I met a beautiful man several years ago and we fell in love instantly. He was not working as a doctor when we met but he had always wanted to and not long into our relationship he sat the medical training entrance exam, and I was in full support of him starting this new career. It felt like we were in this together, in love and excited about what we could do next. We spent months practising questions together in preparation for the university interviews. As a team we were on fire.
We received an offer to study medicine at two different universities. Having a choice threw us. One university was close by and offered us family support, which, as I was pregnant with our child, would have been great for all of us; the other was very prestigious and we were led to believe it offered more career opportunities. We spent many days and nights weighing up the pros and cons of each and writing lists and reviewing our finances and talking it over with other people. Looking back, this was all a distraction from what I knew was the decision that would support us to keep undertaking the journey of medicine as a team.
The prestige of the faraway university was like a siren calling to my husband and suddenly the other option looked much less shiny. I felt stuck; if I said no to the prestigious university and yes to the other, I could see he would be upset and this could lead to feelings of resentment in the future, or even possibly him being no longer happy in the relationship. Seeing all this I decided to say yes to the one I knew he wanted, hoping that it would offer us something back in return; a worthwhile investment (I hoped).
Very soon after we made the decision, I started to feel a lot less like my normal myself. We started arguing, I felt out of control of my emotions, because I didn’t want to move but I couldn’t just say it. Instead I got angry and he started to pull away, and our closeness was fading fast. Despite these warning signs we moved interstate and he started university.
The day he started medical school I felt absolute devastation. I felt the most immense grief, like I had lost him. I was furious at him because I felt we were no longer a team anymore. I was furious that he was putting medicine first. But here comes the twist in the story; I allowed all this. I said yes and even endorsed the decision to choose the prestigious university, even though I knew without a doubt that this would not support our relationship, let alone the reason we started on this path together.
I have spent many years feeling anger, resentment and great sadness because I went against what I knew was true. I was furious at myself for not choosing what I knew to be true. I let the idea of seeing my husband happy override the truth of what we actually needed to do. I have thought about that decision many times but I can’t go back and change it. I can be honest about what happened and now see how ignoring and deliberately overriding what I knew so clearly, led to complication and a whole lot of hurt.
This could all have been avoided so simply; by honouring what I already knew and felt, even if it did not fit into the pictures I may have had of what life should look like. The picture I held onto of pleasing and not wanting to hold my husband back (instead of doing what was needed) brought hurt to everyone around me.
Because of this choice, which at the time I thought was loving, my husband and I lived separately for years, I was mentally unwell and he had suicidal ideation. We may say we love someone but what does that really mean? If I truly loved my husband, I would only say yes to something that supports us to stay ourselves and not allow the promises of worldly ‘success’ to come between us. Choosing a short-term shiny picture for possible long-term gain was certainly not love in this story. Yes, he may have been upset or worst case scenario left the relationship if I said no to the university he thought he wanted, but at least I would still have been true to myself and who knows … he may have responded differently all together, but I did not give him, or us, this opportunity.
At the beginning of our relationship we went for a holiday and one day we climbed a mountain. As we got to closer to the summit I sat down on the grass and cried because I knew I couldn’t and did not want to climb to the peak of the mountain, but my husband’s friends were going on and so I said: “You go but I can’t.” He sat next to me and said: “I love you and I don’t need to get to the top of the mountain.” We ended up walking along a track that no one else was going on and it was the most magical adventure ever, and we did it together the whole way and got back to the cabin before dark, not tired and made love. I often go back to this moment and remember what can come from sticking with truth; it is not always easy but it’s well worth it.
What if the role of a doctor’s wife is much more than supporting her husband to go to work each day? What if it’s about keeping us both on the path of truth and not buying into the pictures that the lure of worldly success can try and sell you.
As the partners of doctors, we tend to put ourselves and our families second to the doctor’s career, and in fact the culture of medicine demands this of us, as doctors are trained from day one to always put their patients first, before themselves and anyone else. But we know this is not a true way to live, and the poor collective health and wellbeing of doctors, patients and the healthcare system in general is showing us that it is far from true.
What if our role is to support our husband as a person to live one life, where career and family and personal life are equally important, so he does not get too caught up in the culture of medicine that says he must be a doctor at all costs, even if his career comes at the expense of his family and his own health and wellbeing? And what if this support will be the beginning of true and much needed change in the culture of medicine?
We have both since started living the truth and fulfilling the potential of our life together. As a result of me looking deeply at my own human failings and being willing to treat myself with love and deep care and let all my old hurts go, I have become healthy and well, in body, mind and Soul. And my husband and I are now together again, living and working as a team. It has not been easy but it has been so worth making the decision to live from my heart and Soul and to never settle for anything less than truth or love … and this quality of life is on offer for us all, should we so choose it …