“Irreconcilable differences”, “we wanted different things”, “I didn’t know who he/she was anymore”, “after awhile we didn’t have anything in common”, “we just grew apart”. Whether you’ve seen one of those sentences in the news, heard it uttered by a friend, or used it yourself, you may recognize some of those phrases as frequently cited reasons for seeking a divorce. What all those sentiments have in common is an expression of an irreparable distance that has come between the partners in the marriage from which there is seemingly no hope of return. Although there are many reasons why some marriages will end in divorce, one of the saddest reasons is this, simply a loss of connection.
Although any couple can be at risk of drifting apart if they do not continually work on maintaining their marriage, particularly for the men and women in the first-responder community, the risk of drifting apart from a partner is high due to the work schedules that are common in this field. Shift work is defined as any work schedule that is outside of the “normal” 9-5 Monday-Friday work week. For the majority of first-responders, shift work is what will comprise most, if not all, of their career. Many first-responders are married or in relationships with people who are not in the same field; they may have children who have regular school schedules, and spouses who have 9-5 jobs. It can take a concerted effort and conscious planning to maintain connection with loved ones despite repeated absences and a varied schedule.
Think about it. A couple that shares a 9-5 work schedule, or has one working parent and one stay at home parent, will typically have at least 4-6 hours per night and two full weekend days available to spend quality time together as a couple and a family. Contrast this with a first responder family where one parent may spend every third day away from home, or who may work 10 hour shifts for 4 days in a row, including nights and weekends. There are also many in the first responder community who work second jobs, pick up overtime, or volunteer their time in the local community. Add to that the recovery time needed after coming off a difficult, night, or 24 hour shift and you can see how easily a first responder family’s available and quality time together can quickly become diminished.
Constant small breaks in time spent together and emotional and physical connection can sometimes go unnoticed in the routine of day to day life. Unfortunately, if these small absences continue to pile up without being addressed, disconnection between the first responder and his or her family can grow over time and can eventually end up seeming insurmountable. The job of a first responder has its’ challenges, including the unconventional work schedule; however, loss of connection due to absence is not unavoidable. As a beautiful quote from François de La Rouchefoucauld says,
“Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones,
as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire.”
There are many ways to ensure that your marriage is the bonfire that thrives despite absence, and acknowledging and addressing any distance that has come between you and your partner already is the first step. Even committing to one small act of reconnection per day can begin to make a difference in your home and relationship and enable you to preserve the precious connection you have together. If you recognize that distance may have developed in your marriage, reach out today to bridge the distance, make a change, and keep your relationship STRONG and connected.
------This is Part Four in a Four part series on the impact of work-related stress on Life, Health, and Relationships in the First Responder Community for September 2016: Suicide Awareness Month----
Visit www.austinstrongrbc.com or call 512-887-8036 to book a couples' or individual counseling session. Discounted rates for first-responders. Like our Facebook page for more articles like this one. www.facebook.com/austinstrongrbc
-Kristal DeSantis is an LMFT-A, wife of a first responder, and founder of Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center in Austin, TX.
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