Bizarre love triangle

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 65, No. 5, June 2023, Page 153 Editorials

Physician wellness and burnout are all the buzz, and rightfully so. But how often do we consider the partners and significant others of these martyrs of modern medicine? These selfless, understanding, loving people are there when we get home from a long, unpredictable day that has emptied our emotional tanks, dancing around us on eggshells, trying to hold everything together for us. How are they coping when stung by association?

Like the title of New Order’s 1986 hit single, it is a “bizarre love triangle”—the physician, the practice, the partner. A triangle perched precariously, shifting its balance from point to point to point, vulnerable to toppling and breaking at any time. The balancing act must be carefully attended to for it to be maintained.

A physician’s partner may stay at home, be a physician themselves, or have an equally busy career in another field. Whatever their role, they share in our struggles. Physicians tend to be type A personalities with some control issues thrown in. It is a special person who is able to be partnered with a physician, and when a physician finds the right partner, it can be a beautiful thing.

My partner is my rock, my blankie, my big bear stuffie that I can hug, my reality check, my reassurance, and, most of all, my best friend. But we have had our issues, and there is nothing like having a good counselor to see us through those times. Our counselor was instrumental in resuscitating our relationship. He taught us the art of hugging. Not a pat on the back, but a full-on hug lasting a minimum of 10 seconds. It sounds too easy, but try it. It will revive your physical connection with your partner. In the opening line of the 2004 movie Crash, Don Cheadle talks about the sense of touch: “I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” Over the past 3 years, as doctors, we have been instructed to change our philosophy on physical contact with patients, and this permeates into our personal relationships. The hug that I used to enjoy when arriving at home felt tainted, no longer easy and appropriate. How do we recover that mental and physical connection?

I decided to seek the advice of a colleague in Kamloops. David Darwin is a registered clinical counselor. He enlightened me on his perspectives on physicians and their relationships:

“I have worked over the years with doctors and their significant others, as a well as with groups of doctors aiming to prevent professional burnout. During this time, I have identified one particular difficulty that stands out. Medical practitioners can struggle to connect with their partners on an emotional level. Because the medical field encourages a separation of self from emotions when dealing with patients, health care professionals may find it difficult to access their emotions when off duty. Western society reinforces this practice by warning us all against connecting too much with our own or others’ emotions. Yet, emotions have been described as a lifeblood of relationships and the messenger of love. (For more information, see A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis[1]).” For more of Darwin’s thoughts on the importance and challenge of emotional connections, see his blog post on

At Darwin’s suggestion, I watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability,[2] read the summary of Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s book Attached[3] (which reviews attachment styles), and filled out an ARE questionnaire[4] (which considers accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement) to assess the state of our current relationship.

I realized that I was able to connect with my partner only once I let my guard down. Accepting vulnerability has enhanced my relationship with my partner and has made me a better physician. I can also connect with my patients on a deeper level. I can openly celebrate their happiness and comfort them in their times of sorrow. I hug my patients.

I challenge all of you to find your balance in the bizarre love triangle.
—Jeevyn K. Chahal, MD


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1.    Lewis T, Amini F, Lannon R. A general theory of love. New York, NY: Vintage Books; 2001.

2.    Brown B. The power of vulnerability. TED Talks. Accessed 20 April 2023.

3.    Levine A, Heller RSF. Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find—and keep—love. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group; 2012.

4.    Couples Therapy NJ. The ARE questionnaire. Accessed 20 April 2023.

Jeevyn K. Chahal, MD. Bizarre love triangle. BCMJ, Vol. 65, No. 5, June, 2023, Page(s) 153 - Editorials.

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Audrey Jones says: reply

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PHP is primarily funded by the Ministry of Health and governed by a steering committee composed of Ministry of Health and Doctors of BC representatives. PHP services are managed and delivered by a caring and diverse clinical team at Doctors of BC.

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