The sun is rising. You’re freshly showered. The little ones are all rumpled and still warm to the touch after climbing out of bed. Your cell phone rings and it’s your firefighter.
Your smile grows bigger because this means he’s made it safely through another night on shift and you’re eager to talk to him.
But then you hear his voice. And you immediately know what kind of night he had. You can hear the wrong-ness of life in every word. That bad night has spilled over into our normal day. Traffic stinks. Someone looked at him the wrong way getting off shift. I didn’t answer the phone with my full attention.
Patience runs thin and little irritants become big problems for a sleep-deprived firefighter.
This week it was a rough night on the medic. One that started with a midnight run on a 70-something woman in cardiac arrest but who was too far gone for them to save. And from there 2 – 3 more ups and downs for runs that just don’t seem worthy of being woken up in the middle of the night as an emergency. A woman with diarrhea whose paid home health caretaker is just exhausted from caring for her and wants them to take her to the hospital instead. Someone who has had a toothache for 3 days and decides 4 am is the time they NEED to go to the hospital for it. (The fire department can solve anything right?)
I can get angry just thinking of these people who are stealing my husband’s sleeping hours for their needs in exchange for his awake daylight hours with our family.
Then my heart softens thinking of people who have no one. No family. Living on limited incomes. Sometimes medical providers are their only human touch. And my hubby is good at it. Even in the middle of the night, I can imagine him sweetly serving a little old lady in need. (Ok….if he’s really a grump, no one tell me. I want to keep that sweet vision in my head!)
Once my head cycles through these thoughts in like 3 seconds, I immediately go into nurturing role. What can I say? How can I help him? What are the right words for this moment? Lord give me the words. I rehearse the 293 other times we’ve had this exchange for what worked and what didn’t.
Sometimes he comes around and his groggy voice tells me he loves me. Can’t wait to get home and see the kids before the bus comes. And reminds us both out loud how blessed we are for his job and the life and health we have.
Sometimes he says irrational things that sleep-deprived people say.
I know, I’ve said them in those early weeks with a newborn being up at all hours of the night. They usually start with “I swear on my grandmother’s grave I will NEVER EVER EVER AGAIN ______(fill in the blank)____________. I am done with it. That’s the last time.”
Sometimes we hang up and he’s still in a major fog and negative funk. And I need to put on my happy face and get into the office to start my day (because often these conversations happen while I’m driving to work.) An office where everyone slept through the night and none of us are ever going to review enough charts and data to compete with a task like saving someone from cardiac arrest.
It’s at this point we have a choice on how we are going to react.
Yes, it hurts like mad when someone we love so much is hurting. And I have had days when after conversations like this I’d have an ugly feeling in my gut that I just couldn’t shake. Something good would happen and I’d laugh but then I’d have this dark shadow feeling and remind myself, oh yeah, my husband is hurting today. I wonder what he’s doing. Is he ok? Are the kids ok with Daddy in this mood? I need to get home so I can talk to him. I need to get home. My head is not in this game at the office. I need to talk to him.
When we marry the love of our life, two do become one.
His pains become your pains. Your joys become his joys. And we carry those emotions with us. But its a tricky walk to take with compassion. It likes to lead us down the “woe are we” path together.
I’m telling you now if you go down the doom and gloom path with him, you’re never going to help him out of that funk.
I can’t tell you exactly what to say. Honestly, I still don’t know. 11 years together and it seems like there’s always a new situation in our marriage I need to learn to communicate through. But I can tell you that things got a whole lot better when I dealt with my own junk and stayed strong.
#1 Don’t mistake his tired grumpiness for being irritated at you and get all defensive or worried about what you are not doing right in your marriage.
Nothing is worse than one out-of-whack person trying to communicate with someone else who has turned it into their problem. Follow that? Just because he’s grumpy and projecting it at you, doesn’t mean the sky is falling and he wants to divorce you. Call a spade a spade. He’s tired. (And later when he’s more alert, you can keep working through that never ending list of things you both need to do to improve your marriage)
#2 He’s projecting it at you because he loves you.
Your his safe zone. And you’re his first contact outside the firehouse. He can’t project it there because all those guys feel that way. Suck it up partner. I just had the same night you did.
#3 We have an obligation to our employer and to our family to serve them at our best.
When I’m in a slump, that doesn’t happen so well. Me being also in a negative slump with icky feelings of worry and sadness for my hubby….. well, those feelings don’t help anyone feel better. Me or my hubby.
#4 Your compassionate broken heart can burst with even more love and respect for your hubby when you don’t fall into a slump but intentionally take action.
I’m not saying to be a fixer. Read this “Act Natural” post from Firefighter Husband for more details on that. I’m saying to take an intentional action in your mind to stay positive and move forward with your responsibilities. Just being around someone who is a shining light and who finds the silver lining can be enough to rub off a little bit on your hubby and even your kids as they observe your reaction.
Warning on #4: This can backfire depending on your husband’s personality.
I’ll just put it out there that my husband can get irritated with me at times when I push through the tough stuff while he’s sidelined really struggling with a slump. It helps to always reset their expectation that no one should be expected to function normal after little sleep and horrific traumas. It’s ok. You love him right where he is.
And just a couple hints to our firefighters, when you come home in these funks, these tiny little things will help your wife stay on track:
- Text or call her again as soon as you can utter the strength to speak a little sunshine into her life. It’s tough work receiving all the tired negative junk and just a tiny little pick me up goes a long way.
- Did I mention text or call as soon as possible? Yep. She’s a woman and she just might get stuck obsessively worrying about you. A quick, short “I’m ok. I still love you. I’m getting some sleep.” will go a LONG way.
- Just try to end the conversation with “I love you and I’m going to be ok. Don’t worry about me.”
- Apologize when you should. It’s necessary.
- Last but most important… If you find that your grumpiness is more than just mental and physical exhaustion that isn’t remedied with some good rest – seek out wide counsel or make an appointment with a counselor specializing in first responders.
Trust me when I say, those simple words go a LONG, LONG way.
Sleep it off Sweetheart <3
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