First responders are our heroes. They are our police, firefighters, and emergency medical service providers. They are the first to respond to people in need, the first to go into places most of us wouldn’t dare.
And while many responders love their work, it can cause worry and stress—for themselves and for their loved ones. (As the proud wife of a first responder, I would know!) Spouses or partners often must manage anxious thoughts, concerns related to safety, and loneliness due to time apart. These are just a few examples of the negative impacts on first responder relationships.
While this article focuses on relationships involving at least one first responder, the relationship-building suggestions it contains are universal. As with all relationships, the key is in the care and nurturing of the relationship.
Challenges of First Responder Relationships
Long work hours and differing schedules can mean missing important family events and make spending time together difficult.
Many first responders work shifts. Some spend 24 hours on-duty and 48 hours off-duty. This can be nice when you want to get away for a couple of days, but it can also be a burden. It can mean missed family time, missed relationship time, missed helping-around-the-house time, etc.
For partners, it can feel like “ships passing in the night.” This can cause distance in communication because partners simply can’t find time to spend with each other.
First responders often have close connections and bonds with other responders. For many, this is their support network, their “brothers and sisters.” Which makes sense. After all, they experience life-saving events together and often process traumatic situations with each other.
For a spouse or partner, this can be difficult. Many want to be the person their partner turns to first when they are hurting.
“Living” with coworkers when on duty can present another level of hardship for first responder relationships. For a spouse or partner, it can feel like coworkers get to experience their significant other when they are at their best. By the time a first responder gets home, they may be exhausted.
Tips for Building Connection with Your Partner
While all relationships have their challenges, there are some simple yet significant things you can do to strengthen your bond and draw closer.
Instead of trying to force a connection when conditions aren’t favorable, ask when a good time to talk would be.
1. Find a time you both can be present with each other.
Getting ready for work, attending to the kids, or when one partner is trying to sleep might not be the best time to get each other’s undivided attention. Instead of trying to force a connection when conditions aren’t favorable, ask when a good time to talk would be.
Then, make it happen. Use this time to catch up, build intimacy, and get to know each other again.
2. Show interest and offer support.
Make time to talk with each other about mutual and personal goals. Show interest and support for each other’s wishes and dreams. Map out some relationship goals and dreams you both can work toward, both when you’re together and apart.
This can also be a good time to address any worries and anxieties related to first responder work.
3. Prioritize greetings and goodbyes.
This can be tricky when schedules differ, but try to greet each other when you are reunited. Take the time to welcome each other home. Greet each other at the doorway, if possible. Take a moment to linger in a welcome-home hug. This one thing can make a big difference.
Same goes for when you leave each other. When one of you departs, take the time to say goodbye. Linger in a goodbye hug and kiss. This also applies at bedtime. Even if you don’t sleep at the same time, take a moment to tuck the other in. It’s as simple as it is impactful.
Whether you’re in a first responder relationship or not, enlisting the support of a therapist—either individually or as a couple—can be helpful. The unique challenges of first responder relationships make it especially important that partners make an effort to build and maintain their bond. Licensed marriage and family therapists are skilled in helping people identify strategies that are appropriate for their specific needs.
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