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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Zemlok, PsyD


Updated: Oct 21, 2020

As we know the first responder job can be all consuming and start to shift and change the individuals identity, outlook, and interactions with those around them. It’s important to understand that so many of the skills that make people successful as a first responder may actually be damaging over time to romantic relationships. Here are 4 examples of what I mean.


First responders very soon learn that shutting down their emotions and their personal reactions is actually quite helpful in being able to remain calm, collected, gather useful information, and problem solve on the job.


At home, we know that shutting down emotions can actually distance us emotionally from those we love leaving our partners feeling left out and lonely. We can grow further and further apart and start to feel as though we are married to a roommate rather than that friend and partner we took vows with. When your partner isn’t responding to your emotions or describing their own it can feel like they don’t care or aren't listening making you feel unimportant.


First responders are great at zeroing in on the most useful information in order to best respond to the call and do their job. Community members, being in a state of overwhelm, can often offer large amounts of very detailed information, much of which our first responders need to tune out and cut through in order to get the information they need and make important decisions.


In the beginning of our relationships the details we share with our spouse are usually more in depth than those we share with others because we really want them to KNOW us and this makes us feel emotionally connected. In fact, when couples know the ins and outs about their partner’s world we know this creates a more satisfying relationship for partners. This improves feelings of closeness and intimacy which leads to a greater love life. If the first responder ignores the details and tries cutting to the chase with their spouse, it can start to make their partner feel unheard and undervalued, leading to more emotional distance and in turn less intimacy.


Community members call 911 because there’s a problem they cannot solve on their own. By nature our first responders are problem solvers, usually one of the traits that drew them to the profession.


Constantly being in problem solving mode can lead to greater stress for both parties. The best way to help your partner feel supported is just by very intentionally listening and empathizing with their experience. Many problems are due to our own emotional reactions to the experience itself and not the logistical problem. Usually our partners are venting to us because they want someone to listen and make them feel heard and understood and not for someone to solve the problem or give them feedback about what should be done.


At work our first responders are the authorities on scene to our community members. If they have been promoted or serve in special assignments they may also be the authority on scene amongst their peers. They can carry a strong command presence which helps them assert themselves. This is important as it relates to strong leadership and maintaining control in situations.


Decades of research on couples has demonstrated how important it is for partners to share power and influence. In fact, the happiest and most stable marriages are those where the husband does not resist power sharing and decision making with their partner and when the husband accepts influence from his partner such as listening to their spouses suggestions and making changes based on them. (This research specifically identifies this only being true for males in marriages).

I want first responders to be happy at their job and great at what they do and I also want them to have happy lasting marriages! My best advice here is for first responders to be aware of what leads to success in each role and to be very intentional about shifting into and out of each of those roles so they can be successful in both! If you notice that your relationship could use some support around this, reach out and get it now, early, before things have taken a lasting toll on the relationship.

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