Being Married to a Veterinarian...What’s that Like?
Hello everyone, this is Stu with Open Doors FP. I’ve decided to take a different direction today with this article and look at what it is like being married to a vet. Wait, really? What does some random financial advisor know about my personal life? Great question! You are right, I don’t know about your personal life. What I do know about is my own. If sharing my story can help others find their own peace and happiness, then I would be doing the veterinary community a disservice by not sharing it. Plus, let’s be honest here. When someone marries a veterinarian, do they really know what they are getting into? Do they realize they are marrying someone who is likely more driven, smarter, and in general more successful than themselves? From a male perspective that can especially be a tough pill to swallow. While your first reaction may be to grab a pill popper followed by several milliliters of water, I will have to dissuade such drastic measures as results may not be in line with expectations and some fingers may get bitten!
Here are a few things that I have learned so far about veterinarians from being with my wife and her co-workers:
Get used to gross stories about their day at the dinner table, whether it be the basketball-sized tumor they took off a dog that “just appeared overnight” or describing the smell of the maggots crawling around the chicken vent that they were cleaning earlier in the day.
Start conditioning yourself to seeing gross pictures that they are excited to show you, such as the eyeball that got popped out of the shih-tzu’s head when the sibling and it were playing too rough or videos of the aforementioned maggots or the abscess that they drained.
If they come home and you hear the words anal gland and shower in the same sentence, don’t ask questions, just pinch your nose or hold your breath when giving them a hug or a kiss and smile and say, “go ahead.”
Expect that at any social gathering OUTSIDE of work that includes co-workers, whether it be a birthday party, dinner at a fancy restaurant, or just going out for a drink, they will inevitably end up having a venting session about a frustrating animal or case that may take up the whole entire time of the event. Best to either accept it or talk to one of the other spouses or partners at the table about a different topic.
If your spouse is on-call expect them to eat very very quickly all the time at dinner in case they get called in and it isn’t bad to remind them to occasionally slow down, but at the same time don’t be surprised if they have to leave mid-meal.
Full disclosure, I am a male and, as a result, my insights and perspectives are from that of a husband being married to a female veterinarian and may not apply to all relationships. I am also not an expert in the field of relationships, and all opinions expressed are just that, opinions. This is simply a perspective article and is not meant to influence your decisions in any way. Sweet! All the necessary and fun disclosures are now spoken 😊. Let’s get to the real content.
One of the common themes I’ve seen in conversations within the veterinary world are marriage, family, and relationship problems. Therefore, I would like to share my insights and experiences of what life is like being married to a veterinarian with the hope that it helps prepare future spouses of vets, or perhaps can aid in an existing marriage.
First and foremost, if you still have this luxury, and you are the veterinarian or future veterinarian, be sure to set expectations with your non-vet spouse before getting married. This includes:
Time at home vs time at work.
How your social life looks.
How house chores will be handled and divided.
How some long days they may not see much of you, and when they do you may not want to see them…because you’ve been going all day and are just DONE interacting with people.
How exhausted you are at the end of the day physically and emotionally.
What is required for you to recover from work physically and emotionally?
What being “on-call” really means (if applicable).
What working in emergency medicine really means (if applicable).
Do you ever want kids, and how will that work with your busy schedule?
What you need from your spouse, as well as making sure your spouse knows what you are capable of giving him or her.
This is a big one, and if you are going into a marriage with false expectations, it will only cause frustration and pain built on shaky foundations ready to shatter with the right application of pressure.
For a lot of the population, work is work and often does not fulfill us at a personal level. It is simply a conduit to earn money so that we may have the resources to do other things that fulfill us. Thus, for those who are in a job where they have a sense of being trapped or chained to a desk all the time, it can be hard being married to someone who has passion and purpose in their work (such as my wife). Now, that’s not to say vets don’t have rough days, even those that love their job do.
Let’s be frank, we all have bad days here and there. And while some days are rough because of a tough client, a frustrating case, an overbooked schedule, or maybe a coworker is having a bad day and brings the mood down for everyone else, vets are generally passionate about their work from what I have seen in my wife and her co-workers. They have a sense of purpose and drive knowing that they have the capacity to do some good in their daily activities. As a result, this can lead to a job with a lot of personal fulfillment and happiness. But on the other hand, I also understand that the fast-paced workplace, staff shortages, hostile work environments, social media aggression, and a sue-happy world mean that a lot of veterinarians are facing burnout. This has contributed to veterinary profession having one of the highest suicide rates. With this in mind, I have found that veterinarians sometimes need more emotional support from their spouses than other professions. Let them know this can include a simple shoulder to lean on and does not have to be extravagant. Connect them with available resources on depression and suicide (such as Not One More Vet) in the vet world to better understand how you can be there for them.
Let’s return to the non-vet spouse who may hate their job. From this perspective and never having had a personally fulfilling job, they may truly not understand what it means to actually find fulfillment in their work. For example, a common task in corporate finance is to stare at Excel spreadsheets (sometimes the same spreadsheet) all day long only to figure out if a business can spend an extra dollar or not. Unless someone gets true happiness from solving these types of problems (and there are plenty out there who do in fact enjoy this!), this individual may struggle to understand why a vet loves what they do so much, or where all the motivation and energy comes from. This may also lead to jealousy. Somehow even after long days and late-night emergencies, my wife still seems to have a boundless supply of energy while at work (I really wish I knew where it all comes from!).
Another major point is that veterinarians are BUSY! This means there may be times when the non-vet spouse does not see their vet spouse other than when they are on their way to bed, or to work. If you are lucky maybe a hearty high five or a hug is thrown in when you pass each other in the hallway. Furthermore, after a long day of being around people, noise, and stimulation, the vet is likely at risk of burnout and exhaustion. When they do finally get home it is likely time to crash on the couch and recover. While this is completely normal, let’s see things from the non-vet spouse perspective.
For a non-vet spouse who has a quiet office job, at the end of the day after little to no meaningful interaction with others, nor much stimulation either socially or from their environment, they want more interactions when they get home. That means meaningful conversations, a companion to go out and do things with and enjoying some reward from the earnings they made from a job they don’t like. So, where do they look to fulfill these needs? They turn to their vet spouse to fulfill these needs…except the vet spouse is exhausted and has no energy to do any of this. For example, imagine sitting for hours in front of a computer and when the work day finally ends, you want to get out of the office and go for a long walk, get outside and enjoy from fresh air, do something fun and energizing, or just go out and enjoy some happy company with friends laughing or grabbing a drink at the bar and having non-work related conversations. But, when you get home your spouse just wants to stay at home and not go out again because they are exhausted and know that they have to get up and repeat the long day again tomorrow. Thus, not wanting to put more burden on their vet spouse, the non-vet spouse will more than likely not say anything in the beginning of the relationship and internalize it. Over time this is like a ticking timebomb building up until it comes out as - you guessed it - anger.
As another example, not work-related, imagine a kid running out of school at the end of the long day to go and play with their friends. They are super excited to be out of school, but then nobody shows up to play, everybody just wants to go home, or the parent is grumpy and tired from work and just wants to go to bed. Imagine the disappointment in the child. The non-vet spouse is at risk of feeling this way if they do not have another outlet to fulfill their social needs after work.
Anger can be caused by many reasons, but at its core, it is usually a way for someone to protect themselves from something. In the case of the non-vet spouse:
To hide the unhappy emotions of their loathing for their job.
It could be jealousy.
It could be guilt in knowing that they need you, but you don’t have the energy.
It could be loneliness.
It could be from feeling disrespected. Check out the internet on the topic of the crazy cycle and relationships if you want to learn more.
It could even be from love and frustration from trying not to cause pain from an uncomfortable conversation.
It could be from anything!
Regardless, if your spouse is acting angry, there is probably a reason that isn’t always directly aimed at you. And may even be from a place of love; but, by the time the message arrives to you it is now warped by anger when it began with love and good intentions. Now, instead of constructive conversations about their needs, it is a shouting match that more than likely ends in pain for everyone. How can we avoid this outcome?
My wife and I have always been intentional about communication. We have both seen within our own families growing up, the negative impact that bad communication can have on spouses, and those around them including their children. With open communication about the things on our minds, we can talk through them civilly to find more constructive outcomes. This allows us to be able to address issues as a team, rather than trying to impose our individual wills through angry verbal methods on one another.
That’s great right?! But what if both you and your non-vet spouse are right? What if your spouse has been neglected because you are so busy? What if you aren’t getting the rest you need in an effort to please your non-vet spouse demanding your attention? Both perspectives have merit, and both are right. There is no easy answer to this, and if you are unable to find a happy medium on your own then seeking professional help may be helpful.
As a final note, I’ve made some tips for the non-vet spouses out there in hopes that you may find some inspiration and guidance:
I lived alone for a few years and, well, you learn how to be in your own company without others around. So, if your vet spouse is not feeling social it helps to have some other form of social outlet or be happy if you are comfortable in your own company.
Between my church, local meetup group, games, walking the dog, and talking with random people in my daily activities I am able to fulfill my social needs without placing the entire burden on my wife. This is especially good when it’s been a long day, there have been difficult clients, or a string of sad. Plus, as an added bonus I can connect her to the community and friendships she may not otherwise have time to cultivate by building other friendships.
I meditate regularly. Why does this matter? It helps me stay present and grounded in the current moment. OK…so what? This allows me to pick up on my own emotions. If I’m having a bad day, I’m usually aware of it and will communicate as much to my wife. This serves a few purposes such as letting her know I may not be in the best frame of mind, setting expectations, and it actually helps me not be as angry. I consider it an honor and a pleasure to serve my wife and her needs, and nothing brings me out of a funk quicker than an opportunity to be a better husband.
If she has a late-night call when she is on call, I’ll sometimes go with her and read a book or help by talking with a client so she can work in the background. She may be tired from a full day interacting with clients, but I’m fully charged and ready to talk! So, we still get to spend quality time together. Though, we do not have children right now which makes this more simple.
Ask questions. I don’t mean yes or no questions such as did you have a good day? I mean asking questions such as what sort of crazy cases did you encounter today? Or, if they have had a good day, or a bad one, ask for more details! Doctors are pros when it comes to asking open-ended questions to learn and gather details. Do the same for them and give them a chance to share their story. You may even enjoy it!
This is only a sliver of what it’s like being married to a veterinarian. I have no regrets and while it may not always be a traditional marriage, our values, morals, and goals are in alignment. So long as we keep open communications with each other regardless of the topic, happy or sad, I truly believe we can live a happy life together. Best of luck to you all, and I truly do wish you all the happiness you can receive.
Open Doors FP