About a year ago, I started my first year of both marriage and medical school. In the midst of graduating college, wedding planning, getting married, moving three times and starting medical school, I definitely had my hands full but I still made the time (of course) to be worried about whether all these simultaneous changes would ultimately be disastrous. Now, in my second year of both medical school and marriage I’m so happy to have started both of these journeys together. It, of course, was not an easy transition but I’m so happy to have had someone to share this journey with. I’ve been asked time and time again about balancing marriage and a career and after thinking about it for a few weeks and asking hubby’s advice, I’ve come up with the following tips:
- Find the ‘right’ person. Yes, I realize how cheesy this sounds and I promise I’m not about to take you on some romantic comedy journey. Instead, I’m going to tell you a real story: ours. Growing up I was never sure I wanted a career in medicine. My father is a wonderful and hardworking physician but when you’re a teenager, you don’t really want to do anything associated with your parents. Once I got to college and started working with an organization to start a student-run free clinic for the local underserved population and joined a clinical research program in the emergency department, I fell in love with medicine. I became a lot more studious and career driven and started questioning whether I ever wanted to get married or have a family. I saw my parents balance it all but I doubted whether I was capable of doing the same. I just felt that I would constantly fall short if I tried to make both a family and career a priority. I was also worried because I didn’t think I could find a practicing Muslim man who would also be supportive of my career goals without feeling insecure and trying to limit my success. And I was minding my own business when this hilarious, geeky and compassionate research associate snuck his way into my heart. We talked about everything in the world from politics and Islam to Pokemon and Sonic and I was just amazed at how easy he was to talk to. And I remember the day I knew that he was it: we were talking about my medical school apps and I had asked him to make dua’a (prayer) that whatever happens is for the best and he said “You know how I know I love you? Because when I make dua’a for you, it’s as if I’m making dua’a for myself.” It’s no secret that faith has been the foundation of my life so hearing him say this, and knowing he meant it, I knew that I had found someone who also shared the same foundation. So when I say find the ‘right’ person, I mean find the right person for you. Fareed has been my constant support system throughout this first year of medical school. He puts faith at the center of our lives. He celebrates my success as his own. He supports me in all my endeavors. He expresses his love by caring for our home and driving hundreds of miles a week so that we can be together. Balancing marriage and a career is not easy, but it’s rewarding and fun if you’re with someone who is right for you.
- Prepare for marriage. Marriage is one of those things where you won’t really understand it until you’re in it but that does there are definitely plenty of things you can do to make it less of a shock. Fareed and I went through a book of questions on various topics such as faith, finances, house work, politics, living arrangements, children, in-laws, social lives, PDA, etc. while we were deciding if we are compatible for marriage and even after our engagement. It helped us get on the same page on a lot of topics and avoid many misunderstandings and fights. If you’re interested in this book, let me know and I’d be happy to send it your way.
- Communicate throughout the day. Medical school takes up a majority of my waking hours but during the free time that I have, the first thing I do is ask my husband how his day is going. This could be while we’re eating dinner or just texts throughout the day. A simple text saying “I miss you” can easily put a smile on your partner’s face when you’re apart. Some days you’ll be great at communicating, some days you’ll suck and that really is okay. I’m realizing that it honestly is a life-long process. But it’s important to stay connected and make sure your partner knows that you’re always there to lend an ear.
- Fight clean. Married people fight and there’s nothing wrong with that. You run into trouble when your fights are unproductive, never reach a conclusion and just cause resentment. Before we got married, we established a set of rules on how to ‘fight clean.’ Of course this is going to look different depending on each couple but it’s important to establish the rules at a time when you’re not fighting and do your best to stick to them when you are. Examples of rules could be: no cursing, no leaving the room while the other person is talking, respecting either person’s request for time and space to process, etc.
- Say ‘I love you’ and show it often. Saying “I love you” isn’t usually enough for someone to feel loved. It’s important to figure out what your partner needs to feel loved and express your love in that way. Many couples find The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman to be useful in finding out how their partner feels most loved. We did use this text in the first weeks of our marriage and did find it useful. However, I do have to say that it’s quite heteronormative, which didn’t sit well with me. Showing love doesn’t always have to be through grand gestures. For most people, I think the little things are actually what count the most: hiding notes for the other to find, doing the dishes when it’s not your night because you know how tired the other person is that day, picking up their favorite cup of coffee or dessert on your way home.
- Support each other. Both Fareed and I are at a time in our lives when working towards our career is a top priority in our lives, which means that we’re both constantly studying for exams, working on applications, attending meetings, working on research projects, etc. In order to stay connected, it’s really important that we stay updated on each other’s endeavors. We go to each other to ask advice or just vent about the things I mentioned above. I’m constantly amazed at how wonderful my husband is at juggling so many different things and it’s so much easier to be understanding when I know that he’s going to be home late because he’s helping his mom with something or talking to someone at work about a potential research project. Staying in the loop allows you both to live separate lives but also prevents you from feeling like strangers.
- Assign responsibilities and stick to them. When we were getting to know each other, I was open about my expectations that my husband play a significant role in caring for our home so before we got married we chose what parts of our home we would be responsible for keeping clean/updated/stocked. Of course this sometimes varies depending on our exam schedules, etc. but at the the end of the day it’s important that you’re both putting in your 50% when it comes to the responsibilities of your life together. Some days it’s 99% him and 1% me and vice versa but it should always average out to 50/50.
- Laugh and have fun together! One of the first things that I loved about my husband is that he always has everyone around him laughing. I remember one time we had shift together in the ED and he was talking to the father of one of the trauma patients and they were just laughing it up. The man was obviously stressed and Fareed saw that and took the time to share a laugh. And since we’ve been together, he’s always known how to make me laugh (it’s a bit unfair because I can never stay mad at him for too long…). We also have fun with everything we do together, usually simple things like an evening at home having dinner and watching a couple episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond or playing Sonic on the PS3 and even taking photos for this blog. Another thing we really enjoy is cooking and trying new recipes together, which is great because we have to eat anyway so it ends up being productive and fun. Another productive but fun thing we do together is exercise! It’s so nice to have a built in gym/running/evening walk buddy in your partner and you’re much more likely to work towards your fitness goals if you both hold each other accountable. If you do it right, marriage is pretty much doing life with your best friend which leads to a lot of silliness and fun times.
- Take time for yourself. I think there is a tendency for married couples, especially newly married couples, to think they have to do everything together. I’m sure a lot of this is because for most people, you’ve waited a while to finally be with this person and you just kind of forget about everything and everyone else. But it’s so important to maintain your lives apart from each other so that you don’t lose your individual identity in your relationship. Don’t neglect your relationship with the rest of your family or friends. Of course, naturally, couples pick up some of each others’ habits but it’s also important to have time away from each other so you actually miss the other person.
- Date nights and vacations. Sometimes a simple night on the couch, eating leftovers and watching Netflix isn’t enough and you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. It’s definitely hard to get in date nights and vacations with two different schedules and careers but you have to make time for what’s important. We try to do date nights right after one of us has a big exam to celebrate and de-stress. Vacations are a little harder since we’re on a budget and our breaks hardly ever line up but we try to take advantage of them whenever we do. After we got married, we spent a few days in San Diego as our mini honeymoon. Then in December we had a longer break so we were able to go to Seattle and Portland and we’re currently in the DC area. We try to cut costs by booking our tickets as early as possible, finding the cheapest possible deals online, traveling within the country until we can afford to travel internationally and staying with friends and family whenever possible to avoid the costs of hotels.
- When you’re present, be present. This one is last because, in our opinion, it’s the most important. In any relationship with two people pursuing careers, it’s hard to find time to devote to your relationship. But what I’ve learned in the past year is that it’s not the quantity of the time you spend together but rather the quality. Twenty minutes of real conversation without laptops or phones or the TV on in the background is much better than spending two hours sitting next to each other trying to half study and half spend time together. One of my favorite bloggers, Laura (now Dr. Scott!), has a post where she talks about how a mentor told her that she can have as many hats (medical student, wife, mother, etc.) as she wants but she can only wear one hat at a time. Of course things aren’t as black and white as that but when I’m spending time with my husband, I do my best to avoid stressing about studying and whatnot. After putting up with the madness that is my schedule he deserves my undivided attention.
We hope that you find these to be helpful! Please share anything that works for you and your partner that we may not have already covered.
And as a special part of this post, here is the highlights reel from our wedding last year! Hope you enjoy 🙂
“Love is only a word, until we decide to let it possess us with all its force. Love is only a word, until someone arrives to give it meaning.”– Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho
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