Let’s not pretend this thought to quit the fire service never crosses your mind.
(and if you are living some amazing fire life where it never has, can we ask for a moment of your silence here because based on our experiences with this world, you are the exception…. And count your blessings for that!)
Here are the truths about the firefighting profession:
- It’s dangerous (which is likely the least of your complaints because that part is kinda sexy)
- It’s demanding of their time, often in last minute overtime kind of ways.
- It takes them away from family events- and leaves you running the family solo.
- It makes them tired, cranky and grumpy.
- There seems to always be a new firehouse drama (that comes home via his daily mood)
- The pay is good but not great (and pretty awful in some parts of the country)
- It breaks down their bodies physically.
- Worse than anything, it can break their hearts and souls (if you aren’t taking good proactive care)
- And it can feel like “nothing is more important than saving lives” so where does that leave you and your purpose and career as the partner to a firefighter? (feeling less than sometimes… or like your needs aren’t as big so you don’t speak up)
There ARE “better” professions that do not impact your marriage and family as much. And that doesn’t leave people so beaten down.
(personally, I think firefighting is a 20 years max career but that’s an entirely different discussion)
And also… you know he was born for this job. It’s his passion and purpose.
But when is too much, too much?
How much are you willing to sacrifice in your family for the fire service?
That’s an individual decision and one we can’t answer here. However, we can give you a helpful framework to begin to have these difficult discussions.
How do you approach this sensitive topic with your husband? Try this:
1. Be intentional about needing the discussion and make a safe space for it
It can be a short text or the right moment but chose a time when you are feeling well connected to each other to say something like this:
“I’m concerned about you. And I’m feeling so much pressure myself. It’s creating animosity towards your job and that’s not where I want to be. Can we make some adjustments as a family together? Let’s find some time to talk about this because it’s important and won’t be solved in a few minutes.”
Once you have some time on the calendar try this framework for discussion.
(and believe me, I cringe even just writing that part because that alone may seem like a monumental effort – so let’s just pray for some miracles here for that step ok?)
2. Take a deep breath and give him time to express his emotions FIRST
(don’t worry, this goes both ways and you will get to speak too. Allowing someone to feel heard, makes space for them to hear you even better)
Before jumping to any conclusions or making demands, try to have an open and honest conversation with him about why he loves his job and what makes it worth the risks and sacrifices.
Get back to HIS WHY and remember YOUR WHY for this profession. Being grounded in the truth and facts sets a good foundation for next steps.
Remember, no matter how frustrated you feel, approaching the situation with empathy and kindness is the only way you will see progress. After all, jobs are a big part of someone’s identity in their life. (including yours) You can’t have this conversation without that empathy.
3. Your Turn: Be bold and share your true thoughts specifically.
This might feel scary but unless you are clear about your feelings, he doesn’t stand a chance in understanding them. Don’t downplay. Don’t word vomit #alltheemotionsatonce. Find your calm and center and strength and be clear and truthful.
Think about specific details to share regarding the affects the job may have outside of the station:
How is it affecting your own career? Divulge your worries and fears. What if there are layoffs? What if his schedule impacts your ability to perform and you get fired? What if there is an advancement you want to pursue that will require more effort?
Stay non-confrontational and mutually respectful manner.
(Disclaimer: If you don’t feel safe having this conversation with your spouse, then it may be time to evaluate the dynamics of your relationship. Confide in a trusted friend or family member, or use resources such as these from Leslie Vernick as you navigate your relationship.)
4. Learn how to discuss hard topics in healthy ways
Sometimes the way we discuss and “fight” can be more damaging than the conversation topic itself.
It takes time to build good skills for these discussions.
Lay some ground rules on how you have hard discussions such as:
- Don’t make demands, explore each other’s opinions and feelings
- Don’t use the “D word”
- No name calling
- Ask for a time out if you feel yourself getting heated
- Close loops – come back to the discussion instead of sweeping it under a rug
- Stay on topic. Bringing in other “oh yeah well you…” is distraction and avoidance
For this topic in particular consider these discussion points:
- Are there scenarios that make the fire service more tolerable for your family?
- Is there a counselor or mediator or good friend who could help us through this discussion?
- Are there schedule changes that will fix this? Shift changes? Moving somewhere better for your family? Hiring childcare?
- Can the fire service take a secondary role for a season while your career needs attention?
5. This won’t be solved overnight. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t avoid this topic because the feelings just don’t go away.
Set goals for when to talk again, as well as give yourself time to process and sit with the feelings that may come to the surface. Be ready to talk once or multiple times more.
Red Flag: if you’re still dancing around this topic in a few months, there’s been too much avoidance and not enough action. Dig in and go again.
Listen, this is the REALLY HARD STUFF. I’m even sorry if you read this far and have to do this hard work.
Here’s the hope: When this is done well, your marriage strengthens and you grow as a person.
Here’s the reality: You won’t do it perfectly the first time. The goal is to just open the conversation a little bit and get better at it each time.
Here’s the truth: The fire service DOES destroy families sometimes. And you are wise to be wanting this conversation and pursuing it. Be brave. (this is actually way more brave than setting foot inside a burning building)
In case this is you… here are some extra resources:
Hear more questions like this…
Access the Ask an Expert replay with First Responder trained professionals to get answers about the stress and trauma first responder life brings to your relationship and family.
Your Fire Life is different.
So your communication needs to be too.
Learn how to communicate well through the Stress and Traumas (Big T and Little t)
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