Love in the Time of Residency: Navigating My Long Distance Marriage

It is inevitable; the warmth of summer fast approaching reminds us that it is a time of major change for those in medicine. In particular, fourth-year medical students are likely approaching their biggest transition yet as they prepare to graduate and begin residency. 

Match Day is filled with hopeful expectations for this new future. While many remember it fondly, this was not my experience. The previous year’s Match Day had been a happy occasion — my (then) fiancé and I learned that he had matched at his top program that we chose together in hopes I would join him one short year later. Opening our letters, tears filled my classmates’ and my eyes. Theirs were tears of joy, but mine were not as I realized that my new husband and I would be starting a long distance marriage.

I was in shock and so confused. While everyone had a perfect fairy tale ending to their hard work, I was living a nightmare. Luckily, an amazing friend shared James Baldwin’s quote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” From reading on this topic, I gained hope by realizing that long distance relationships are much more common in medicine than I initially thought. The past two years have not been a walk in the park by any means, but we have been able to make it work with hard work, a little luck, and a lot of love.

So I wanted to share my story to help those who are going through this to recognize that they can be successful. Additionally, as I would like to promote a community that speaks openly about tough issues in medicine, I welcome any suggestions others have found to be helpful for them in their own long distance relationship. 

First of all, remain positive and excited for all the new opportunities you’re about to experience. You have worked so hard throughout your years of schooling to finally make it to this point. Despite the increased work load, these years in residency are by far the most rewarding you will have had so far. You will impact patients directly, in a much more meaningful way than you did as a student. Strong relationships with new people in your chosen field will easily form. These new relationships I have made with enthusiastic mentors and caring co-residents and new friends in my community are ones I truly cherish. I realize I would likely have never even met these unforgettable people had I not matched at a program away from my husband. Reminding myself of these privileges on a bad day helps to put things in perspective and make those times I am severely missing husband more bearable.

In case it isn’t already obvious, vacation is good for your mood. My husband and I plan our visits multiple months in advance so that we always have something to look forward to. We take vacations together and separately (to visit one another while one of us still works) to maximize our time together. The studies that discuss mood and travel, however, do indicate that, rather than the actual vacation, the planning/anticipation phase is the time that shows the most increases in mood. I believe this isn’t true with those in long distance relationships. Many can agree that it is so rare to be in a relationship where you truly cherish every single moment you are together. In my long distance marriage, however cheesy it may sound, I do treasure our entire visits. Considering the unique benefits of the anticipation of seeing each other and completely being in the moment with every visit, long distance relationships can actually thrive.

What I have relayed so far has mainly been about trying to keep a positive outlook on things despite the tough situation of being apart. But what can be done on a day-to-day basis to help you get through those in-between times when you aren’t together? Here are some tips my husband and I do to help us stay connected:

  1. Do the same activity at the same time. Go to a coffee shop and study, go to a movie you both have wanted to see, or get in a good workout. Discuss your thoughts together afterward.
  2. Line up your call schedule (if possible). It helps to not be as lonely when you are both super busy on a call day. 
  3. Surprise each other. I know my husband appreciates the lunch I buy him from food delivery service apps, and I love coming home to flowers. It reminds us that the other is thinking of us and puts a smile on our faces.
  4. Facetime! I want to emphasize this because it truly is my favorite part of my day. I literally call my husband as soon as I leave the hospital. These are the conversations that help our relationship feel more normal as we share our day-to-day experiences. 
  5. Talk about your significant other daily. I love to brag about my husband and show off his/our pictures to my coworkers so they can get to know him too. And I promise, it is so cute to see my husband smile when he tells me what someone thought about a recent photo he has of me. 

Currently, my husband and I are almost at the halfway point of our tenure in a long distance marriage. We have both been so busy during our residencies that time seems to fly. And strangely, our time apart has made our relationship even stronger. Until we are reunited, we will continue to push forward, becoming the best physicians we can be and keeping our relationship a top priority. I say this with all honesty — if we can do it, you can too. 

Image by Aleutie / Shutterstock

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