The Strain of Service: Why First Responders Face Higher Divorce Rates

Of the people in our area who performed the most essential yet unheralded work, first responders must be at the top of the list. These are the folks who work in law enforcement, first aid, emergency medicine, and a host of other careers where their job is to run toward the fire rather than away from it. When we look at first responders it is possible to take them for granted. For example, if we are in an accident or hurt ourselves in some way then it is just to be expected that we will be able to rely upon a first responder to heal our wounds and help us when we need it most.

In a way, first responders are sort of like teachers in that we expect them to do their jobs and to do those jobs well but we don’t consider what these folks do in their personal lives once work comes to an end. I’m sure we have all heard the joke that as children we all expect teachers to live at the school rather than go home and have their own lives. While this isn’t true, of course, there is something about the consistency and stability of our community that we placed in the hands of these first responders. Overall, they deliver time and time again for us and make it so that we can go about our lives without worrying excessively about our safety and health.

One of the ways that first responders are impacted by the type of work that they do is regarding their marriages. If I told you that first responders have a higher rate of divorce than the general population, I’m sure that would not be something that you would necessarily doubt. It would just make sense that someone who works this hard, is under this much stress, and has the hours that they do would also struggle and maintain a strong marriage. In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to walk through some of the reasons why first responders have a higher divorce rate than the general population.

If you are a first responder or are married to a first responder, then today’s blog post is for you. We want to make sure that you can understand some of the issues that are facing you and your spouse and why they may lead you toward a divorce more readily than one of your neighbors. These are very serious situations that you’re facing, and we want you to feel comfortable reaching out to one of our attorneys if you have questions about what you have read here today. A free-of-charge consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys is only a phone call away.

High-stress work environments

Many of us would consider our lines of work to be stressful. They may be. However, what we consider to be stressful doesn’t hold a candle to what first responder goes through in their line of work. Police officers carry a firearm and are on the streets every day protecting us, solving crimes, and keeping the peace. Firefighters put themselves at risk every day by saving lives and businesses from a certain demise. Paramedics perform lifesaving and necessary tasks in helping people who are involved in accidents and who find themselves in any number of dangerous situations.

Regardless of the specific situation that a first responder finds themselves in, their work is stressful. It also is true that the spouses of first responders deal with a lot of that stress on a secondhand basis. If you are married to a first responder, then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. There is a feeling when that first responder comes home from work that he or she carries through the front door with them the burdens and stresses of their line of work. Even when he or she has had an opportunity to unwind and decompress after a day of work there is still the on mistakable sense that this person has seen and experienced things that most of us would never be able to handle.

invariably, this stress ends up damaging relationships. The first responder can take time each day to unwind from work and maybe lose out on quality time with you. If you are the first responder, then your stressful work environment may cause you a great deal of frustration and worry. You probably do not want your marriage to suffer or for you to take out any stress on your spouse. However, being less than attentive at home can be a symptom of working in a stressful environment. An inattentive spouse it’s typically not a great partner or parent.

Over a long enough period, the stressful nature of your work environment can wreak havoc on your marriage. Many times, what you experience at work can cause you to become overly critical of those around you at home. You are so used to being on edge and alert at work that coming home can feel like all the air was released out of a balloon. Transitioning back and forth between a stressful work environment and a more peaceful home environment is not easy. Although it can be a relief to come home every day from work that does not mean that it always feels good in every moment you experience at the house. As a result, the stress of your work life may impact your marriage even if your home life is stress-free.

Irregular hours

Many of us in the civilian world take for granted having a predictable work schedule. So many of us work from home these days that a traditional work schedule is just not something that many of us must contend with. When it comes to our home and life balance having a consistent or flexible work schedule goes hand in hand with that. If we need to be at home to take care of a sick spouse, then we need only take off early from work or request paid time off. Many of our jobs allow us to work from home even if we are in an office environment on most days. Likewise, chaperoning a school field trip for our kids or taking an impromptu vacation from time to time is not something that is out of our reach.

Taking time away from work is not only something that allows us to decompress and find some leisure time, but it is also essential to maintaining a strong marriage. You get out of a marriage what you put into it. This is no different than anything else you pursue in life. If you want to become a good pianist, then you need to spend a lot of time playing the piano. Similarly, if you want to have a strong marriage you need to put time into it. The best piano player in the world cannot assure himself that just because he practiced hard two months ago does not mean that he does not have to practice hard now. It is not a situation where you can put all that practice time into reserve and justice draw upon it when you need to perform well.

If you are focused on improving the quality of your marriage, then you need to be able to spend time to do that. Your spouse going through therapy, or you are doing the same separately from one another is not going to cut it. Rather, you need to be confident that you are going to be able to communicate your way through the issues in your relationship. To be a good communicator and to even learn what the true issues are in your marriage you need to spend time with your spouse.

The irregular hours that you work likely prevent you from doing this consistently. Being at work means that you are focused on work. Frankly, the idea of a first responder not being able to focus their full attention on there are task at hand is somewhat disconcerting. However, as we talked about at the beginning of this blog post it is unreasonable to think that first responders do not have their concerns and personal lives to contend with each day they step into their workplace.

So much of our culture’s discussions on work in recent years have centered around finding a balance between home life and work life. Many employers are out and out advertising their workplace’s lenient attitude towards working from home or even offering significant amounts of time off to help prospective employees understand that company’s approach towards a work-life balance. When you are entering data into a computer or sorting through information on a spreadsheet you can just as easily perform that work at home as you can at an office. However, when it comes to your work as a first responder that is certainly not going to be the type of work that can be performed remotely.

Rather, because the nature of your work calls for you to be physically present in dangerous and stressful situations you would not be able to negotiate for the type of work hours that may be able to help salvage a flailing marriage period as a result, you may find that your marriage suffers a great deal due to these issues that are largely beyond your control. If you find that there are just not enough hours in the day to do the things that you think are important then you should count yourself among the many folks who work in law enforcement two would say the same thing as you.

Emotional distance and coping mechanisms

Working in a high-stress environment means that you have a lot on your mind Not only when it comes to your career but also when it comes to your personal life. When you are dealing with stressful or difficult situations at work then it may be that you have built up an emotional barrier between you and the people in your life. This may be done to protect them in many ways given that you do not want your loved ones to experience what you experience daily. Or you may feel like isolating yourself in some way is better for you. Whatever your reason, it is not uncommon to emotionally distance yourself from your loved ones because of the type of work that you do.

Emotionally distancing yourself from your spouse is an example of a type of coping mechanism. However, it is not an example of a good coping mechanism for stress emotional pain, or physical pain. Isolating yourself is the last thing that you probably should do in a situation where you are battling through emotional and physical issues associated with your work. This is when you and your spouse need to rely upon each other more than ever.

When you find yourself unable or unwilling to develop or strengthen an emotional bond with your spouse then that is a bad sign for the relationship. In many cases, you need to be able to lean into what makes you uncomfortable and what may even upset you in some way. Certainly, understanding the stresses that come with your work is something that goes hand in hand with being married to a person who is the first responder. However, if you are finding it difficult to confide in your spouse and seek emotional solace in him or her then it is not uncommon to also find yourself struggling with the thought of going through a divorce.

Lack of social support

On the other hand, if you as a first responder are having trouble in your marriage it may be through no fault of your own. The simple truth may be that your spouse is unable or unwilling to give you this sort of support that you need to not only save your marriage but to be an effective first responder. For example, you may have reached out to your spouse on many occasions to begin a dialogue about the problems experienced at work period however, if he or she has continually failed to assist you where you need it most or to even help you be able to start understanding that you have a safety net and a social system that is there to help then this could be the cause of not only problems at work that you are experiencing due to stress but also problems that you are experiencing in the marriage.

We think that attending marriage and family counseling can be a great benefit that you could avail yourself of if you choose to do so. Whether that marriage and family therapy is through a church, private counselor, or even through a trusted friend simply having an open dialogue about what you are experiencing in the marriage as far as a lack of social support can be eye-opening for your spouse. You may find that he or she has concerns about the relationship and that their views may be completely different than your own. Finding out those differences and being able to talk about them openly and honestly maybe just what you need to save your marriage and avoid a divorce.

Exposure to trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a medical dye diagnosis that affects many first responders. Even if the first responder is not medically diagnosed as such the reliving of trauma and the ability for that trauma to impact your family is a very real concern. With that in mind, you should consider your exposure to trauma as well as the impact of that trauma on your relationship. Looking past that trauma and stress and focusing instead on other issues may be a mistake. Rather, it can be a great idea for you to look towards the trauma you are facing and to deal with it first-hand. Trying to avoid it or not thinking about it is just putting off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Financial stress

Finally, many first responders are not paid in a way that matches up with the risk that they take on. If you are a first responder who is experiencing money problems, then this is a double whammy for your family. Not only do you work in a career field that may predispose you towards a higher risk of divorce, but you also have real financial concerns that may have been brought about by some of the stresses experienced as a part of your employment. If this sounds like you then you should consider the steps, you can take to resolve those issues or to begin working on a budget with your spouse about the problems that you have been experiencing.

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