As a Firefighter Husband, I struggle with what I have to offer in writing to an audience of wives.
The practice initially sets me back as I don’t want to appear as though I have all the answers. (Trust me, at least in the fire community I work in, nothing is less welcomed than a know it all.) But my wife insists I have valuable input. And there does seem to be a question or two that many of you ask in different ways that bears addressing.
Today I’d like to offer insight into the “what does he expect when he gets back from a rough call / duty day / shift” query. At least, my perspective as a career firefighter at a busy urban house. Which may be one more than you have today.
The job that we’ve chosen is wonderfully rewarding. The opportunities to impact peoples lives in a positive way drives most of us to efforts far greater than we would most likely put forth were we say sitting in a cubicle, answering the phone and entering data,etc. (You get what I’m saying) These efforts and the usual outcomes of the effort can usually keep us motivated, sustained and generally not pissed off at our job. There are however times when despite our best efforts there is nothing we can do to be “excited” about the job. Whether this is precipitated by a bad call, an extremely busy shift, an extremely looooong shift or a less than pleasant fellow fire house inhabitant being… well, less than pleasant.
Any one of these situations can cause a guy to suddenly shift from “this is the best job in the world” mode to “can I really do this for another 10, 15, 20 years” mode.
My belief is that this is perfectly natural. I’m not a mental health professional but something about my interactions with people in general tell me that the guy who runs around with the “rainbows and unicorns” attitude 24/7 is usually masking some pretty painful stuff and not being honest with himself or those around him. You know who I’m talking about here? I don’t mean that super nice guy who always seems to have a positive attitude, is friendly, genuine, and understanding. I’m referring to that robot who’s always pouring his sunshine on ya just a little too thick. Yeah…..that guy. So, since we’ve established that it’s perfectly natural for even the best of us to get a little dragged down with the potential circumstances of the job we need to answer the question.
What can you as the spouse do, or avoid doing, to help?
I find the best thing you can do is act natural.
Since what’s going on in my head is natural, I find the easiest way for me to adjust back is for there not to be a bunch of adjusting to this circumstance or that situation. I’m probably honked off that something at the firehouse went contrary to how it usually goes for me or the crew and the last thing I want is to return to “tranquility base” (home) and have something be different there. Let me give you an example of a conversation I don’t want to have standing in the kitchen of my home with the person I love the most.
Wife: “Hi honey, how was your shift?
Me: Not so good, but I’ll be cool. What time does Johnny have practice tonight?
Wife: No honey, somethings bothering you, tell me what it is.
Me: Well I had to take a 4 month old baby girl out of a pillow case and pronounce her dead this morning. You see her father put her in it and slammed her around the room beating her to death inside it, anything else you want to know about it cause I have details if you need them?
I just did all the adjusting I want to do for the moment surviving the challenging crap I just went through on shift. I don’t want to “adjust” where I find my comfort and strength. I want to gather strength and be comforted. For me and a lot of men, that lies in knowing that there is sanity in the world of tragedy and pain that we witness. You wives are that assurance of sanity and normalcy.
Please don’t mistake what I’m saying here for “don’t say anything to him at all”, or “don’t ask me questions about my day”. That’s not at all what I’m saying. If my wife asks, I tell her. What I appreciate is when she listens, maybe even discusses an aspect or two of the situation and then we go about our business. If I want to process things further we talk more later when I bring it up or after I’ve had a little time to bask in that normalcy and sanity I was talking about. I’m not advocating walking around on eggshells here either. All I’m saying is that this is one of those areas where the firefighter has to be the gauge on how it’s handled. It’s not healthy to have things unspoken in a marriage.
After I’ve got my head back on straight and I’ve had lots of hugs and kisses from our youngest daughter I’m totally open to my wife giving me the “what was stuck in your butt when you got home the other morning?” line of questioning. That’s my obligation to her (and my mental health in general) to share with her what’s going on in the space between my ears. If things are overly cluttered or I don’t think I can get the pressure relief needed from a pleasant conversation with my wife than it’s also my obligation to seek a professional to “thought and word vomit” on. They get paid to clean that stuff up.
So there you go. Act natural ladies. The pressures off. No major obligations on your part.
Go about your business and let the process be the process. There’s nothing to fix that is going to get fixed unless the dude doing the job wants to admit it might need fixin. And even then, he has to be the one to start the fixin if need be. (Hard to swallow I know if you’re in a relationship with someone who needs fixed but ain’t admitting it, hence my admission earlier that I am not a mental health professional).
I hope this lends some insight, That’ll be a $15 co-pay. Oh, and I see we’re out of time, please see the receptionist to make another appointment on your way out…..
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Thank you for your insight and I will keep that in mind when my FF comes home tomorrow.
I think it is great you talk to Lori about your calls. My FF does as well. He does not feel the need to protect me from his world and I indeed appreciate that. It allows me to be apart of his world and try and grasp where he is that day. I think it helps that the kids and I are at a school 2 counties away. If it has been a particularly rough night, it allows him to get some sleep and decompress before he is inundated with Muppet love.
Thanks for your time and insight. It is an insane world we live in.
Great article. So often they say men are the fix it ones in the relationship. But the women can be too. We want to make everything sunshine and roses if we can. Thanks for explaining. will help us to back off and let our men come to us.
Wonderful post. OK. Act natural!! TY!
I honsly think is great to have that bond with your partner . I’m ingaged and we make it a family event and not only to give back but to show our support to him , and when I say family I mean it his hole side of the family lol and I want my daughter to grow up to have values that the fire house gives to people that they prepair them for everyday life and there’s not a day in my mind that I don’t worry bc I do , I Guss it’s a great way to teach my daughter to be proactive and to be invoid rather then on the streets getting into trouble bc you can’t be getting in trouble to be invoid. And that if you get the chance to do it it’s worth it . I love volunteering for them
Great article Dan! For us, I let my FF decompress. I ask the key questions, did you get any sleep and are you hungry! I know where to take it from there. IF he happens to bring up calls later, I let him do it at his own pace. This works very well for us. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your thought process. Looking forward to more articles. Sorry Rich and I missed meeting you in San Diego. Maybe next time.
Sometimes it is a real blessing to be in this together. My husband and I are both firefighters so we can use each other as a sounding board if need be. We are not always on the same calls but have a wealth of experiences in the fire service to draw from.
Love this!!! I’m newly married to my firefighter who is also new to the service 6 years ago I never thought I would be a fire wife and it’s definitely a hard job. I learned very quickly to not ask questions about the shift unless he engages in the conversation first. Usually after he gets some food/coffee/rest he will come and tell me about whatever awful call he had. Great article about how to respond to your husband and his bad nights
Awesome Carsen! Great new group starting for New Fire Wives called Fire Life 101 for New Fire Wives. Last day to register is January 31st and it will run 10 weeks 🙂 All details and a full list of all groups opening at 247commitment.org/smallgroups
I love that you refer to your home as “tranquility base.” This is something I would love for my husband to say about our home! Thanks for sharing!