6 Traits Doctors Need to Thrive in Marriages and Relationships

A couple sits on a bench outdoors, smiling and looking to the right.

Contributed by The MedCommons

How happy are you with your medical career? And what about your relationship with your spouse or partner? Now ask your partner how they feel about both, and that should give you a good idea of how things are really going in your medical marriage. 

It’s easy to fall into a routine when everyone’s busy and going in different directions, but taking a few minutes to evaluate your relationship and make improvements can go a long way in creating a healthy and happy partnership. The fact that you’re here is a great start.

In The MedCommons articleDating A Doctor? 10 Traits You’ll Need If This Is Meant To Be‘, we offer helpful advice for your spouse or partner in navigating a relationship with you. Now, let’s turn the tables and help you understand what they may need to build a strong relationship that can withstand the demands of your medical career. Here’s what you should know.

Appreciation and Gratitude

Appreciating and being grateful for each other’s contributions to the relationship sets a solid foundation for a healthy partnership in medicine. While these qualities are important in any relationship, they hold particular significance in medical relationships. 

Becoming a physician involves significant sacrifices of time, effort, energy, and finances — even keeping up with medical industry trends adds another layer of complexity. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical school debt. At least 7+ years of school and training on top of college. 80+ hour work weeks during residency, not to mention all the studying for exams. These examples make it clear how extremely difficult it is to become a doctor, therefore, appreciation and gratitude for such sacrifices can be easily recognized and easily given.

Here’s a picture that’s not so clear: the everyday sacrifices physician spouses and partners make to support their loved one’s medical career. Think about it. Your spouse or partner has probably: 

  • Moved away from their friends, family, career, and community to support your medical career, leaving them alone to start over in a new community. (If you decided to buy a home during residency, your spouse likely carried the weight of those responsibilities, too!)
  • Spent a considerable amount of time without you, making them feel alone and isolated
  • Become the default parent, responsible for making the majority of decisions for their children’s care, socialization, and activities.

These are just to name a few.

Each of these things by itself may not seem as big or as obvious as hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt or years of intensive training. Let’s be honest, though. Added up, each of their sacrifices has built a foundational support system for you and your family and is essential to your wellness.

Here’s the good news, showing a bit more appreciation + gratitude for your loved one requires minimal effort that will reap significant, positive results. Here’s how you can do this:

  • Reset before you walk in the door. While your days look very different, your partner probably had a hard day, too. You’re about to see your best friend and, hopefully, the love of your life. Walk in with a smile and your arms open wide. Research shows such physical contact helps the emotional state of the giver and receiver.
  • Be aware of your loved one’s state of emotion. If it looks like they’re struggling, tell them ‘thank you for all you do’ and let them know how much you appreciate them and their sacrifices. 
  • Feeling it and saying it out loud are two different things. You may think to yourself, “they know I love them and how much I appreciate them.” It always feels good to hear it, though. Make it a forever thing. It becomes harder to say as life goes on if you don’t make it a regular practice.


Your partner spends a lot of time waiting, working, and planning around your schedule. We understand a busy patient load can sometimes get in the way and alter plans. Be understanding of the frustration your partner feels when there’s little to no communication about these delays. 

It takes little effort and time to think about how these changes affect your partner and be a good communicator. Send a quick text or call to have a 10-minute conversation. It can go a long way in satisfying the need for communication.

Learning and practicing open communication can only strengthen your relationship. Make it second nature in the daily routine and it will serve you well in areas such as: 

  • How you’re feeling after a tough shift so your partner understands how they can help and/or help you seek support if necessary. 
  • Honesty and assurance when discussing any close relationships with other hospital staff. 
  • Career concerns or any feelings of physician burnout. 

Listening to Understand

We get it. After seeing patients all day, you might feel like you can’t listen to one more person, or how that person feels. However, your home is your safe zone, your soft place to land. If you cherish it, taking the time to truly listen will benefit you and the person who needs you to hear them the most. 

Not so great at listening to understand outside of medicine? This may be a worthwhile skill to research. Read about it or watch a YouTube video (such as this one) on active listening, and practice! 

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Ask how they’re doing, sit and listen. Make eye contact (as in, put your phone in your pocket). 
  • Repeat back to them in different words to show understanding.
  • Ask probing questions to dig deeper.
  • Do not jump to solving their ‘problem’ before they ask for your advice or you’ve fully listened to them.
  • Hug them to let them know you care. You’ll get through this together.


Definition: giving someone support, confidence, or hope; persuasion to do or to continue something. How do you feel when someone gives you sincere encouragement? Exactly. It feels great. 

Physician spouses and partners can get so busy putting other people first, that they can easily get stuck in the support role and don’t know how to take care of themselves. 

Be thoughtful for and about them. Encourage them to have a ‘me day’ or to take the time to pursue a passion while you take care of the house and the people in it. This kind of encouragement helps breathe life into your relationship and breathe happiness and confidence to your spouse/partner.


Love and compassion go hand in hand. Expressing them does not. 

‘’I love you.” “Thank you.” “You’re the best.” All great sentiments. They’re much-needed and should be said often. However this is not what your spouse or partner is looking for or what they need when they’re sad, lonely, or frustrated. 

What do they need? Again, do not try to solve the problem before you’re asked. Try to practice empathy by putting yourself in their shoes. Go back and use the hints in ‘Listening to Understand.” Listen carefully without judgment, and provide encouragement and understanding.

It takes both partners actively participating to build a strong, thriving relationship in medicine. Let’s face it, only good will come from taking heed of these recommendations. Practicing them will have you well on your way to relationship bliss.

If you’re interested in more information to help physician spouses/partners manage life in medicine, check out more Family & Relationship articles on The MedCommons

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