TLC for the First Responder Marriage

By Erin Prater
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Focus on the Family
All relationships take work, but your first responder marriage may make the Jones' look like a coffee-fetching "internship."

All relationships take work, but your first responder marriage may make the Jones’ look like a coffee-fetching “internship.” Judging by their house, Mr. Jones is paid lavishly for doing a whole lot of nothing at his corner office. He’s always home by dinner, always home on the weekends and never misses a birthday, anniversary or holiday. The seeming ease of their marriage makes the challenging aspects of yours all the more frustrating.

Below are some tips for easing the sometimes rocky road of a first responder marriage.

Tips for Her

  • When you can, “wait up.” You can’t realistically stay awake through every late shift your husband works, but let him know he’s cared about and missed – even at 3 a.m. Fall asleep on the couch by the front door, and greet him when he comes in. Leave cookies and a short love note on his nightstand. Make a fun “Welcome home, hard worker” banner and hang it near the door. Set your alarm for the midpoint of his shift, and send him an encouraging text message.
  • Give him space when he needs it. Though it seems so counterintuitive to many women, men often need time to decompress after a long day at work – no less a long day of dealing with a largely unappreciative public. Greet him when he returns home. Let him know you’re available if he’d like someone to talk to or sit with. Then, give him some space. When the time is right, ease into communication through nonverbal interaction (perhaps flirting, giving a reassuring touch or goofing around) and lighthearted conversation. If there’s an important, stressful topic that needs to be addressed that evening, make him aware of it and leave the ball in his court.
  • Send him off with cookies. It’s easy to do when he’s headed off to shoot pool with the guys; tough to do when he’s headed to the station during an extreme fire-danger day or when a known cop-killer is on the loose. Show him you care about his safety and well-being and appreciate his provision and protection by sending him to work with some treats for him and the crew.
  • Find a support group. The purpose of a support group isn’t to fix the problems you’re facing, though your fellow members may be able to give you handy tips and sage advice. Rather, support groups provide friendship, fellowship, prayer and a sense of belonging. Perhaps most importantly, listening to the stories of others normalizes what you’re going through. You’ll realize you’re not the only one facing fears, concerns and marital spats. When you realize you’re not alone, you’re less likely to feel something is extraordinarily wrong with yourself or your marriage. You’ll learn your problems are surmountable.
  • Be flexible. You might have a girl’s night out or relaxing bubble bath planned. But if your first responder arrives home earlier than expected, be willing to drop your plans to spend time with him. As you well know, they’ll be plenty of other lonely late-nights during which you can have your “me” time.
  • Read up on terminology. First responders use a lot of medical and psychological terminology, as well as codes, while on the job. When your first responder shares stories with you, he’s likely to use the lingo that’s natural to him. The more you know what he’s talking about, the less explaining he’ll have to do. He’ll be less frustrated and apt to share more.
  • Remind him you need him, not his life insurance policy. Many men in high-risk jobs ensure their family will be covered with a generous life insurance policy in case of their death. Since men are natural providers, it’s something they often brag about to their friends and attempt to reassure their family with. Express your appreciation for his forethought and provision, but let him know you really need him – not his generous life insurance policy – and in what ways you need him.
  • Thank him for providing. Thank your husband for putting his life on the line each day to serve others and put a roof over your family’s head. First responders are underappreciated; do what you can to counteract this trend in his personal life.

Tips for Him

  • Realize your career affects the family. Even if she “knew what she was getting into” when she married you or “gave the OK” for you to enter the first response field, she needs your support as much as you need hers. Ask your spouse what aspects of your career stress her most. If there’s nothing you can do to ease the stress, pray with her.
  • Check your priorities. The nature of the first response career field often serves as a catalyst for fast friendships. The men and women you work with spend a considerable amount of time with you, and you often place your life in their hands. As positive as strong friendships are, make sure your strongest friendship remains at home with your wife. Be especially weary of friendships with the opposite sex that may become too close.
  • Thank her for standing behind you. Yes, she promised you “for better or for worse.” Yes, she “signed up for the deal.” But it’s likely your wife loves and serves you in ways that supersede her call of duty. Just as you sacrifice sleep, safety, comfort and family time to protect the public and provide for your family, she has undoubtedly spent sleepless nights worrying about you and wishing you were by her side. She’s sacrificed emotional comfort as well as personal safety. Let her know how much she means to you. A little appreciation on both ends goes a long way in keeping your marriage happy and fulfilling.

Tips for Them

  • Budget wisely. With long shifts and odd hours, it’s easy for both a first responder and his spouse to feel as if a “small” treat is justified – only, long shifts and odd hours are the norm, and many times you’ll both be treating yourselves. Create a budget in which every dollar earned is assigned to a category, including debt and savings. Plan for occasional splurges, but also pack meals and treats when you can.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. While under pressure at work, first responders often communicate directly, abruptly, succinctly and gruffly. In the heat of the moment, there’s no room to convey emotions and extraneous information. Many take this style of communicating home. When it doesn’t bode well with their family, they stop communicating all together. Assess your marriage for poor and/or absent communication.
  • Find a hobby just for the two of you. Forge a bond you share only with your spouse by developing a shared hobby. Be it fishing, model-car assembly, woodworking – whatever hobby you choose, make sure it’s enjoyable to both of you. Research the hobby during time apart; new information can make a great conversation starter.
  • Pray together. The strongest bond a couple has is prayer – communication with their heavenly Father. Couples tend to be more honest with each other when they’re praying together aloud.

Copyright © 2008, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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