Podcast Episode 24 | How Podcasting Saved My Marriage

With Lara McElderry

About the Prosperous Doc® Podcast

The Prosperous Doc® podcast by Spaugh Dameron Tenny highlights real-life stories from doctors and dentist to encourage and inspire listeners through discussions of professional successes and failures in addition to personal stories and financial wellness advice.

Shane Tenny, CFP® is our podcast host and Partner at SDT. He has lectured numerous times for hospitals and physician groups and, most importantly, helped hundreds of clients develop strategies to navigate through turbulent times toward their financial goals.

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Lara McElderry:             00:00                Am I the only one who medicine has let down.

Intro:                            00:05                From Spaugh Dameron Tenny, it's The Prosperous Doc Podcast. Real stories, real inspirations, real growth. A show for doctors who are ready to improve their overall wellness in every aspect of life. Now here's your host, Shane Tenny.

Shane Tenny:                00:23                All right, welcome back to another episode, I'm Shane Tenny, glad to have you with us today. Whether you're working out or driving in the car or whatever you're doing we appreciate your time today, I'm glad to have you with us. As the podcast industry is booming as evidenced by the fact that you're listening to this, so is the competition between podcast shows and the need to really have a unique approach to build a community of loyal listeners.

Shane Tenny:                00:51                And we're here today with the host of a really unique podcast who has done just that. Lara McElderry is the voice behind the Married to Doctors podcast, some of you probably already know about it. She's built a really great brand around helping make successful physician homes happier. Her podcast has been one of Apple's top relationship podcasts. One of the themes that I know from just listening to it over the last couple of months is just the real authenticity that she brings and a willingness to talk about things that are sometimes taboo or uncomfortable.

Shane Tenny:                01:25                One of the topics I know that she's covered extensively is loneliness often caused by the rigors of the training process that a physician goes through to become a doctor and the need to move to new cities, move through medical school, through residency for fellowship. The physician couples are forced to go through long distance relationships sometimes, start from scratch in a new city when they move. And I know Lara and her family moved a number of times over the last 15 years even causing her to give up a job that she's loved a couple times. I'm excited to have her share her story with you and just the common, I guess, personality that we have on White Coat Wellness, I think what you have Lara around just authenticity and openness. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Lara McElderry:             02:11                Thank you for the beautiful introduction, I'm happy to be here.

Shane Tenny:                02:15                I'm sure that some of the folks listening today have already heard your podcast and so they're going to have a fun time getting to know you on the hot seat. But maybe you could just start off a little bit and tell us, what was the story behind starting your podcast a couple of years ago?

Lara McElderry:             02:30                Yeah. Things tend to grow after you hit rock bottom, right? And so for my husband and I we had been through quite a journey to get him through surgery residency. In fact, he started out as a surgery resident and decided that with our family that that was a bit much. And so he actually switched to pathology only to find out that he really missed the patient interaction, he missed the hands on, he missed what he calls cutting on people and decided to go back to surgery.

Lara McElderry:             03:00                It took us seven years and three moves to get him to become a board certified surgeon. Once we had arrived at that point, we felt we had crossed a huge finish line and unfortunately he took a job that was not a great fit for him for a number of reasons. And we realized that if he stayed in that job he would not be doing the types of cases that he wanted to do and that he was kind of boxed into a corner at that job. About 50% of surgeons don't stay at their first job, but because we were a little bit older and had a family and had moved closer to family, we were really determined to make that job work.

Lara McElderry:             03:43                However, it just became obvious that that wasn't the best choice. And so we made a really hard decision, one that's a little bit on the crazy side but we actually quit an attending position and my husband went back to training. If you can imagine going through medical school, seven years of training, finally getting that attending salary and then letting that go and moving your family cross country for just a year, that's what we did. And he went ahead and did a fellowship, which he had wanted to do before, but again, because we had taken our time and had kiddos, we felt like, "No, just go straight in and get a job."

Lara McElderry:             04:25                He went and got the fellowship. The good news is he has the job he wants now, the hard part of that was when we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he did that fellowship, I hit rock bottom in that. Okay, this is not where I thought I would be, I turned 40 that year, I was busy enrolling the kids in new schools, I had no real friends or support in Albuquerque. And I thought, "What in the world am I going to do for one year?" I could try to go take a job but no sooner would I get hired, I would have to be giving my notice and that didn't seem fair to an employer.

Lara McElderry:             05:08                And so I started brainstorming things that I could do and I thought, "Gosh, am I the only one who medicine has let down?" And I thought, "Let me maybe start a blog or start something." And I went through a process and eventually landed on the idea of podcasting which I'm so glad I did. I love the format of podcasting and the conversations. And so I just threw my hat in the ring and started a podcast. I had no following, I wasn't anyone that anyone had ever heard of. I was just someone who had married a physician and went on a crazy journey wanting to share my story but more importantly share the stories of many that go through medicine and the ups and downs of that journey.

Shane Tenny:                05:57                Yeah. And through that, I guess what you're alluding to is to hear your pleasant surprise, there's a whole bunch of people out there that are dealing with the same types of stresses. Surviving training as a married couple, having a family, I know for you even just the change in your own career. You have your own professional training and background that you've had to change your expectations of.

Lara McElderry:             06:24                Yeah. I have a master's degree in teaching. I taught English as a second language and I absolutely loved working with those kiddos. I had two different jobs as we moved around both of which I was like, "I could teach at this school and retire as a teacher from this school." I love the student-teacher relationship, I love working in the classroom and it felt like a lot of my talents and education were just always second fiddle because we had to keep pursuing medicine because that would ultimately pay more, pay the bills and of course pay off those student loans that were just gaining interest during all of this time.

Lara McElderry:             07:11                And so all of those factors plus the fact that I'm the female, I'm the one having the babies and taking time off for that as well, all of that just led up to me leaving a couple of jobs, which I was happy to do in that I knew it was best for our marriage but I was also very sad about doing in that it was part of me. It was a part of my identity and part of what I really enjoyed and loved and I have found that to be a common theme among many physician partners and spouses that they... sometimes of course physicians marry physicians and that's a whole nother can of worms. But for a lot of us that are non-physicians married to physicians our careers by default become second fiddle. Not that the physician doesn't value them but due to the demands of medicine and just how it's structured.

Lara McElderry:             08:03                You're going to most likely move for medical school, you're going to most likely move for residency training and you're most likely going to move once again for an attending position. You're looking at three moves. Sometimes people get fortunate and they can live in a larger metropolitan area and do more of that in the same area. But for many of us those are moves across state lines, even across the country. And what that means is your job gets derailed because those are the same exact years where you're trying to build a career so it becomes very tricky to do that with those moves.

Shane Tenny:                08:45                And through the journey that you've been on the last 15 years, I guess, between all that you've described, as you've come to the, I guess, progressive realization that your career and your life is looking different than you thought it was at this stage. I guess, speaking personally I've realized the older I get as an adult the more I realize, "I thought it would be different when I was at this stage." As you realize that and in many ways had to let go of the vision that you had when you went to undergrad and got your master's and thought you were going to teach English as a second language, has that felt like the death of a vision to you? How have you wrestled with that?

Lara McElderry:             09:24                I think at certain times I definitely went through some lows but I think now I'm on the other side of it. And a big part of that was finding something that I could be passionate about, enjoy creating, enjoy doing and that's the podcast. For me it's been a creative process, it's been learning lots of new things like WordPress and how to host a podcast and how to get it to different platforms. It's been an educational experience, a creative experience and it's also given me back that sense of I'm doing something beyond just myself.

Lara McElderry:             10:04                Just like with teaching I always felt this is more than just me, like I'm helping students. With the podcast it's more than just me. It's great and it's helped me a lot personally, but I love hearing from my listeners and knowing that. I mean, nothing beats an email that says, "Hey, our marriage is stronger because of the work you do. Thank you so much for the time and energy you put into your show." I mean, that is such a high compliment. I love that and I love knowing that it's made a small impact in the medical world.

Shane Tenny:                10:43                It sounds like you're saying it's part of what's helped you endure and begin to thrive again was acknowledging or finding a new identity to replace the identity that you thought you were going to have. Is that what you're describing there?

Lara McElderry:             10:59                Yeah, I think that's fair. A big part of that for me too was also embracing the fact that I'm a physician spouse, a doctor wife. That was something that as he was going through training I always felt a little uncomfortable with. Perhaps that's because I'm the first college graduate of the grandkids and I just didn't come from a background of physicians and I was very intimidated by physicians. Clearly over the years I've become more and more comfortable to the point that I now have a podcast so I obviously identify as a doctor's wife. And so part of it has been embracing a new identity but still keeping those talents and interests that I had and finding new ways to use them. And so I always encourage people to... your life may not look like you thought it would but that doesn't mean that your strengths have changed. You just have to find new and creative ways to use the strengths that you've been blessed with.

Shane Tenny:                11:59                You mentioned a minute ago just how gratifying it is to get feedback from people that have listened to your podcast and felt your contribution into their lives. Is there a listener or a story that you are aware of that has really been impacted by the community that you've built and the work that you've done through Married to Doctors?

Lara McElderry:             12:19                That's a great question. I think one of my listeners reached out and actually did some coaching with me as well because that's something that I enjoy doing. And really went from the point of, "I think our marriage is done." They were living in separate parts of the house, they were still married for the kids but they were not connected. And working with her and seeing the change over time that took place in their marriage has been really rewarding for me. I don't do couples counseling but I find it fascinating that even if just one spouse will reach out for some coaching or some therapy, the benefits of that for a marriage can be quite huge.

Lara McElderry:             13:12                We often think, "Oh, I'll just be happy if my spouse would change." Right? But there's so much we can do with our own thoughts, with our own actions, with the things that we feel, with expectations, and I think that marriages are definitely worth saving. That's one reason why I have a marriage podcast is that I believe that families are important and marriages are important and I love to see those strengthen.

Lara McElderry:             13:42                That said, I am not against divorce and certainly one of the things I always ask and can sometimes surprise people when we do get into a coaching session, I'm like, "So why aren't you divorced?" And I play that card for a little bit. I'm like, "So tell me all the reasons you're not divorced." And what happens is then they almost start defending their spouse and remembering all of the reasons why they haven't divorced the person. I always like to remind people, "Hey, this is 2020. You do not have to be in this relationship, you do have options. Let's talk about what those look like."

Lara McElderry:             14:18                And I've never had anyone, fortunately, not that it couldn't happen, but at this point I've never had anyone say, "Yeah, for sure, I want to get a divorce." Most of the time people do want to work through any challenges that they're having and I do think marriages can get sweeter with time. It's okay to go through some lows, it's okay to go through some changes. We're not going to be the same person in our '40s that we were in our '20s when we met, and that's okay. It's been 20 years, we have 20 more years of life to experience, of course we're going to have different views on things. But that doesn't mean that we can't still have an amazing relationship with love and respect for differences of opinion.

Shane Tenny:                15:02                Yep, yep. I think one of the things, as I imagine you know that really sets apart your podcast and the folks that are attracted to it is just your vulnerability and realness about your own story and willingness to interview people and ask questions that don't just support the glamorous doctor life that is often portrayed out there. I want to ask you a little bit about some of the work and conversations you've had around loneliness right after we get back from this quick break.

Will Koster:                   15:36                With this episode's Financial Wellness tip I'm Will Koster. I want to continue discussing a topic I mentioned on our previous episode, estate planning. You know the importance of it, but here are a few more tips that I have on the subject. Oftentimes I'm asked if paying a couple thousand dollars for an attorney is really necessary when having your estate documents drafted or if using another method like LegalZoom would be sufficient? One thing I always remind those individuals is that if your estate documents are not done correctly, you'll actually often never know. Meaning that again, it is your children or loved ones that are left behind to find out if you completed the documents in the way that you intended or not.

Will Koster:                   16:20                Another very simple tip but something that may be overlooked is that one of the best things you can do from an estate planning perspective is to actually double-check your beneficiary designations on accounts and policies. In fact, you can do this without spending one penny on an attorney. And did you know that beneficiary designations actually supersede the directions of your will?

Will Koster:                   16:43                One last thought that I'll leave you with is to make sure you find an attorney that specializes in estate planning. Because there are certain intricacies to be aware of and oftentimes they'll know the right questions to ask and the best language to include to make sure that your true wishes are carried out when you die. With this episode's Financial Wellness tip, I'm Will Costner.

Shane Tenny:                17:14                Laura, as I was saying I know that one of the topics that you just embrace as a reality of the life of physicians and physician spouses moving around and being relocated and transplanted numerous times through their training is loneliness. You referenced really coming to a breaking point through the training process that your husband went through. Can you talk a little bit about what that loneliness looked like for you?

Lara McElderry:             17:39                Sure. Loneliness for me looked like I can't talk to my family about this because they think I've hit the jackpot because Josh is going to be a doctor, and that was true he was. The potential for him to make a very nice living for us was always there in the future despite the fact that it was taking time to get there. I wasn't very connected with other physician spouses just in part because of the layout of the city and lack of maybe events for us to get together and maybe I just wasn't tuned into them. Maybe they existed and I wasn't aware of them. I didn't have too many physician spouse friends. I did have a few but not many.

Lara McElderry:             18:26                And I think for me I felt just like, "Who do I talk to?" Obviously I'm a very verbal person, I have a podcast so for me speaking to others is an important thing. And not feeling like I could go to family because they wouldn't quite get it not really feeling like I could go to friends because again, "How do you complain about being married to a doctor?" It comes across as a very privileged argument and I get that, I get that. But at the same time, just because we are frankly privileged with education and opportunity doesn't mean that we don't also have emotions and struggles and feelings. And so I wanted to create a safe space to verbalize that without the judgment that might come if you were just to put say a post on Facebook to a wide variety of people.

Lara McElderry:             19:31                I feel like in our community it's okay to say, "Hey, being married to a doctor isn't always as glamorous as it seems." And that, that doesn't mean that we're not saying that we don't recognize the benefits of it, it just means that we understand some of the behind-the-scenes sacrifices. And we understand that, hey, maybe that means a doctor dad or doctor mom isn't going to be at that concert, at that soccer game, at that birthday party. Sometimes even at the birth of a child I've heard those stories.

Lara McElderry:             20:10                There are times that physicians are not available. And so again, some of that loneliness comes from just lack of connection with your spouse because of the demands on them, especially during the training years and in lack of, who can I complain to when it seems like such a... like I said, such a privileged problem. And so that was one of the reasons for trying to create a safe space where it's okay to say that this is hard.

Shane Tenny:                20:41                Yeah, I remember. I know you have a number of children as I do. And I remember years ago my wife just struggling with the stress of momming and talking with an older friend of hers who said, "It's okay to love your kids but not always love being their mother." And that resonated to me a couple of years ago when I was talking with a physician spouse, having to be the male in this case. And he said, "I love my wife and I love she's a doctor. I just don't always love being married to her." And it is complicated and exhausting at times in unique ways.

Lara McElderry:             21:16                Yeah, for sure. For sure. It's a great way of looking at it.

Shane Tenny:                21:20                Yep. I was, I guess just to go a step deeper on that, because as you describe your stories, starting to come to a point of redemption as you're finding a new way of contributing to the world and giving back and using your talents and things. But I've become aware over the last year that it's not just the medical community that is at risk of burnout and struggling with burnout, but the spouses are at risk of burnout and exhaustion and fatigue and depression just as well.

Lara McElderry:             21:50                Yeah, that's true. In fact, one of the very lesser known statistics is that physician spouse suicide is a real thing. We hear a lot about physician wellness, we hear a lot about physician suicide. I don't remember the exact statistics so I won't quote them and get them wrong. But I do know that if you are a female married to a male physician, your suicidal chances increase. And that statistic really struck me and I thought, "Oh my goodness, I'm in a higher category of people."

Lara McElderry:             22:27                And I think, "Well, who? Who would be at risk?" And it's those that feel some of the things we've been talking about today, they feel that isolation, they feel that loneliness, they feel like they're not contributing, they feel like they're second fiddle. They're just exhausted from the household and childcares and also just expectations. I think it's very easy to glamorize what... there's all these ridiculous shows on television and whatnot about what it's like to be married to a physician. And certainly there are the outliers that make millions of dollars a year, right?

Lara McElderry:             23:04                But most of us are not looking at that kind of money or lifestyle. In fact, most of us wouldn't want that kind of lifestyle, I don't think. But there's still that expectation in that when real life happens and you realize, "Oh wow, we have a six-figure debt and we also need to have five, 20 nights for our kids and things like that." You're like, "Oh my gosh." Just those unmet expectations coupled with that feeling of isolation, I think all of those things can really increase the chances that, not necessarily for suicide, I mean, obviously that would be the ultimate act, but just for the depression and the need for a soft landing, a place to speak out to someone and to get that counseling.

Lara McElderry:             23:51                But again, it's like, "Why do you need counseling? Why do you need therapy? You're married to a doctor, you can pay your bills every month. You have the nice house, the nice car, the two kids, the dog, whatever." And I think it's just something that's been taboo since the 1950s when the women would dress up and take cookies into the doctor's offices. We had to wear the pretty dress and cook the nice food for everyone. And those stereotypes it's funny they haven't really gone away. It's still that idea of you're the entertainer, you're supposed to look a certain way, show up when you're supposed to, know when to stay quiet, almost like you're an accessory to your spouse.

Lara McElderry:             24:37                And I think in 2020 women just are not fulfilled enough hanging on the elbow of our husbands. And that doesn't mean that we don't love them and we don't want to be on their elbow, but it does mean that we want to have... I think we have other desires and interests. And so if we can find a way to really feel like ourselves, feel like we're contributing, we will be happier and our marriages will be happier for it.

Shane Tenny:                25:04                Yeah. And you alluded a couple minutes ago about how your entrepreneurial endeavor of this podcast which I think started at the end of 2017 is here, you're going on your third year now, congratulations by the way. Has given birth to the interest by folks that have listened to you in a one-on-one conversation, which has given rise to the coaching that you referenced earlier. Can you talk a little bit about the coaching and in particular, is there a theme to the topics or the concerns of the needs that you're engaging with or is it just spread all out?

Lara McElderry:             25:42                Yeah, a great question. Coaching actually was something that I didn't intend to do when I started the podcast. But what happened over time is I found that people started to trust me for advice and I was emailing people back and forth these long emails. And I thought, "Well, I think I could with my teaching background and with all the reading I do in positive psychology and the work on the podcast and the now hundreds of physician spouses that I've interviewed." I thought, "Maybe I can offer this coaching."

Lara McElderry:             26:13                And so I do not have a set standard like, "Okay, week one is going to be this topic, week two is topic B," etcetera. What I usually do is just do a discovery call where we find out what the biggest stressor is for them and then from there we set up a plan. To answer your question more directly, there are themes that often arise from these calls. We've touched on loneliness, moving, when to have children, finances at times can come up as well. Those are probably the biggest four followed by intimacy issues, communication issues, jealousy issues.

Lara McElderry:             27:00                Yeah, and usually it's going to fall in one of those categories and from there we'll make a plan and talk about how many sessions I think we'll need. And I give homework, it's the teacher in me, and we try to work through it and see if we can make some progress. I'm also very quick to turn someone to a therapist. I am not a licensed therapist, so if they come to me with something that I don't feel that I can help them with then I will follow up with them and do my best to make sure that they do get the help that they need.

Shane Tenny:                27:31                For somebody, I'm imagining there may be somebody listening right now who is going through struggles or situations similar to what you've alluded to. What's the difference between... or how do you determine whether someone should maybe reach out to you for some coaching through their struggles, their confusion, their loneliness, that sort of thing, and when, "Now you need to go find a licensed counselor or marriage and family therapist?" What's that line look like or how do you answer that?

Lara McElderry:             28:00                I think it depends on if they've tried some of the coaching techniques and they're not getting any benefits. I mean, I definitely do believe in clinical depression. And so if someone is going to need Lexapro or some kind of antidepressant then certainly that's not something I can help them with, there are real chemical depression issues and I don't want to make light of those. However, I find that a lot of people it's more situational and it's more thought-based.

Lara McElderry:             28:29                And when they have someone that understands what they're going through but can also be an objective voice and say, "Hey, hey, hey, hey, let's actually write out what they did. Let's write out what their exact action was, how that made you feel, how did you respond to it and let's talk through how this fight ended up happening in your relationship?" I find that sometimes when we just take a step back you get some objective advice, you start doing the homework and writing things out, a lot of things will self-correct.

Lara McElderry:             29:05                And that's the thing. I don't work with people for months and months and months. Most people will meet with me three, maybe six times and they're like, "Oh my gosh, this made such a difference." Sometimes you just need a listening ear, sometimes you just need someone to objectively say, "Am I looking at this wrong?" Or, "How can I get through this particular low point? Help me set some goals on keeping my own identity during this move." It could be as simple as that.

Shane Tenny:                29:36                Sounds great. And I'm so glad to have had you on for more folks to be introduced to you and the potential help that you can bring either just through your podcast and those conversations or a one-on-one. As we get ready to wrap up I want to ask you, can we turn the corner of full-circle here and talk just about hope, awareness, future looking. What gives you hope based on where you are now as a mom, as a physician spouse, as an entrepreneur, what are you excited about?

Lara McElderry:             30:03                Oh, great question. I'm excited that next week I'll be speaking at the University of Central Florida, which will be a lot of fun. I'm also planning on speaking in Charlotte in April. I love giving those live talks to people. I'm really excited that I continue to see... some people might look at it as competition but I don't. I'm excited to see additional podcasts coming out by other physician spouses and people that care about physician wellness. Because I feel like two, three years ago when I started this there just weren't many resources out there. I like to feel like that taboo is falling away and that those looking for help with their physician-partner relationships can find that help, that makes me very happy and excited.

Shane Tenny:                30:55                Awesome. Lara, thanks so much for your time today. Thanks for what you're doing to give back to the physician community and the physician spouse community, and congratulations on all your success.

Lara McElderry:             31:06                Thank you so much for having me, this has been a lot of fun.

Shane Tenny:                31:09                Absolutely. And thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you found the conversation helpful. You can connect with Lara through her podcast, again, it's Married to Doctors. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts or on her website, marriedtodoctors.com. And I would just ask you, if this podcast has been helpful to you, if the conversations and the guests that we have have been helpful would you mind subscribing? That helps us in the search engine mechanisms. And if the show has been impactful to you would you mind leaving us a review on iTunes or Google Play?

Shane Tenny:                31:40                If you want to stay connected with us you can also subscribe to our biweekly podcast newsletter. You can see the information on how to do that in the show notes below. If you have questions, ideas, suggestions, or comments, you're also welcome to email me directly. It's shane@whitecoatwell.com. Thanks so much for being with us and we'll see you back here next time.

Outro:                          32:03                This episode of The Prosperous Doc podcast is over, but you're not alone on your journey. Spaugh Dameron Tenny has been helping physicians and dentists prosper through financial planning for over 60 years. To connect with us, visit sdtplanning.com today and take your financial wellness to new levels. Join us on the next episode of The Prosperous Doc Podcast.