healthy marriage

Maintaining a Healthy Marriage as a First Responder

Published on November 26, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

First responders have some of the most challenging and stressful jobs. Their ability to perform in their role relies heavily on the maintenance of their mental health. For first responders who are married, this means maintaining a functional and supportive relationship with their spouse. Spouses of first responders, however, face many unique obstacles and may suffer from mental health challenges themselves. The stress of having a spouse that works in emergency services is an often neglected challenge. First responder couples must be extra vigilant to preserve the health of their relationship. They must offer support to each other if one person is beginning to show signs of deteriorating mental health.  

Preventing Isolation

The nature of a first responder’s job can make it hard to relate with friends and family who don’t work within that professional circle. In some cases, first responders are unable to discuss work details with their spouse due to confidentiality. In other cases, first responders simply don’t wish to rehash a traumatic incident or inflict emotional harm by discussing traumatic events. This inability to share meaningful details of their work-life can lead to both the first responder and the spouse experiencing a sense of isolation. Some spouses may have a hard time accepting that their partner has, and always will have, a portion of their life that they aren’t able to share. For couples who are feeling distant, it is crucial to actively work towards the integration of both lives. The first responder can make their spouse feel more comfortable and included by letting them get to know their partners and supervisors. They can bring them to work celebrations such as holiday parties and let them socialize with other spouses who are dealing with the same issues.

Allowing Time for Decompression

Being a first responder requires a particular state of mind throughout a shift. Unfortunately, that mindset doesn’t translate well to the life of a husband, wife, father, or mother. Because of this stark transition, first responders often need some time to decompress after a hard day. When a spouse doesn’t understand or respect this need, they may become frustrated. It just seems like their partner doesn’t fulfill their family duties. They can’t understand why their partner doesn’t want to talk immediately upon arriving home after work. This situation can lead to repeated conflict in the relationship. It is a good idea to set a time limit for this decompression period so that a problematic shift doesn’t become an excuse for isolation. While spouses should be understanding, first responders must also consider the needs of their partners. Their job is to destress in an efficient and timely manner after a long shift. Once this period is over, they need to be present for their families as much as possible.

Fostering Communication

Obviously, not every detail of a first responder’s professional life can be discussed openly. However, it is vital that they feel able to share their thoughts and emotions without feeling judged. First responders are often required to control their emotions and suppress natural reactivity to traumatic events. Over time, they begin to maintain this emotional suppression at home. Unfortunately, this is unhealthy for the first responder’s mental wellbeing as well as their relationship. The spouse of a first responder should let their partner know that their relationship is a safe space. They can safely communicate their feelings and display intense emotions at home. Additionally, the first responder should remember that their spouse will also have their own problems in life. Their partner is equally in need of a supportive and active listener. Everyday issues can begin to feel small in comparison to the traumatic events witnessed by a first responder. Still, it is critical to the health of a marriage that the first responder respects the concerns of their spouse and validates their thoughts and emotions.

Recognizing a Problem

A spouse is often a first responder’s greatest resource. They are usually the first to notice signs and symptoms of severe mental health issues that require treatment. First responders are at an increased risk of various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Warning signs of these disorders include increased isolation, lethargy, a sudden disinterest in hobbies or family life, or a change in sleep patterns. These symptoms can alert a spouse to a developing problem, prompting them to encourage their partner to seek professional help. Additionally, first responders with mental health issues are also at an increased risk of substance use disorders. Spouses are often the first to notice excess alcohol use or signs of drug addiction, making them critical in the maintenance of the health and safety of their partner.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490