5 Tips to Surviving Relationships in Residency

surviving relationships couple

You’ve worked hard throughout medical school, nailed your interview, and matched into the perfect residency program. Congratulations! But as you embark on the next phase of your career, how can you ensure that your romantic relationship survives?

The truth is, dating a medical resident can be exhausting for both parties involved. Whether you have been with your significant other for several months or several years, things are about to undoubtedly change. Books, patients, and work are likely to receive more attention than ever before. However, maintaining romantic relationships in residency is not impossible, and you do not have to break up in order to succeed in your career.

Here are 5 tips to help you balance your professional life and personal relationships in residency.

Looking for more advice on surviving your time in residency? Download our free eBook, A Complete Guide to Medical Residency.

1. Establish a “24-hour rule”

Tracy, a 2nd-year radiology resident says, “Instituting this rule meant that I must hear from my boyfriend in some form once every 24 hours, whether that was actually seeing him or getting a one-word text message to prove that he was still alive.”

In setting standards of communication, Tracy took the guessing game out of whether her significant other was ever going to reach out. A simple acknowledgement in the form of, “Hey babe, busy day but I’m thinking of you,” goes a long distance in comforting separation anxiety.

2. It’s the small things

If you or your partner are going to be gone for long stretches of the day, you can demonstrate your love by committing yourself to small acts of appreciation. Investing in one another through action is key, especially when all your partner may be able to see is the end result of a chore, a cute note, a tilled garden, or even a happy dog when they get home.

Austin, a 3rd-year cardiology resident says, “I can’t stress the little things enough–if you’re leaving at 4:30AM to be rounding by 5, leave a note for your SO telling him/her how much you love them/have a great day/I’ll be thinking of you. Send an email from work when you have a few minutes of downtime. Shoot a text. Pick up beer on your way home. When you are wiped out, this can be difficult, but trust me, it goes a long way in maintaining a relationship through residency. Bonus advice–keep doing this after residency–it keeps building a relationship, no matter how long you’ve been together.”

3. Compromise is key

Sometimes the stresses of residency blind you to just how lucky you may be to have found love. Taking the good things for granted is life’s curse, not just an aspiring physician’s. But you can avoid allowing the responsibilities within your career to override the importance of a full heart by taking a moment to logically process actions or words that may otherwise offend you — if you tend to approach situations with a knee jerk sensibility.

The world doesn’t revolve around you, nor does it revolve around your significant other. You’re both entitled to overreaction, bad days, moments of despair, annoyance, judgement, and absence. There is no perfect formula to a relationship, but a great way to ruin one is to dictate a “your way or the highway” approach. Shoot for harmony through compromise; an allowance for notes to clash from time to time is healthy.

4. Make time

To be in a relationship is a choice, especially when you’re confronted with one of the most time-consuming chapters of your life. But that aside, there is a major expectation that many fail to recognize while in a relationship and it’s this: your significant other will want to see you. For some, this is a difficult reality to accept. That difficulty is obviously compounded for residents because one doesn’t simply create time where there currently is none.

Meeting for dinner, walking around the city, cuddling, holding hands… These are the moments that are most important in life. Your sanity in the midst of residency will be greatly improved for making time for more of these moments. It’s much easier to schedule dates in the future than it is attempting to rewrite regrets from the past.

5. Listen and Communicate

“Even when you are exhausted, if you are not at work, do your best to be present in whatever time you have together. Ask questions about his/her day (or the past few days). Don’t just use that time to dump about how exhausted you are and how work is so difficult. He/She knows. Bitch about work to your colleagues, not your SO.” Jennifer, a 1st-year pathology resident, is right. Be present. Listen. Communicate.

Understand that if you and your partner are lucky enough to be sharing physical space with each other then YOU can take charge of a situation and make them feel loved and safe to show vulnerability; it doesn’t always have to be the other way around. A massage, a caress, a kiss, loving words, an open ear, offering a shoulder to lean on; these are things you have the power to manifest in the moment and leading by example may allow your SO to reciprocate. Obsessing over a missed hour of studying, or what your attending may have said to you is a waste of energy. Period. It’s negative energy that could be better spent taking the form of adoration for someone who thinks you’re pretty neat.

The writing staff at BoardVitals is passionate about medicine, healthcare, and education. We’ve trained over 1.5 million physicians and work with more than 300 top teaching institutions. Learn more about our board review and continuing education products at boardvitals.com.

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