ANOTHER. BAD. CALL.
Unfortunately, we don’t always know when our firefighters have had a bad call. Sometimes they fly right under the radar, getting hidden in a compartment somewhere they didn’t even know they had.
Our husbands are almost constantly exposed to high-stress situations, big and small, which all take a toll on their mental (physical and emotional) health when not processed in healthy ways.
It’s not just the big traumas, but all the small traumas that add up over the years.
When they try to shield us from the trauma they’re experiencing, they often shy away from the routine welcome-home questioning. The standard “How was your shift?” may be met with silence or the quick… “Fine”.
Working on different ways to ask them how they are can open the door to them sharing without immediately feeling like they need to shut down and divert.
Try asking something like, “Hey, what’s something interesting that happened on shift?” And you may get something really cool, like, “The restaurant that we’ve been talking about going to, they delivered us food today. We’ll have to go there on a date sometime. “
Or you might get something that’s deep, you know, “It’s just unbelievable how in just three days we’ve had four people that have all had heart attacks.”
There are firefighters who absolutely will not talk about work outside of the firehouse, it’s probably because it’s his way of protecting you. If you find you have no communication in your marriage about work life, this may be a good starting point for a conversation about what he may require to decompress and transition back into home life.
Maybe he needs things to decompress like hitting the gym, playing a round of golf, or spending some time in the garden. Open a simple conversation around how you as a couple want to talk about and deal with decompressing in general, but especially after a tough shift.
Once he’s had time to pause, he may be ready to share if something is still on his mind.
Every relationship has to function within its own terms of communication surrounding everything, especially the work-related traumas.
You can still support your firefighter and help him deal with the emotional aftermath of a difficult call or shift… even if he refuses to talk.
Here are a few strategies to offer your support:
- Listen without judgment (and interruptions): It is important to create a safe and non-judgmental space for your husband to talk about his experiences. Let him know that you are there to listen and support him, and avoid criticizing or judging him for his feelings. It is also important to be patient and understanding with your husband as he works through his emotions and finds his own way to cope.
- Encourage him to talk to other firefighters: There are some things they just aren’t going to want to share with us… this is where peer support can be very helpful for firefighters who have experienced a traumatic event. Encourage your husband to talk to other firefighters who may have experienced similar situations, either in person or through online forums or support groups.
- Help him find professional support: If your husband is experiencing significant distress or is having difficulty coping after a bad call or shift, it may be helpful to seek professional support. If he is open to and willing to this gentle suggestion, you can help him find a therapist or counselor who specializes in trauma and can provide him with the support and tools he needs to cope.
- Take care of yourself: Yep. You first. It is important to take care of your own mental health and well-being, especially when you are supporting someone who is struggling emotionally. Make sure you have a support system in place, whether it be friends, family, or a therapist, and take time for self-care activities that help you feel balanced and grounded.
- Talk it out: Finding what is going to work in your marriage is going to take a game plan. Sitting down and talking it out, setting boundaries, and explaining the need for this connection will likely look different for us all. How much are you comfortable hearing, and how much does he want to share in general? Knowing what you’re comfortable hearing may offer him more room to share a glimpse inside his thoughts while protecting you at the same time. HOT TIP: Set codewords – These are great for communicating with each other in one word or phrase when you want to talk later, aren’t ready to talk or need to communicate something else quickly without a lot of explanation.
We’re always one second away from yet another bad call, another small moment of stress that builds upon the last, or another argument because there is a gap in communication.
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