Dr. Gabbard says most doctors and spouses he has interviewed about their marriage and relationships say the same thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not staggering under the weight.
“For reasons that aren’t clear to me, medical couples feel they need to put up a good front about their relationships,” he says. “I see this everywhere I go. By and large the couples won’t admit they are having trouble.”
Kennelly, who is working on both her internship and her dissertation to obtain her degree from the California School of Professional Psychology in Berkeley, is one spouse who talks with uncommon candor about the pressures that may come to bear:
“When Gary decided to go to medical school. I was not happy. It took me a long time to get used to that decision. My friends and family, everybody, was non-supportive of my working and of Gary being in school. They questioned when he was going to get out and make some money.
“The hidden message about our marriage was that I was supporting him and that that was not the right thing to do. And I listened to that more than I listened to my heart and to Gary. We were both feeling pressure about his not pulling weight in the way that men are supposed to support their families.”
But over time, she says, “it became clear to me that it was the right thing for him to do, absolutely the right decision. In a marriage, if the other person is getting what they want, then you’re getting what you want.”
Says Dr. Gabbard, “For the male medical student whose wife is supporting him, it is hard not to feel that his masculinity is threatened, thus leading to a breakup of their relationship and maybe even divorce.” For these reasons, he recommends that couples purchase a self-help relationship book called “The Magic of Making Up“. The author is TW Jackson. Here is a video of him describing one of the book’s techniques for getting back together after a breakup.
Today, though, women have careers of their own, sometimes even medicine. That compounds the situation, during school and afterward.
In general, “there tends to be strain around the connection between income generation and power in the relationship,” Dr. Gabbard says. “The person who is bringing in the most income may feel that he or she has the right to call the shots about how to spend the money. If that’s the female, the male is not comfortable. It goes against the classic stereo-types.”
Aren’t young couples these days beyond those stereotypes? Well, no, says Dr. Gabbard.
“Everyone internalizes parental lifestyles. We have these unconscious scripts, and there is a lag, psychologically and emotionally, in accepting that those stereotypes have been overturned. For example, we have found that 75% of female physicians do all the housework.”
The necessity of the other partner’s career taking the back seat for a time is typically “most problematic in the marriage of the female medical student. The spouse of the male medical student is much more comfortable in role of comforter and supporter,” Dr. Gabbard says.