The Challenge of Living Together (Part 2): The Rules

At each of our hospitals, physicians are organized into departments according to specialty. The existence of some departments is threatened by the retirement their members. At a meeting I chaired, the question was asked, “How many doctors does it take to form a department?”

My answer was three. A single physician would not be effective auditing his or her own charts, enforcing discipline or tactfully pointing out serious personality issues. It takes two physicians to have an argument, and three to vote, come to an agreement and move forward.

For all of us, one can be a lonely number. It takes two to have a relationship. A third factor can complicate that relationship; it can be work, finances, kids, parents, or the division of labour in the home.

We may spend the earlier part of our lives in the quest of finding the right person. For the rest of our lives, we face the challenge of getting along together. The rules change. In courtship, it might be okay to play hard to get, but in our daily lives together, it makes no sense to be plain hard to get along with.

Just as our hospital department meetings usually run smoothly with clear rules of conduct and a shared sense of purpose, every family needs an agreed-upon set of rules of behaviour and shared values.

If two people don’t share a sense of fairness in their relationship or don’t agree on what is right and wrong, their conflicts will grow and separate them. No one deserves to be bullied or abused, physically or verbally.

Respect for one another is essential. We have to respect the other as a complete person, with individual thoughts and feelings, and we have to respect what they value. It includes valuing shared time. Consulting one another about meetings and social events that take away from your time together is not the same as asking for permission.

One man’s treasure is junk to his wife. Recycling in my home works this way: I retrieve items of great sentimental value from bags and boxes destined for the garbage dump, recycling depot or a fundraising event. I suspect both my wife and I do our work late at night under the cloak of darkness.

After almost twenty years together, I notice our recycling ritual has decreased. I don’t think I’m any less sentimental but I have learned to let go of what’s not so important. My wife could also be labeling outgoing junk in a different way.

I have learned that my wife is often right, actually more than 50% of the time. Wives need to be patient to allow their husbands to discover this in the fullness of time and without saying I told you so.


About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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