How To Cope With A Disappointing Match

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner

Is it possible to find happiness after a disappointing Match? The resounding answer is YES! We’ll help you get from a place of defeat to one of acceptance, and even excitement, about what’s to come. It’s all going to be ok.

To begin, let’s reflect upon your recent experiences. A few weeks ago, that long-awaited Match Day finally arrived. After flying around the country for residency interviews, many long conversations together about where might be a good fit, and agonizing over that final list, you waited those insane weeks leading up to the big day. You were full of anticipation, anxiety, and hope.

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Maybe you felt pretty confident going in, had even received positive communication from programs. Or maybe you had no idea how it would all play out. Regardless, the burning questions tortured you: Where will your spouse Match? What will the next 3-5 years of your life look like?

When the fateful day finally arrived, your spouse opened the letter and there it was: the name and place of their Match. You either read it with them or heard them announce it. It took a second to sink in and then…

Your heart dropped.

Tears welled in your eyes and you glanced at your partner to see their initial reaction. You see shock and disappointment develop on their face and then the quick mask they put on to hide it.

If your spouse didn’t get their top pick, they’ll feel disappointed because they’ll wonder what they “did wrong.” And if your spouse got their number #10 or #15 choice? Talk about a blow to their confidence. It’s hard, and it’s ok to feel disheartened.

The Match is so incredibly complicated. The process itself can seem unfair and the whole timeline preparing for and leading up to Match Day creates a flood of emotions for everyone. If you’re wondering how in the world this is going to be ok, I’m here to tell you – it WILL be ok! Yes, it’s not what you thought it would be, yes it will take some time to process, but yes, you will figure this out.

How to cope with a disappointing match.

  1. Accept your feelings

    Be honest with yourself and your spouse about how you’re feeling about the Match and your future. You may feel the need to “be strong” for your spouse, especially if they are very unhappy and are having a crisis of confidence in themselves. However, it’s important to not bottle up your feelings. Do not stuff them down, because they will rise back up at some point with a vengeance or manifest as resentment that will grow and grow.

    Process your feelings now, as hard as it may be. You can express your disappointment and worries in a way that is real, without being attacking or judgmental to your spouse. For example: “I’m disappointed and worried, but I know that we will figure this out together. The important thing is that we Matched! I’m so proud of you and all of your hard work! I love you!”

  2. Avoid blaming your spouse or bashing the program

    As disappointed as you may be, resist any urge to blame your spouse or speak negatively about the program. Your spouse has been doing their best. They worked hard through medical school, did numerous residency interviews, and felt the heavy weight of this residency placement not only for themselves and their medical career, but for you and your relationship. In reality they had very little control over the Match process and no one is to blame. Their own disappointment will be enough for them to work through.

    Also consider that there are many people already at your Match program, from faculty who have chosen to work there to residents that are getting solid training and are enjoying the program. Bashing the program before you are acquainted with it will only make it harder for you to become part of the community once you get there.

    If you need to target your frustration and hurt at something, journal it out or take it for a walk. Whether you like to write or not, distancing yourself from your thoughts by getting them out of your head and onto paper helps you see them for what they really are. Are these thoughts true? Or are they just stories based on fear?

    A technique that is useful here is called the “sh*tty first draft.” It’s a term coined by writer Anne Lamott and used in Brene Brown’s book, “Rising Strong,” as a way to process the initial emotions and stories we concoct. It’s your unpolished, unedited first thoughts about a situation. Throw a total tantrum on paper. Curse, swear and blame everyone! No one but you ever has to see it. It’s very powerful and will help you work past those unfound fears, rather than identify will them. See an article about it here, or check out the book here.

  3. Seek Out Support

    Once you know where you matched, you can finally move from the waiting/frozen stage to the connection phase. Your new residency program already has hundreds of other residents and spouses there! They will be a vital resource in helping you get connected. Here’s where to start:

    Reach out to the program directly and ask them if they have any resident and spousal support groups, sometimes called an “auxiliary” group.

    Take to Google and Facebook. Search for groups or activities in the area. Facebook has the Lives of Doctor’s Wives page where you can easily post where you Matched and get instantly connected to others in your program. They will help you get acquainted and ease your worries and concerns.

    For women looking for a group with a Christian religious affiliation, check for Side By Side chapters via their website.

  4. Find the good

    There is a saying that is especially fitting for medical training: “bloom where you are planted.” You won’t always get to choose where you end up, but you DO get to choose how you live your life once you’re there.

    Initial disappointments can quickly turn around once you start to see the benefits and opportunities of a new place or situation. The truth is, no one is guaranteed to like their residency program. Even people who get their #1 choice may end up realizing that the program is not a good fit for them. You never know until you’re there.

    Your Match may never feel ideal or what you or your spouse wanted, BUT chances are you can discover a few up-sides to the place. Let’s try that now.

    Can you identify one or two things that are good about your Match or city? Can you then think of another one to two positives? Keep going until you’ve run out. These positives won’t make the disappointment go away, but it will help you change your focus onto things that are helpful and hopeful.

  5. Focus on the long term

    So you didn’t get to choose where you’ll spend residency, but you won’t have to be there very long! Before you know it, you’ll blink and it will be over. While you’re living it though, you DO get to choose how you spend your days, and you can do that regardless of where you are geographical. Give some thought for a moment to the following questions:

    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • What kind of support do you want?
    • What kind of activities do you want to participate in?
    • What does your ideal life look like now and in the future?

    What steps can you take today to start making these your reality? Try to focus on your mindset and activities, rather than physical things as markers for your happiness.

There is hope

Grit, smarts, and the capability to work hard are what got you and your spouse this far, and these are the same characteristics that will allow you to get through the next set of challenges. If you believe that you can learn and grow from every situation you’re in, this experience is another opportunity in your life to do just that. Sometimes the greatest personal growth can happen under challenging circumstances. You can do this! May you find some peace with this situation and have much happiness ahead of you!