First responders are among the most respected public servants in the world. Considering how hard they work to safeguard others, this isn’t a major surprise. Unfortunately, their hard work often comes with challenges they take home. Their loved ones are in a unique position to see these, so a few tips for first responder spouses can go a long way.
Unfortunately, these strategies may be more necessary than some people realize. That’s because first responders deal with many issues that most folks can only imagine:
- Difficulties in family life due to long hours and intense stressors
- Extreme guilt related to feelings of being unable to help others
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms after experiencing trauma
- Feelings of loneliness often linked to self-isolation
First responder spouses often see these challenges first-hand. This is a major reason statistics show higher divorce rates among those who work in the field. The important thing to remember, though, is that there are ways to help. The following tips for spouses can help them get their loved ones back on track. Additionally, you can contact Mending Fences today if you have other questions.
1. Understand the Nature of the Job
One of the most important things you can do as a first responder’s spouse is to recognize the nature of their job. There’s a difference between withdrawing into isolation from loved ones and merely keeping the details of their work to themselves. They have a duty of confidentiality to the people they help, but they also don’t want to expose loved ones to vicarious trauma.
Did you know that people can develop mental health disorders simply by hearing about the trauma of others? This makes understanding the nature of the job one of the best tips for first responder spouses because it minimizes the chance of suffering secondary trauma. Simply accept that there are some things your loved one can’t talk about. This will greatly reduce stress.
Of course, this may leave you with a need to cope. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to do this. Get to know your spouse’s partner and colleagues. Attend functions like barbecues and holiday parties where their supervisors and teammates will be. Not only will this show support as a first responder spouse, but it will also help you build trust as you become more involved.
2. Be Proactive As a First Responder Spouse
Accepting that there are some things your loved one doesn’t want to discuss doesn’t mean you’re helpless. In addition to getting to know other members of your loved one’s support system, you should also be proactive about maintaining a thriving personal life. These relationships are often difficult because of time constraints, so take time to proactively schedule events.
Do you want to take a family trip during the summer? Don’t take a “wait-and-see” approach. Because if you wait for the “right time” when things calm down, you may end up never finding an opportunity. Find time to create concrete plans. Schedule things months in advance if necessary. Reserve rooms and transportation. Do whatever is necessary to solidify plans.
Of course, there’s no need to wait for a major vacation to use these strategies. This first responder spouse tip also works great for date night. The moral of the story is that a proactive attitude can help maintain your and your significant other’s personal lives. These are the little breaks between the hard times that help maintain sanity.
3. Take Care of Yourself
First responder spouses see the difficulties their loved one goes through. Unfortunately, this can create challenges for them as well. For instance, it’s easy to feel alone if your husband or wife has withdrawn into themselves. It can also feel overwhelming if it seems you’re having to take care of the children or handle everything around the home by yourself due to extensive schedules.
Unfortunately, you can’t help the people you love if you can’t help yourself. If things are just difficult because of your spouse’s schedule, discuss a compromise with them or carve out some time for yourself. If something more serious is going on — such as aggressive behavior or violence — it may be best to reach out to social services.
Regardless of the underlying problem, first responder spouses must take care of themselves. Without this essential step, difficulties are likely to continue and snowball into bigger issues.
4. Encourage Them To Seek Treatment
There are countless tips for first responder spouses focused on maintaining a healthy relationship. For instance, making time for each other can do great things for strengthening your bond. Unfortunately, many problems eclipse the inability to spend a romantic evening together. If your loved one is in crisis, encouraging them to get help is essential.
What exactly does a mental health crisis look like? Unfortunately, it can take many forms. The stress, trauma and exhaustive demands of emergency response work can affect everyone in different ways. If you see the following signs, though, your job as a supportive first responder spouse is to help your loved one find treatment:
- Changes in personality and behavior
- Aggressive or violent behaviors
- Feelings of depression and anxiety
- Remaining in a constant state of hyperawareness
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
- Hiding pills and other signs of Substance Abuse Disorder
- Spending hours watching news reports of traumatic incidents
- Sleep disturbances, fatigue or restlessness
These are all potential signs of first responder trauma. It’s important to recognize these and other signs — as they may be indicative of bigger problems on the horizon. Emergency personnel experience higher levels of depression, posttraumatic stress and suicidal ideation than others. Identifying the early signs is paramount.
First responder spouses cannot force their loved ones to seek help. This doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive. At Mending Fences, the Help For Our Heroes program was created with these public servants in mind. Visit our Mental Health and Addiction Treatment page, or if you’re ready to find help now, call us at (888) 919-2561.
First responder addiction treatment and mental health services are just one call away.
5. Support Healthy Habits
Simply eating healthy and exercising is not enough to solve issues like depression and posttraumatic stress. Without focusing on these necessities, though, a person isn’t giving themselves a fighting chance. Being unhealthy is enough to increase a person’s risk of mental health disorders. The resulting stress can put pressure on a person already in distress.
This is why first responder spouses should support healthy habits. It’s no doubt tempting to grab some fried chicken or just sit around the house all day between shifts. Letting such things become your typical behavior, however, can quickly turn problematic. Encourage smart eating, proper sleeping habits, exercise and other healthy activities.
Consider doing these things together as a couple. This gives the two of you a goal to focus on together, and in the end, it will support the mental well-being of you both.
Bookmark These Tips for First Responder Spouses
Being a first responder comes with significant challenges. If you’re the spouse of such a public servant, you know this simple fact all too well. With the strategies discussed in this guide, however, you can help yourself and your loved one through difficult times. Bookmark this page for future reference, but don’t hesitate on implementing these strategies now.
If your loved one is experiencing mental health issues, our recommendation to encourage treatment may be most important. First responders have heightened rates of addiction, failed relationships, psychiatric disorders and suicidal ideation. While at-home tips for first responder spouses can go a long way, there are times when professional help is necessary.
Contact us today at Mending Fences to learn how the Help For Our Heroes program can help get your life back to normal.
Rave Mobile Safety
Women’s Health Magazine
American Psychiatric Association