December 26, 2017
Are you dating or married to a fire fighter or paramedic? You might find that the same personal qualities that drew you to your partner — courage, commitment and selflessness — can also be a source of friction in your marriage or family life.
To adapt and cope with the unique challenges of having a partner in the fire service, here are five realities you need to face:
The reality of the profession is that your spouse will likely spend as much or more time with their crew than at home with you. Over the course of long shifts and close calls, your spouse will likely develop a close bond with their brothers and sisters at the firehouse. Instead of trying to compete with this bond, learn to embrace their second family. After all, this source of support is critical to your spouse’s physical and emotional survival at work. While sharing your spouse is never easy, remember that you can also rely on the support and resources of the firehouse family if ever you are in need.
Your spouse might be the most outgoing member at the station, or the first crew member to enter a burning building to save a complete stranger. Yet, when they return home and the adrenaline has worn off, you may be dealing with a partner who is exhausted, withdrawn and detached. After two days of sleeping alone, you may be eager to re-establish intimacy, only to find your partner is content to spend time alone. Some fire fighters and paramedics simply need a buffer zone, or some downtime to mentally transition to the home environment. For others, however, emotional detachment can be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can get worse over time if the right support systems aren’t in place.
Whether your fire fighter spouse works a 14, 24, or 48-hour shift, they will always be operating on a different schedule than the rest of the world. This creates unique emotional, social and logistical challenges for any family, especially those with young children. Your spouse will miss many bath times, dinners and weekend plans with friends. The unpredictability of being called in on days off is always looming. Despite these challenges, shift work can possess some advantages over a traditional 9-5 job, including consecutive days off and more daytime availability to spend with kids.
Your spouse’s life is potentially on the line during every call they respond to. Despite advances in health and safety, fire fighters are injured at an alarming rate. Accepting the risk of injury and fatality is a sobering reality for fire fighter families. However, it’s more often the invisible injuries that claim the lives of brave men and women on the frontlines. The unique occupational stressors of the fire service mean higher rates of cancer, heart disease, PTSD and other serious health conditions. Read our recent blog, Protecting Those Who Protect Others, to learn more about how you can help your loved one stay healthy on and off the job.
While being the spouse of a fire fighter or paramedic can be emotionally grueling, support is available specifically for you. Fire fighter spouse support groups offer ways to connect with others who can relate to the emotional highs and lows of having a loved one in the fire service. While spouse support groups are more common in large urban departments, online communities, such as Firestrong and Fire Wife Sisterhood, offer online support and resources.
Are you concerned about changes in mood, behavior or substance use by your spouse? If you are feeling shut out by your partner and believe he or she needs help, consider calling The IAFF Center of Excellence. This 64-bed comprehensive treatment center is designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with PTSD, addiction and other co-occurring mental health problems. Call 855-999-9845 today for a no-obligation, free and confidential screening for your loved one.