36 Years of Marriage to a Really Good Person

098I’m writing this as a tribute to my husband and our marriage which is now 36 years old.

I met my husband when he was in medical school and I was in public health school.

I started our relationship by telling him how completely senseless and selfish doctors were (this was in the 1970s when the main thing the American Medical Association did was fight any attempt to create a national health system).

He undercut my anger by telling me that he believed in socialized medicine. Those were his words. And he still does believe in “socialized medicine.”

I have a husband who cares more about his patients than his income. More about helping people than about abiding by bureaucratic rules. A husband who has worked at two long-term jobs in the three decades since finishing his many, many years of training, and both of these jobs, by his choice, serve the poorest people in our county.
I have a husband who got in trouble in his child psychiatry training because instead of seeing children as isolated individuals, he was, according to the critique, “too family oriented.”

The social workers where my husband trained wanted to do only therapy. So it was my husband the psychiatrist who did the social work — he would call the school or the teacher to find out more about the child and to make sure the treatment was benefiting the whole child. And he has continued doing this social work for children throughout his career (he has more than a passing acquaintance with many school administrators. Is it any wonder that our older daughter is in social work school?).

I have a husband who would walk a child patient to the cafeteria and buy him/her something to eat because he found out the child was hungry. What child could focus on their emotional problems when they hadn’t had any breakfast?

I have a husband who sat through months of totally silent therapy sessions with one teenager until that teenager felt comfortable talking about his problems.

I have a husband who charged his private patients less than other therapists with much less training charged — I had to nag him into charging a reasonable (as in higher) fee to people who have more money than we do. (But he still charges his long-time patients less).

I have a husband who actually answers his cell phone when patients call.

I have a husband who can get along with even the most infuriating people in his office because he thinks about why they act the way they do. I have a husband who is the one colleagues come to when they are having difficulty with someone else in their workplace.

I have a husband who is the parent who worries about whether our children are wearing coats in the winter, or are too hot in that long-sleeved shirt in the summer. I have a husband who gets up early every morning to make a healthy breakfast for our younger daughter. As he did for our older daughter. And he did for our oldest daughter who is no longer of this world.

I have a husband who is the one who knows whether we have enough toilet paper in the house (but he has selfish reasons for that also!).

I have a husband who resisted getting a dog. I have a husband who at almost 70 years of age takes our dogs (one at a time) out for walks almost every day, and for 40-minute walks in the woods several times a week. I have a husband who is the one most likely to clean up dog puke and poop (although I help out). I have a husband who puts ear medicine in our old-lady-dog’s ears, despite her attempts to sneak away when he shows up with the medicine.

I have a husband who makes babies and toddlers chortle and laugh and play whenever and wherever he encounters them. I have a husband who intuitively understands little children, adults and elderly people, but is sometimes stymied by adolescents when they are his own children.

I have a husband who speaks two languages other than English fluently, is working on a third and loves to pick up phrases from various other languages. I have a husband who once gave directions to a non-English speaking couple who stopped and asked for help, going back & forth between them, speaking French to the wife and Spanish to the husband. I have a husband who does not speak Italian, but had an Italian group of people at a restaurant falling off their chairs laughing when he tried out speaking Spanish to them with an Italian accent. I have a husband who told a Russian security guard at the Russian Embassy residence, “I love you,” in Russian (and got a smile from a man who had been uniformly grim up until that time).

I have a husband who sometimes irritates the hell out of me, doesn’t listen to important things, ignores my points, forgets to do things we need as a family, can drive me totally crazy with his supposed “rational” responses, will sometimes automatically take a conservative position (although he’s extremely liberal), spends too much time in the bathroom, refuses to get hearing aids and makes us repeat everything we say, puts up with too much from his family of origin, bangs up my car, is incredibly cluttered and disorganizes any space I try to put in order; And NONE of that, none of that, compares to how truly good and totally lovable he is.

P.s. As we said in the sign we carried in a gay rights rally you see in the image above, our marriage is not threatened by gay marriage. I wish a marriage as good as ours to all gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, or whatever people who choose to get married.

Contributor Marti Teitelbaum lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She is the mother of two high-energy girls (a twenty-something future radical social worker and a 12-year-old with teen-hood aspirations) and is married to a psychiatrist who devotes half his work life to a child mental health clinic. For almost 20 years, Marti used her degree in public health to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, producing most of their numbers on children’s health, disability, health insurance, Medicaid, and immunization. She has always been a political junkie and a fiber-holic and now, for the first time in her life, has the time to indulge in both of these addictions. Politics and weaving have a lot in common: both take a lot of thought and preparation and both have a lot of complicated entanglements. But the difference is that weaving calms the soul and produces something useful and potentially beautiful. Politics doesn’t.

Image courtesy of the author

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    Martha, I’ve worked in health care for more than thirty years and I so appreciate this post. We need so many more health care practitioners like your husband! As I work closely with physicians, I am a great fan. Most people believe stereotypes about doctors that are far from true. Most of the physicians I know work tirelessly and many of them make less than your average medical device sales person.

    Bless your husband, and happy anniversary.

    • Marti Teitelbaum

      Thank you! In the 70’s — doctors were the opposition to universal health coverage, but their power has waned and now they are just as much the victims of the for-profit insurance industry as we patients are.
      I didn’t say in this piece that at the beginning of his career, my husband turned down a very lucrative offer from a private, profit-making psychiatric hospital in favor of working with low income people. And he’s never regretted it because he finds his patients so interesting
      Nowadays those kinds of lucrative offers are only available if you work in the insurance industry.
      Sure, there are still greedy uncaring doctors, but there are plenty who could have made a lot more money in business or on Wall Street without years of training and 100s of 1000s of dollars in student loan debt. Today, if you want to be a doctor, it’s not for the money.

  • Cynthia Samuels

    Oh my. I married MY psychiatrist husband when he was in medical school 42 years ago and I am so moved by what you have written. Aren’t we lucky to have gotten two of the “great ones?”

  • Congratulations to the two of you on your 36 years of marriage! Here’s to 36 more? (Hey, it could happen!)

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