The Pitfalls of Being A Nurse’s Spouse: From the Nurse’s Perspective

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Whenever my husband admits that his wife’s a nurse I know he gets looks of envy and admiration. The general public thinks being married to a nurse is like striking gold.  We are compassionate, patient, make a decent income, and have a reputation of knowing how to have a good time, too!

A lot of that is true, but there are some pretty significant pitfalls to having a spouse that also happens to be a nurse.  Read on for 7 of the most common struggles of being a "nurse's spouse."

1.  Nurses Work Long Hours and Odd Shifts:

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Hospitals are open 24/7 and make up the majority of nursing jobs. No matter which shift you work in the hospital you can guarantee you won’t be seeing much of your family during your days -or nights- on. Most of us work 12 hour shifts to get the “extra day off” during the week, but that comes with a cost to our families.

Personally, I minimize the amount of rebound time it takes to recuperate from working overnight by putting my 12 hour night shifts back to back. What this means to my spouse is he will be in charge of before school, after school, dinner time, and bedtime for all of the days I will be working, including my post shift recovery day - (yeah, that's a thing).

It’s a lot to ask of anyone, but having to allot time for sleep, travel, getting myself ready for work, etc. I simply don’t have time left to contribute to day-to-day parenting, housework, & everyday life during my stretch of time I'm working. For most nurse families, you can compare it to having a spouse who travels three to four days out of every week. It’s daunting and, as a nurse, you are pretty much tapped out when it comes to time.  So to your spouse, it’s as if you aren’t even there.

2. Holidays and Weekends Can be Lonely for a Nurse’s Spouse:

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When you apply for most clinical nursing positions you will see the inevitable holiday and weekend obligation all the way at the bottom of the posting. Typically, the minimum requirement is every other weekend and every other major holiday.

Like being employed at a restaurant, you work when everyone else is going out, having fun, and enjoying life. Even though it’s common knowledge nurses have to work weekends and holidays, it doesn’t make it any easier on their spouses who often spend them alone.

Half-jokingly we'd say we would make a life-size cardboard cutout of myself to bring to family parties & holidays to put in my place.  Not only do I feel bad missing out on those special family times but I also feel guilty for having my husband go it alone.  Not to mention, having to take care of young kids at parties can be a lonely, tough job - but that’s a whole different blog post right there!

3. We Get Amusement From Telling Gross and Disturbing Stories:

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Many times on my unit patients come through the door with a clinical picture that you would have to see to believe. We’re talking the true train wreck patients with not only extensive medical histories but also social histories that would make Jerry Springer cringe. Things you can’t make up that you just have to share with someone.

Too many times my poor husband has regrettably asked, “how was work?” I know he immediately regrets asking me before I even get to the BEST part of my story. He'd throw his hands up and say, “Too much information,” or “ugh, did you really need to tell me that?” It brings me a little enjoyment to make him shudder with disgust as I know it goes to show how crazy my job can really be.

In the mood for a somewhat entertaining, hopefully not relatable, gross nurse story?  Check out Gross Confessions of a Nurse to laugh at me... er, I mean "with me" about one of the worst things that EVER happened to me as a nurse.

4. We Know Too Much:

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Nurses are excellent caregivers to their families. We are astute to their symptoms and are expert over-thinkers when it comes to their health.  All well-intentioned of course, it can become a little much to say the least.

Years ago I insisted doctors order lab draws on my 5 year old because he was having persistent unexplained fevers.  I was convinced he had developed an autoimmune disorder that was exacerbated by an unknown virus. The lab results were all normal and my then 5 year old only had what doctors described as “post viral syndrome.”  He's fine.  I’ve sent my husband to the doctor for a stress test to rule out a heart condition after he told me he felt a little short of breath after a walk.  He's fine.  I've induced worry by spewing off possible diagnosis when my spouse tells me he's “been feeling a little tired lately”.  Not surprisingly, aside from a new diagnosis of anxiety, we're all... just... fine.  ((Eye Roll))

I know too much and, as a nurse, I have a very real fear of missing something serious when any symptom arises.  Headache?  Maybe Cancer.  Cough?  Probably Cancer.  Any lump, bump, or growth?  Definitely Cancer... you get the idea. You better believe that as a nurse I’ll be damned to miss a diagnosis or be lax about a symptom only to find out it was something serious. We have our reputations to think about and god forbid, we look like a bad nurse!

Our husbands & wives have to put up with our constant scrutiny of symptoms and impatient nagging to "go get that checked out".  Life was probably so much easier for them when a headache.... was just a headache and a cough... was just a cough.

5. On the Other Hand, "Unless You're Dying... We Aren't Going to the Doctors!"

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Ironically, I’ve had my son fall down the stairs, hit his head and decide to watch him for signs of a concussion rather than take him to the ER for evaluation because… "...unless you’re dying… we aren’t going to the doctors!"

I feel so confident in my assessment skills that, like most nurses, have self-treated, diagnosed, and waited out symptoms to avoid unnecessary medical intervention, testing, and time wasted.

At this point, I think my husband has given up and doesn’t freak out anymore when I say we are “waiting it out” or that “I’m not worried” about something that most people call an ambulance for.

Maybe it’s because my nerves are shot from years of being an RN, maybe it’s just because I liked to see him squirm amidst my confidence. Either way, it’s gotta be hard as a spouse to have a medical professional dictate if and when we are calling an ambulance and not feel like you have a leg to stand on - experience wise.

6.  We Swear, - like A LOT.

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Truck drivers and construction workers have NOTHING on nurses. I saw a study once that claimed people who cussed were more trustworthy. Year after year the nursing profession is voted as the #1 most trusted profession among the public, so it all makes sense, doesn’t it?

Most don't find this a problem, but my husband has confessed this bothers him a little... in a chauvinistic kind of way.  He will often say “nice mouth” when I slip a few choice expletives while answering a simple question of how my day went.  Not being “Stepford Wife” material, my husband has gotten used to it and doesn’t flinch anymore when he hears me go off on an expletive filled rant.

I'll put it this way, before I became a nurse I never used the top dollar curse words that seem to pour out of my mouth now on a daily basis.  I can honestly say, none of the words in the English language really could relay what I was thinking quite like the 4-letter favorite that happens to start with the letter "F." It’s all relative, and honestly, probably a coping mechanism nurses use to achieve some form of inner peace amidst the chaos of their work.  At our house we don't have a "swear jar" we have a "swear five-gallon bucket."

7.  Lastly, We Crash... HARD.

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If one more person says, “you must love working nights because everyone’s asleep” or “working three days a week must be so nice because you have so many days off”... I might scream.  No, people NEVER sleep in the hospital.

Between the constant beeping of alarms, doctors popping in at all hours of the night, and of course the nursing hourly rounding you would have to be crazy to think people get any rest at the hospital.

If patients are awake, you bet they are going to be calling their nurse for every little thing under the moon. We are running from the point we get to work until we get home… it’s exhausting both physically and mentally. Our “days off” are spent recuperating and decompressing.

I’ve actually slept for 20 hours straight once!

Things I’m not proud of, but it just goes to show how physically spent we are after working.  For the sake of our marriage and my husband's own well-being he KNOWS not to wake me - unless of course the house is burning down or someone is bleeding to death.  I’m definitely grateful when he lets me sleep, but it wasn’t without years of training him to never, ever, ever, EVER wake me up.  Trust me when I say, never wake a sleeping nurse. 

If you're like me, you routinely work night shift and have developed some tips and tricks to help get a good DAYS sleep after tackling the overnight.  Check out Tips for the Night Shift #BestSleepEver for a little help to get you the best sleep possible... day OR night! 

Being Married to a Nurse is NOT for the Faint of Heart:

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It takes a lot of courage to be the spouse of a nurse. We are know-it-all, type A personalities that have a hard time being told what to do. We work long, weird hours and leave our spouses alone for some of the most important family times. Our blunt honesty might make most blush and many squirm. We don’t have many boundaries and even if we do, we are often guilty of crossing them.

Spouses of nurses also have it pretty darn good, too...

We will be there for you at your bedside, take you to doctor’s visits, and will make for damn sure you get the best care possible when you -god forbid- need to be hospitalized or treated.

Who wouldn’t love to have their own private duty nurse to take care of you when you are at your worst?

We are, in fact, freaks between the sheets and we know how to have a good time which is a major plus++.  (Just keep the coffee flowing and we are good to go!)  We are honest and sure to tell you exactly how we are feeling, on a scale of one to ten - of course.  Don’t be afraid to ask us if “this is normal?” ...but definitely be afraid to wake us after a shift.

Nurses are all that and a bag of chips, but mostly because of the understanding, supportive, and rock-star spouses that we have working behind the scenes who are there for us to listen to our stories and to give us encouragement when we've had a particularly rough shift.

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Behind every great nurse, is a spouse who has to put up with a lot of crap.  Now go hug your husband or wife <3
Happy Valentine's Day!
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Send leighann@nurseforward.com a photo of you and your special someone and I'll include you in my special edition Nurse's Spouse Slideshow!

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6 thoughts on “The Pitfalls of Being A Nurse’s Spouse: From the Nurse’s Perspective”

    1. Every profession has their pitfalls… as a teacher I would think having to buy your own supplies and also never being able to agree on a name for your own child because you have so many students whose names have made impressions on you! Thanks for the comment!

  1. As a nurse myself, I could not agree more to all of these things. The holidays are hard and a lot of the times my husband is by himself with our son and will go to our families but he feels bad since I’m not there. And the part about crashing after a 12 hour shift- that couldn’t not be more true. I come home and half the time shower and go right to bed. It takes a strong, supportive husband to be married to a nurse

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