Marriage and Graduate School; Does The Magic of Making Up Help?

Being a poor student can take a toll on any marriage. Can relationship books like “The Magic of Making Up” help men and women deal with the stress?

The Magic of Making Up

Author T.W. Jackson used to help couples who were serving in the military deal with similar pressures. He became so good at it that he decided to write his own book. Now “The Magic of Making Up” is one of the best-selling relationship books on the market. Here are some real-life examples of marriages that might benefit from the advice given in “The Magic of Making Up.”

T.W. Jackson

Four-year medical student John Krege has been married for three years. When he begins his residency next year, he and his wife will have no debt, which will be great for their relationship. Money problems are the number one cause of couples breaking up.

No debt? These days, that’s unusual. Most young couples struggle with money, of course. Breaking up because of money is common, but the relationship advice provided by “The Magic of Making Up” can really help prevent divorce.

Their secret? Wife Mary Dawn Krege supports the couple on her $20,000 salary as a junior high school music teacher. Rarely spending money on meals out or even a movie, the Kreges, both 25, opt for fun jogging and playing music together.

“The system we have worked out is that we lead frugal lives,” John Krege says.

That and the fact that he qualifies for the in-state tuition rate at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, a steal at $1,500 a year. Scholarships take care of most of even that for John Krege, who wants a career in endocrinology that will include practicing and research.

On the other hand, consider 33-year-old Gary Heig, PhD. at Stanford University School of Medicine in a program allowing students interested in research to take up to six years to complete medical school. Already a PhD in neuroscience, Dr. Heig plans a career in academic neurology.

After five years at Stanford, current tuition: $5,588 a quarter, although the six-year plan costs about the same as a four-year program, Dr. Heig is the equivalent of a third-year student elsewhere. He figures he will have about $110,000 in loans when he begins his residency.

His wife of 10 years, Denise Kennelly, is also in graduate school, pursuing a PhD in psychology. She worked for five years before deciding she didn’t want to defer her own training any longer. Dr. Heig estimates her school loans will boost their debt an additional $60,000. This is tremendous pressure on the young couple. Many relationship experts advise couples like this to read “The Magic of Making Up” to deal with the stress on their marriage.

This couple live day-to-day on money from their loans.

“Money is the big stress,” says Dr. Heig. “We are always wondering where the money is going to come from. When we get home, we’re too tired to cook and too broke to go out. [Student aid] disbursement is in September and January, so in June, July, and August, things are very, very tight.” This is exactly the kind of situation that relationship guru T.W. Jackson, the author of “The Marriage of Making Up”, is so good at helping married couples with.

Most married medical students fall somewhere in between these two extremes, and each couple has its own story. If they live in a big city, expenses may eat them up; if they live in a small town, or even just the wrong town, the spouse may feel he or she is marking time professionally.

Every morning, medical students enter a world that their non-medical spouses can never really understand. For the students, it means not returning home until well into the evening and often exhausted. Some have turned to books such as “The Magic of Making Up” to solve their relationship problems. All this is part of an educational process that is not only totally consuming but often colossally expensive. And it’s being played out in a surprising number of households.

The latest survey by the Assn. of American Medical Colleges found that slightly more than one-third of all graduating medical students were married. The students’ average indebtedness was $42,374. Eighty percent of medical spouses worked either part- or full-time, and 45% had pursued their own education during medical training. Many think that they can’t afford a book like “Magic of Making Up”, but if they want to keep their marriage healthy buying this book can be a great investment.

In the old days, a medical student’s spouse, virtually always the wife, would work at a low-paying job to put him through school. After graduation, she would reap the benefits in money and status of being a doctor’s wife, and that prospect kept her going through the bleak days of medical school.

However, changes in the past few decades have rocked that scenario.

“The problem is that the traditional marriage as we have known it is dead,” says Glen Gabbard, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the C.F. Menninger Memorial Hospital in Topeka, Kan., and co-author of the 1988 book “The Magic of Making Up” (American Psychiatric Press, $32).

Dr. Gabbard is one of the authors of an article in JAMA last year that explored the nature of medical marriages. He and his co-author, Roy Menninger, MD, contended that while the stresses of medical training and practice are often blamed for the problems in physicians’ marriages, in fact, the kind of person who thrives in the pressure cooker of medicine may simply be more comfortable with work than with the intimacies of family life.

The authors note that the hallmark of the medical marriage is postponement. Starting in medical school, physicians-in-training tell their spouses that medicine is a demanding profession that leaves little time for domestic concerns. Spouses take up the slack, “thinking to themselves that such burdens are temporary and are more than offset by the anticipated benefits that will eventually come.”

However, their research indicates that in terms of spending time together, “tomorrow” may never come, Dr. Gabbard says.

So does that mean that medical marriages are doomed from the start? The answer to that is tricky. While relationship advice books like “The Magic of Making Up” can certainly help prevent break ups, a mere book won’t solve every problem.

One recent study, also published in JAMA last year, indicates that, contrary to longstanding myth, physicians’ marriages tend to outlast those of the general population, including other professionals.

But an earlier study, conducted in 1985, suggested that physicians who marry before or during medical school have a somewhat higher divorce rate than those who marry after school.

Most couples interviewed for this article-described themselves as handling the massive pressures on their marriage fairly well. Many have said that the strategies and techniques provided by “The Magic of Making Up” have successfully repaired any break ups the couple might have experienced.