According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, most households in the U.S. have become dual-career households as of 1998. In addition to the challenges of relationships in which only one person is working, time becomes a precious commodity for couples who both work. This is especially the case in medicine. As clinicians, it’s easy for our careers to take over our lives due to the high demands of our work. Even when we’re off, we might still be on-call, and taking a “vacation” may still involve being available to answer questions and help others. This causes the line between work and home life to become blurred, and if work takes too much precedence, it can strain the most important relationship in your life.
A balance between work and personal life is crucial to good workplace well-being. Your partner is often a source of comfort, stability, and support. But if they work as well, especially in medicine, finding the time for each other can be quite a task. If you find yourself struggling with this balancing act, here are four techniques I’ve found helpful for you to consider:
- Communicate frequently and effectively. Communication is always the main ingredient in the recipe for a successful partnership. It will look different for every couple, but it should consist of personal, intimate, and practical conversations. For day-to-day activities, you’re going to have to talk about actions that will make your households run smoothly – like who’s doing which chores this week or who’s picking up the kids. You should also make time to discuss feelings, challenges, and aspirations, or what’s going well and what isn’t. It is easy to allow work demands to displace this time, but this communication is critical for a healthy, busy, dual-career household.
- Regularly discuss and revisit career goals and decision-making. Talk with your partner about your plans. Do you share the same vision for the future? Are your goals aligned? If your trajectories start to veer away from each other, discuss which direction you’d like to go in together. It’s normal if you each have individual career goals and decisions to make independently. The key is to reconcile these decisions and to make sure you communicate regularly on choices that can impact both of you.
- Welcome help or input from a third party. Communication does not come naturally to every couple, and that’s OK. If that’s the case, it’s essential to acknowledge that and still find a way to communicate formally. A counselor who works with you as a couple can be critical to making sure that you’re speaking to each other equally, being heard equally, and are developing your goals with consideration for the other. Sometimes, the issue is finding time to communicate. Hiring a third party (like a nanny or trusted family member) to help lessen your workload at home while still meeting the needs of your children and household can give you the mental and physical space to connect with your partner.
- Consider the individual, the couple, and the whole family unit. In a partnership, you need to bring your individual needs, hopes, and concerns to the table. You then need to listen carefully to your partner and reach a shared understanding of each other’s goals and needs. Finally, if you have kids, you need to consider the family’s needs as a part of your regular communication to assure you are both on the same page as you balance your life as a physician, a spouse, and a parent.
All of these tips focus on one thing: being intentional with your partner. By being intentional, you will let them know that they are an essential part of your life: a part you want to cherish, grow, and keep. That way, even if you falter or make mistakes, they will know you care and that you are committed to creating a supportive, collaborative partnership in an admittedly challenging dual-career household.
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Stefanie Simmons, MD, FACEP is the VP of patient and clinician engagement at Envision Physician Services. She served as University of Michigan/St. Joseph Mercy core faculty and coordinated collaborative care between APPs and physicians. Currently Dr. Simmons contributes to emergency medicine, high performing teams, and clinician self-care curriculum.