One of the biggest challenges of being married to a first responder is the fact that they see awful things day in and day out, things that they don’t want to tell you about (or bring up at all, ever.)
If you’re married to someone who works at, say, a bank, it’s pretty easy to ask them, “Hey, how was your day?” It’ll probably be a lot of boring stuff, maybe drama with a coworker or two or frustrations with his boss.
I mean, sure, banks occasionally get robbed. Sometimes exciting things happen. But really, for the most part, the answer you get to this most basic question is going to be pretty bland.
On the other hand, let’s say your husband is a police officer and his last call of the day was a domestic disturbance involving a child and his parents. He sees the child going through things no child should ever have to go to. He sees the parents acting as though it’s the child’s fault, not theirs. The parents then give him attitude, saying “it’s none of your business!” and tell him he’s a “piece of shit, dumb cop.”
He might have seen this type of situation before – and he might realize that the system sometimes fails and sends kids like these back to terrible homes, to which he’ll end up responding over and over again until the system either responds adequately… or he responds to a homicide.
This type of situation is equally likely to arise for a police officer, a firefighter, or an emergency medical responder, and it’s fun for exactly no one. The level of anger, disgust, frustration, and distress is beyond what anyone who is not a first responder can comprehend. Your husband is aware of that – which is why he doesn’t want to share that part of his life with you.
This is important, because if it’s work-related, it’s totally fine (and healthy) to let him process things at his own pace and in his own way.
On the other hand, if it’s an issue he’s having personally or with you or your marriage, it’s better to find out as soon as possible. That way, it can be resolved more painlessly than if it festers for a few days.
Regardless of the situation, it might take your husband a while to open up. It might be shocking to hear, but men aren’t naturally the best communicators for the most part. And first responders don’t tend to talk much, either. Combine the two and you have someone who really doesn’t like to open up about their feelings.
The best way to do this is to ask specifically if it’s work-related. Something like, “You seem upset. Is it about something that happened at work?” Or if he’s just come home from work and seems down, maybe something like “You seem upset. Do you want to talk?”
After a while, you’ll probably come to know your husband’s behavior well enough to know the difference without asking. Until you’re sure, though, verify first.
Well, really, pushing him to talk might not be such a good idea anyway (sometimes space is all that’s needed!) – but if the issue is about work, this is possibly the worst mistake you can make. Don’t pester him to talk if he doesn’t feel like talking. While you might feel like this will bridge the gap between you two and allow for more intimacy, it will actually diminish intimacy.
This is because your husband will feel resentful toward you for making him talk and not trusting him at his word, and you’ll probably feel a little mortified when you find out what it is he was holding back from telling you… and when he does finally tell you, it probably won’t be said super politely.
Speaking from experience here, people.
As best as you can, just be there for your husband. Give him space if he needs it. Cuddle up to him if he needs it. Do something special for him, like make a dessert or something that you know he loves.
Even if he doesn’t express his gratitude right away (see above about how men aren’t typically the best at expressing emotions), he will feel it – and he’ll let you know in his own way at some time or another. Just be patient and focus on doing what you can to help.
It’s normal to feel helpless when you see your husband struggling with something he won’t tell you about, but try not to let this feeling take over. Realize that you can only do so much and know that if you’re trying, you haven’t failed.
Remember that. The reason he wants to keep that part of his life to himself is in part because he loves you and wants to protect you But it’s also largely in part because there are things he sees that are the makings of nightmares. They’re things that nobody should ever have to see, let alone repeat and talk about… but that’s unfortunately the nature of his job.
Please, please, don’t take your husband’s silence personally.
There are a lot of hard things about being married to a first responder, and I think this is one of the issues that tops the list. But with a little patience and understanding, you can make it through and be an even stronger couple for it.
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I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.
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