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