“Honey, I’m home.”
This announcement as you walk through the door is often followed by a question that years of marriage can bring you to dread. The “How was you day?” question.
It has become an ingrained response in most couple’s lives, asked out of courtesy, out of concern, out of genuine interest and out of habit. Doctors nurses and other healthcare workers, both men and women, are experiencing a side effect of the pandemic few have had to deal with before and that many are ill-equipped to face.
The problem of how to best communicate their day to their spouses or partners, most of whom are not medically trained and exist in another bubble, away from the horrors of the Covid frontline. How can someone not intimately engaged with the medical profession express an understanding for their working conditions and the associated trauma they endure on a daily basis. Most front liners now choose to remain silent. They internalize.
for doctors, the more personal and germane impacts of the pandemic on their psyche are internalized and this can have disastrous consequences for their home life as well as impacting their health, both physical and mental
Many of these professionals are feeling more and more isolated as the separation between home and work becomes more pronounced for a number of reasons we’ll examine below. They feel unable or are unwilling to share their problems with their partner. The inability of their partners to grasp the scale of death and frustration they now confront each day, lies at the heart of the problem.
Although they can and do discuss the less personal aspects with colleagues, the more personal and germane impacts of the pandemic on their psyche are internalized and this can have disastrous consequences for their home life and wreck havoc with their health, both physically and mentally.
So just how do these professionals cope with these two distinct existences, the family life and loving partner and a professional life, now filled with death and despair on a daily basis? Before we go any further, I feel its is essential to point out that while many of you may find help and advice that is pertinent to your situation in this article, there is no one simple solution that resolves all relationship issues.
We are all fundamentally different and each relationship is unique and special in its own way. There are however a few fundamental perceptions that we all apply to life that are of relevance here and I will examine each below in turn. If these bear relevance to your situation, they may offer you food for thought and allow for insight and empathy into the factors that influence your partner, and by consequence, you.
You may choose to address your issues on your own or engage your partner in the process. There is no one simple solution, merely paths to follow and choices to make that are relevant to your life, your personality and your situation. These are yours to make and if they are beyond the scope of your abilities, I strongly encourage you to seek help from a responsible, professionally registered therapist.
Life from your partners point of view
Living with Dr Covid
Even if you’re not directly on the frontlines, you’re still out there engaging with sick people on a daily basis. It’s what doctors do. Your partner has accepted the long days, long nights and varying levels of exhaustion you bring home. It is part and parcel of being married to a doctor. It is a lonely life and not suited to everyone. Many fill the space you leave with children and their own careers.
the fear of death is something unique to all humans, we all suffer from it and deal with it in our own ways
The pandemic has added a new element to this already difficult dynamic. Danger. Every time you walk through your front door, that embrace and kiss hello could prove fatal, to both your partner and your children. You have become a vector for the spread of Covid and your partner knows this, even if the awareness is on a subconscious level and they have not articulated it. The potential for internal conflict around this one simple fact is vast.
Your partner loves you, they understand your need for empathy and a safe nest to return to and yet, your very presence now threatens their health and if you have children, by association, their health and safety. You can work out for yourself the paths available to someone following this train of thought.
They will at different times view you with anger (why do you continue to expose them to risk) or with love and empathy (understanding for how difficult your situation must be) or with admiration (your commitment to your patients despite the dangers). Any or all of these emotions can surface at different times and your partner may not be aware of why.
Find me a person who isn’t sick and tired of seeing and hearing about Covid everywhere they turn and I’ll show you a nun that mud wrestles vertically challenged (see, I can be politically correct)individuals on her days off. We are all fed up with it. It is everywhere and your partner is not immune to covid fatigue.
Imagine then their joy on your return home to be regaled with yet more tales of Covid and doom and gloom. They may even, of late, have refrained from the standard “how was your day” response in the hopes of avoiding these dreaded conversations. It isn’t the same for everyone and some partners have far more empathy and tolerance than others, we are all so very different. If you aren’t partnered with a saint, then keep this in mind.
You may also choose not to share out of choice, a protective instinct to shield your partner from the horrors of the pandemic you face each day. This is noble, but not well thought through. You are cutting off the very life line that may offer you salvation should you need it.
You are also depriving your partner of the ability to properly assess, understand and support your varying moods and needs. If everything is rosy, why are you constantly in a foul mood or alternatively, why have you’ve suddenly clammed up and don’t say much or isolate yourself from the family. We interpret our situations based on the information we have to hand. Limit your partners understanding of your life and you’re asking for trouble.
The medically challenged
Your partner didn’t fall in love with a doctor, they fell in love with you. The doctor is merely along for the bumpy ride and medical partnerships are difficult, make no mistake. Building a strong relationship requires time, a luxury most doctors don’t have in abundance.
Most non-medical partners find discussions around medical topics difficult and challenging, particularly if they exist in an isolated family based bubble, away from your life. Police and the military suffer a similar fate and it causes very similar problems for them, problems that many doctors and healthcare professionals now face. How much of your work do you choose to bring home and how much of it chooses to come with you.
How to best resolve personal issues away from the safety of the relationship without jeopardizing the relationship itself.
Why do you need to speak out?
This is a very important question and goes to the heart of why you are experiencing emotional and relationship issues. You need to try and answer this honestly and it will require more than a little introspection.
If you’re used to openly discussing and sharing things with your partner and you suddenly, because of the above and other factors, find yourself unable or unwilling to do so, you have an issue that needs addressing. Any changes to the dynamic between you and your partner will affect both of you. It’s important you identify your needs correctly, only then can you set about correcting the problem without aggravating it.
Resolution through dialogue
If you find you have a real need to confide in your partner and currently don’t or cannot, this is easily addressed. Honesty helps. Sit down with them in a quiet safe space where you wont be interrupted and explain slowly what is happening in your life and how you feel. Then ask them about their life and how they feel. Allow them the space to speak openly and avoid being confrontational. You’re trying to find common ground, not dictate policy, so LISTEN.
Most issues in relationships that develop over time are the result of miscommunication and assumption. They are often resolved simply by open, honest, respectful and caring dialogue. This requires time and effort, both worthwhile investments for your future happiness and wellbeing. If your partner is willing and desires to help you, it is selfish of you to prevent them from doing so. Imagine, if you will, if the roles were reversed. We are designed to want to care for the wellbeing of those closest to us.
Keep this fact in mind
No matter how supportive or loving your partner is, they are often not qualified to assist you in resolving complex metal issues that are troubling you. They are not in a position to offer you strategies you can engage to resolve these issues.
A professionally trained therapist can. If you are still facing issues despite a loving and supportive partner or spouse, then you must seek professional help. It is often easier acknowledging things to a stranger, than to those we live with. Particularly if we perceive these things to be flaws or weaknesses.
Go solo Joe
If you’re not in the habit of seeking solace and resolution from within your relationship, then you are left with the option of self-therapy and this can often manifest in an activity away from the confines of work and home that allows you time to process your thoughts on your own. Its a difficult balancing act as it encourages separation between the partners and reduces their reliance on each other, but for some, this option is the preferable choice.
In practice, an activity like fishing for instance, fits the bill. It’s outdoors, provides fresh air, is hugely therapeutic and offers plenty of time to think. It’s also an acceptable activity that wont drive a wedge between you and your partner. You can even drag them with, settle them on a blanket with a book or let them wonder around the lake or river with the kids, leaving you free to enjoy the absent fish and your own thoughts.
Perhaps find a colleague of the same sex to drag along instead for company if you don’t do well on your own This will also offer you an opportunity beyond the confines of work to discuss issues surrounding the pandemic that bother you. Chances are the same things bother your colleague.
you aren’t looking for sympathy, but rather to make sense of the situation that you are currently embroiled in
You can choose to live two separate lives, leaving the doctor at the door when you enter your home, but this will not resolve your internal conflicts and the need you have to verbalize them to someone.
Speaking about our issues, putting thoughts into words, helps us formalize the issues that swirl around in our heads. It allows the listener, if they are so inclined, to provide their perspective. At the end of the day, you aren’t looking for sympathy, but rather to make sense of the situation that you are currently embroiled in. Most importantly, you are looking to develop strategies that will enable you to make it through the pandemic with both body and soul intact.
Any solutions that can be arrived at with the involvement of your partner are, in my opinion, always your better option. We are stronger together, but as I’ve said above, this route isn’t always suited to an individual. You may also find your partner lacks the stomach for the position you’ve been placed in. It doesn’t make them terrible partners, we all have our limits.
Writing is another option that can offer solace and inner peace for some and is cathartic for the resolution of internal problems, but we aren’t all writers. If you’re feeling confused, depressed, disillusioned and disheartened and your spouse or partner is unable or unwilling to act as a sounding board for the problems you face in your profession, it is critical you find a solution that best fits your unique situation and personality.
Don’t ignore these issues, but address them with the importance they deserve. The slippery slope into the darker side of our personalities is greased with good intentions. Find a friend, catch a fish and most importantly, find your sounding board. If need be, pay a therapist to listen. There is no shame in acknowledging that some things cannot be resolved on your own. Failure lies in not addressing the issues in the first place. They will resolve on their own, but you will not like the outcomes.
A quick note on feel good medication
Don’t, just don’t. I cannot be more clear about this. There is no solution to be found in a bottle of meds that will benefit you in way. None. You’re not exhibiting psychopathic tendencies and your not bipolar. You’re having issues dealing with a really difficult situation that has spilled over into your home life.
There isn’t a chemical imbalance in your brain and unless you want to create one with medication, please avoid pills. These won’t improve your life. They will simply dull your senses and alter your personality, whilst increasing your risk to suicide and severe depression. It is even more difficult for medical professionals to avoid the temptation of medication, as most have free access to prescriptions.
You’re far better off seeking the advice and counsel of friends who have both empathy and a working understanding for your environment and situation. For the most part, this isn’t going to be your partner, unless you‘re fortunate or living with a health professional. Obtaining and developing coping skills and mechanisms to deal with your issues will last you a life time, pills are simply problems you’ll need to address tomorrow and every day thereafter.
Best of luck and thank you for your service to our communities.