The first responder spouse and military spouse have a lot in common; mainly, you wouldn’t truly understand the challenges each face unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. Although there are millions of first responders, and about as many first responder spouses, there isn’t much info out there as far as the first responder spouses’ struggles and support. This is a little surprising considering the amount of behind-the-scenes work that the first responder spouse does every day – and the fact their families are more susceptible to local, national, and global threats, just like COVID-19.
Despite the stressors, there are many upsides and it can be rewarding, not to mention the pride you have for your first responder outshines many of the negatives.
But it is because of these negatives that many support groups form and offer unity, understanding, and resources. Let’s take a deeper dive into what it is like for our first responder spouses and the resources they have available:
A Day in the Life
You could say that depending on the day, or really on your spouse’s schedule, you bear more responsibility than other days and sometimes for up to 72 hours. The truth is that the amount of responsibility doesn’t really waver, you’re still worried about the same things from day to day regardless of whether or not your spouse is home. This is not to say that your spouse’s presence doesn’t take some of the weight off your shoulders and offer peace of mind, but you know it could change with just one phone call.
As a first responder spouse, you’re constantly thinking ahead and shifting your calendar around trying to fulfill family or social engagements or feeling like you’re letting a loved one down if you can’t attend. Which they may or may not understand. While you’re working on piecing together the larger puzzle, you may also be balancing the needs of your kids and working on dinner, homework, bath time, etc. You’re writing important things down, list after list (or on random receipts), to make sure you remember to communicate with your spouse when they’re home and ready. In short, you’re spread pretty thin.
When your spouse has returned from their overnight, double, or weekend shift, you have to feel out the right time to bring something up for discussion. You listen to their stories and let them decompress as you get their dirty uniforms in the wash ASAP.
At the end of the day, you first responder is extremely thankful for all that you do because it allows them to contribute all of their efforts to the job they’ve worked so hard for and they know you are tough to have manned the fort in their absence.
There are a plethora of additional stressors that first responder couples must work through compared to the average marriage:
- Erratic Schedules – they’re inconsistent and could change any minute making it difficult to plan.
- Absorbed in Work – your first responder can easily get lost in their work, thinking about their previous shift long after it’s ended, making communication and being in the moment very difficult.
- Finances – first responders simply don’t make enough for everything they do to keep us safe and stretched budgets can certainly be the source of stress for your family.
- Separation – there are often long stretches of time that you are apart from your spouse, it’s easy to feel disconnected.
- Trauma – whether they’re dealing with PTSD or depression from the job (which affects 30% of first responders compared to 20% of the general population) trauma can absolutely put a strain on your relationship.
- Occupational Hazards – you may find better ways to manage your fears for the uncertainty of your spouse’s safety when they are on shift, but you can’t deny that you still worry.
First Responder Spouse Support & Resources
Thankfully, there are resources you can turn to during those times where it’s more difficult to bounce back and systems in place for a more permanent support network. Here are a few:
- Strategies to Manage Challenges for EMS Families
- Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders: Adjusting to Life at Home
- First Responders Support Team
- International Association of Chiefs of Police
- First Responders COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund
- A Post-Deployment Guide for Families of Emergency and Disaster Response Workers
- Facebook – First Responder Support Network
- Facebook – First Responder Family Wellness Center
Facebook is a great place to look for support groups at the local level and if you don’t come across one, there’s an excellent opportunity to start one and make life easier for yourself and your fellow first responder spouses.
First responder spouses are faced with a unique set of challenges and must constantly work around their partner’s schedule. They spend so much of their time figuring out the best ways to support their spouse on the front lines and by doing so, often putting themselves on the back burner. First responder spouses are the unsung heroes next to our front-line heroes. Check out the resources above and donate when you can to help our first responders’ families today.