December 2, 2005

Series probes challenges of marriage and medicine

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John Tarpley, M.D., and his wife, Margaret, talk about marriage and medicine.
photo by Kats Barry

Series probes challenges of marriage and medicine

Marriage and medicine may seem like a tough match if you're comparing it with the Joneses next door, who both may have 9 to 5 jobs.

Margaret Tarpley, M.L.S., associate in Surgery, and husband John Tarpley, M.D., professor of Surgery, stressed the importance of understanding that marital happiness is the responsibility of the self, not the spouse, during their tag-team lecture Nov. 16 at the University Club.

“Marriage, Money and Medicine: Principles and Priorities” was the second installment of a five-part lecture series “Medical Marriages — Matters of the Heart,” hosted by the Vanderbilt House Staff Alliance.

The series continues next year on Jan. 18, March 15, and April 19.

“If you depend on your spouse to provide your 'happiness', you are already in trouble,” Margaret Tarpley said. “In the medical marriage, time at home or with family may be more limited than what you observe in your neighbors who may have more conventional 9 to 5 jobs.”

For John Tarpley, spending time with family included waking the kids up at 3 a.m. to wrestle with dad if he didn't make it home for supper that night.

“We made it a goal/must that I would spend time every day with our children,” he said of his years in Baltimore as a surgical resident.

The Tarpleys covered several issues in their discussion, driving home the point that broad principles, such as applying the Golden Rule, are vital in marriage and other areas.

“At home, we don't always use good manners with each other. We don't always treat each other the way we would sometimes treat strangers,” Margaret Tarpley said.

“I think that the Golden Rule starts in our very own homes and it certainly starts with couples — don't ever say anything to your spouse that you wouldn't want your spouse to say to you.”

Their five principles for a successful marriage are Forgiveness, Faithfulness, Fiscal Responsibility, Fair Fighting and Food.

As for “Fair Fighting,” the Tarpleys recommend to never fight in public and never end the day with unresolved problems.

In the category of Food, they suggest mealtimes as a couple, or as a family, even if one parent is missing.

“Sharing, talking, visiting, debriefing at the table can be the best 30 minutes of the day,” Margaret Tarpley said.

Money is also an important issue in the medical marriage because medical school and undergraduate education often place couples in a financial hole before they start out.

“Figuring out how to reduce that debt is vital,” Margaret Tarpley said. “And added debt as a couple sets up a new household, relocates, or perhaps has a baby, compounds the issue.”

They suggest sitting down to agree on essentials and luxuries.

“If you are honest and realistic there will be some low places,” John Tarpley said of medical marriages.

“And if you work together those low places can lead to a stronger union and end up, in retrospect, being highlights and opportunities to improve.”