It’s com­pli­cated...

Re­la­tion­ships are com­plex, says Dr Matt, and they have more bear­ing on your health than you might imag­ine

EDP Norfolk - - Health - Dr Matt Pic­caver

THIS MIGHT be seen as an odd topic for a med­i­cal col­umn. I can’t pro­fess too much ex­per­tise in terms of re­la­tion­ships. I spend more time in the clinic than with peo­ple close to me. I find it eas­ier to tell some­one they are ter­mi­nally ill than to get my kids to brush their teeth. I spend more time with my staff than I do at home.

This is par for the course as a GP. You don’t be­come a doc­tor to have an easy life. Medicine is a great ca­reer if you get bored eas­ily, espe­cially be­ing a GP; there’s some­thing dif­fer­ent ev­ery 10 min­utes, a fresh prob­lem, a chance to help and an op­por­tu­nity to learn.

This might seem strange to say, but the more peo­ple I meet, the more I learn from them. At this point in my ca­reer, I’ve prob­a­bly had some­where in the re­gion of 80,000 con­sul­ta­tions, pos­si­bly more. Some peo­ple I see reg­u­larly, oth­ers only once. Each of them shows me how to live life. I learn from the mis­takes and suc­cesses of those I meet. I learn about joy and sor­row. I learn about how to bring up chil­dren, how to have a happy (or not so happy marriage), how to em­brace ad­ver­sity with dig­nity and brav­ery, and ul­ti­mately how to face death head-on.

Peo­ple come to me for some­thing. Ad­vice and guid­ance, as well as the treat­ment of their as­sorted ail­ments and ill­nesses. What many don’t re­alise is they bring me some­thing.

One of the key themes I meet when peo­ple share their prob­lems with me is about re­la­tion­ships. Peo­ple are fas­ci­nat­ing; log­i­cal and stupid in equal mea­sure, sen­si­ble and in­sane, of­ten si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Re­la­tion­ships, espe­cially those of a more mat­ri­mo­nial kind, are some of the most dif­fi­cult things I en­counter. I of­ten joke that we should live on sep­a­rate is­lands to our part­ners and only come to­gether quar­terly to mate and trade. Ap­par­ently Michael

“Re­la­tion­ships can be both the cause and rem­edy for a lot of prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly those af­fect­ing our men­tal health”

Caine said the se­cret to a long marriage is sep­a­rate kitchens. I see where he is com­ing from.

Re­la­tion­ships can be both the cause and rem­edy for a lot of prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly those af­fect­ing our men­tal health. The places we go, peo­ple we see, food we eat, are in some part dic­tated by the peo­ple we live with.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, re­la­tion­ships go through cy­cles. The early stages are largely filled with lust and all that brings. You spend ages pre­tend­ing to be some­one you’re not. Be­ing the best you. Then you re­alise this is the ‘one for you’, hook up, set­tle down. You have a lot of spare time, and spend it do­ing fun things. Well, po­ten­tially.

Kids might ar­rive, or other sig­nif­i­cant obli­ga­tions. This is when I see a lot of re­la­tion­ships strug­gle. You’re no longer the most im­por­tant peo­ple in each other’s lives. The dy­namic of a re­la­tion­ship changes. The good thing is, this stage doesn’t last for­ever. Chil­dren grow up quickly, our bet­ter years dis­ap­pear in a flurry of school runs, par­ents’ evenings and kids’ par­ties. When the kids grow up and leave home, I see peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ships blos­som once again. They dis­cover each other, and en­joy spend­ing time with each other.

Our re­la­tion­ships can pro­vide us with real strength in times of cri­sis. A good friend or sup­port­ive part­ner is much more use­ful than many of the drugs I pre­scribe. None of them give peo­ple a bet­ter life (if they did, I’d be hav­ing them for break­fast).

Where am I go­ing with this? Re­la­tion­ships are fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to our health and well­be­ing. Get­ting them right... that’s much more dif­fi­cult.

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