Dentists have the unfortunate reputation of having a higher divorce rate than the rest of the population. Turns out that isn’t true. However, there are several factors that might lead to divorce in the profession. Here are some suggestions to help avoid becoming a statistic.
While the popular belief in America is that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, this statistic falls under great scrutiny and is not reliable. There are many ways to measure the rate of divorce, and measurements range from 1.9% (Refined Divorce Rate) to the 50% mark (common accepted rate).
You can read more statistics at “What is the Actual US Divorce Rate and Risk?” While the overall divorce rate in America can be difficult to determine due to a variety of factors, figuring out the divorce rate among a more defined group, such as dentists, is possible, especially when compared to other professional groups. According to the January 2014 study, “Divorce among physicians and other health-care professionals in the United States: analysis of census survey data”the actual divorce rate among dentists is 25.2%. Compared to other professions, that’s not too bad, but it also isn’t that great.
Why is there a higher divorce rate among dentists, and more importantly, can anything be done to avoid divorce? Here are some of the most common reasons for divorce I’ve seen during my years working with dentists, and some ideas on how to avoid divorce.
1. Workload—Dentists are what I call “blue-collar-white-collar” professionals. They tend to work very hard and they work long hours. After years of school, dentists generally either buy a practice or become an associate in a practice. Both methods require a lot of work.
Many dental spouses, whether male or female, were in the trenches with their spouse through dental school and all that involves. The prospects of being married to a doctor seemed worth it. But when the first year’s income is dedicated to simply meeting the household budget, paying down debt, and building a business, there isn’t much financial room for big houses, nice cars, and trips to Aspen. Building a dental practice takes a lot of time.
The romanticism of marrying a doctor could cloud a dental spouse’s vision of what reality is the first few years of practice.
Survival strategy—Communication is key. While choosing a spouse who understands the time investment necessary to become a successful, income-producing dentist is a great asset, the one great equalizer is clear communication during the early years of marriage.
2. Debt-to-income level—Let’s face it, dental school is expensive. Running up the hill of that first year is tough too, and money is generally tight for new dentists. Dentists spend years in school working for peanuts, running up a large debt, and then trying to get enough cash flow to provide a nice lifestyle for their families, and pay off school, and build a practice and patient base.
If a dental spouse came into the marriage thinking that life would be more cosmopolitan early in the dentist’s career, the stress and sometimes greed can take a toll on the marriage.
Survival strategy—If you’re reading this before you get married, then your choice of spouse is everything. Communicating the importance of time, reinvesting money into your practice, and a general understanding of basic business concepts is key.
If you’re already married and facing this challenge, communication is still key. Let your spouse know where you stand with debt and when your personal income can be expected to increase. Also, invest something besides money into your marriage—time. While you’re overworked now, investing a few hours a week and a weekend a month for low-cost getaway road trips can help your spouse feel that good times are coming.
3. Dentists are some of the most attractive people in town—Not physically necessarily, but from a magnetism standpoint. They interact with all of their patients, and virtually everyone in town needs a dentist. Attracting people to oneself can become addictive, i.e., making friends or developing new patient relationships. Nearly every dentist I know has an attractive personality and almost every one of them is someone I’d play golf or have a beer with. That attractiveness can cause issues, especially if other marital issues exist.
Survival strategy—Involve your spouse as much as possible. A dental spouse doesn’t need to become your office manager to be involved in your practice. Simply being a part of your day can make a huge difference.
Are you planning to go to a marketing event or networking group? Invite your spouse. Are you attending a national conference? Take your family so you can enjoy all of the fun local activities together. Now take it one step further: While it’s easy to focus on building a practice and what it takes to attract new patients or referral resources, remember to do the little things that attracted your spouse to you in the first place. Making that effort is a lot better than facing an expensive divorce and starting all over.
4. “Dental-spouse-doctor-itis”—“What do you mean we aren’t getting an Escalade?” I actually heard a dental spouse ask this question. She had become enamored with the idea of marrying a doctor and living the assumed lifestyle it would provide. Other expectations I’ve heard about include a 6,000 square foot home, private schools for the kids, a nanny, seven-days-a-week daycare, a full-time maid, and vacations to the tropics. Seriously. I know dental spouses who expected all this and more.
Meanwhile, the poor doctor has just finished a brutal track of oral surgery school, for example, is used to being sleep deprived and overloaded with debt and loan offers from banks, and is expected to put in hellacious hours in the practice to earn a spot as an eventual partner. Yes, the prospects for high income are very good, but not necessarily to the level some spouses expect.
Survival strategy—I’m actually not sure about this one. How does a person choose a spouse who isn’t materialistic? It’s difficult to hide the fact that you’re becoming a dentist with the potential to earn an above average income. But you want to try to find someone who isn’t marrying you for the wrong reasons.
5. Staff relations—This one is sticky. The statistics remain that most dentists are men and most dental staff members are women. Dentists are with their staff all day. This doesn’t necessarily mean an affair is imminent. In fact, the exact opposite might be true. Sometimes staff can be so abrasive and difficult that marital strife arises. While it is generally more common for an impropriety to arise vis-à-vis an affair, the occasional stress can come from a “staff infection” that impacts the home, or worse, the dental spouse directly.
Survival strategy—Dictate the culture in your practice. Ensure expectations for behavior in the office are set out clearly in an operations/HR manual. This should include sexual harassment and maintaining appropriate relationships.
Divorce is a difficult process for anyone to endure. Prevention is the best cure, and I advocate taking every step possible to save a marriage unless there’s abuse present. While the divorce rate among dentists is not astronomical, it is bad. Over the years I’ve seen the common reasons discussed here lead to the end of several marriages. In fact, it was that anecdotal statistic that led me to earn the designation of Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA).
If you’re already facing divorce, you might find my article entitled “Ten Maxims of Divorce: How I stayed sane during an insane process” helpful. You might also benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in your area, or feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch for my next installment on divorce on Dentistry IQ titled “Dentists Facing Divorce: Practical Steps to Surviving,” which will focus on some divorce strategies for dentists.