent memory of mine). On occasion, but thankfully not too often, I would make the mistake during our date to vent about the difficulties in our life. In doing so, it became an unpleasant experience for both of us.  We would completely miss the enjoyment.  Thankfully, we learn and grow. Why waste quality time together in focusing on frustration?


We had learned about the five love languages.  We both had quality time on ours – hence the importance of the time above – though one could argue even if it’s not in the top 3, it’s still fairly vital to a marriage.


I love a good, thoughtful surprise, and my husband had some amazing ones. There was the 12-days-of-Christmas surprise where I received a fun gift each day with a homemade card. (Remember the printshop cards you designed, printed on a dot-matrix printer, then folded?) He was an acts of service man, so despite my revulsion of all domestic duties, I would sweep or fold clothes – killing two birds with one stone!  (I’m going to be honest – he was much better at speaking to me in my love language than I was in his during those early days). Obviously, we didn’t always get it right. There was the time he gifted me a brass lamp. (Insert hands with palms up emoji). And, the time I surprised him with a get-away by clearing his schedule secretly and arranging childcare. Evidently, it was counter to his renovation plans. (If you read my last blog - you can see, I was a little slow in learning of his aversion to surprises).


However, the most trying times came when my youngest, hmm…how should I say this…. wasn’t really conventional in her approach to preschool.  She actually had become an avid outspoken activist against story circle-time at the young age of 4. She wasn’t a fan of naptime or of sharing either. As long as she could constantly move to the tune of her own drummer and be left alone, things were great.  Unfortunately, that’s not how preschool worked.  Her reactions to a stern voice or feeling like she had to conform resulted in manual protests – the bookshelves may have been pushed over a time or two. I was certain we were on the road to having the youngest child in juvie hall. (She is still the only 4-year-old I know that was placed on probation by daycare.)


My husband and I had different ideas of the best approach to our daughter’s behavior.  The difference in how we addressed the unprecedented challenge in the midst of stressful training became a point of contention in our marriage. Arguments over whose way was best became the focus. We finally decided to take her for counseling.  It turns out that child therapy at that age is just a sneaky term for parenting classes.  While the therapist used some techniques with our daughter to teach self-control, the largest focus was teaching us ‘best practices in parenting a child with her temperament.  It was reinforced that a unified parental front was necessary.  After a few sessions, we ended up on the same page.  I often reflect on what would have happened had we not taken her to counseling. We would, at the very least, have been in deep opposition for years to come.  (By the way, her teenage years were a breeze.  She became a wonderful independent young woman and a strong leader that never gave a second glance to peer pressure).


And while there were other trials during our training, we remained focused and committed to being on the same team – the two of us - always, the core of the team. Once you overcome one large adversity in marriage, you settle in and understand that you will figure the next one out together. There is less panic. There is more faith in the relationship's ability to withstand storms; and for you to have each other’s back.


I have pondered a corollary reflection: What if our youngest hadn’t been so challenging at that age?  Would we have learned those valuable lessons and grown stronger together at a critical time?  Maybe, nothing went wrong.  Maybe, it was exactly what we needed.


We have continued to do our share of tending the garden through the years. It takes different forms over time. I’m grateful for our relationship and its ability to grow and flex.


Time seems very limited during training.  For those key relationships, here are my topical tips -- Priorities. Boundaries. Teamwork.  Fluid-unit.  Quality time. Love languages. The benefit of the doubt. Growth mindset. Have each other’s back.  Cultivate what matters. Remember, you're on the same team. Maybe the challenges are perfect. Maybe nothing has gone wrong. You’ve got this!


Have a joy-filled day!   Tonya

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