Part One: Vows and Beginning Things Right
I knew nothing about first responder life growing up but I will admit I was very drawn to firefighting. When I was 21, I met my husband who had just become a firefighter. I was very interested in the job, the culture, the people, and I accepted his running off to calls randomly very well. (He was in a call department and, if we were local to his department, he had his pager on him at all times.) He was a rookie and I was his girl. It was cute.
The most important thing to me, however, was his faith. While I knew it was important to pair with someone I could have fun with, I even more so desired to pair with someone who loved God like I did. He grew up Episcopalian but we shared the same love for God and the liturgy and respect for the Eucharist. We both had much to learn but I think we started out right.
As things progressed, he proposed - very publicly, but that’s another story - and we agreed he would convert. The driving force for his conversion was initially two things: we both wanted the Eucharist at our wedding to receive Christ together, and we wanted to raise our children in one faith for God as firmly as possible.
Value of Values
Now, no matter a person’s convictions, we all start relationships with attraction. It may be looks, style, hobbies, job, or whatever. Something draws us to a person at the start, but it can’t end there. We wouldn’t stay with that person unless personality worked as well, and so even if that initial attraction goes away, other things need to be there too.
People change how they look, jobs change, abilities change, even hobbies can change. So what could be constant in a person? Our values and beliefs are least likely to change without lots of intervention, and so to find strong compatibility, we find like values in a person. Many marriage prep classes such as Pre-Cana will go over this more. Do you both want children? Where do you want to live? How will you deal with finances and family gatherings and so on.
No matter a person’s profession, education, or status, if values don’t line up, the relationship is already rocky. Values matter, so it behooves a couple to sort that out before committing. For first responders, this is magnified. The lifestyle is stressful and the commitment sometimes so much harder. Having those core values setting your relationship in concrete is vital.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Marriage is for better or for worse, but of course we want the former. Still, we need to have early conversations about all ends of the spectrum. In first responder life, this means many things. Job loss can be a higher risk as stress levels are much higher with a higher level and trauma and mental illness. Physical illness and injury are also at higher risk and, in so much, so is death. It’s even important to have a plan to protect children from exposure to such trauma (or the secondary trauma first responders are likely to bring home.)
Simply checking in on one another is a good start. Understanding when to talk and when to give space, when to ask for help and when to wait… There are many things to discuss. Sometimes the discussion may center around a career change if things have not gone as planned. Having a solid savings and backup plan is key for any marriage and it’s best to do so as early as possible.
Perhaps the most important thing to note for any marriage, but especially a marriage with a high stress job like first responders have, is that it’s work - so much work. Hours are not reliable and one person may be single-parenting more often. The responder may be absent for holidays and gatherings or important events. Coming home from work may not lead to family time if the responder needs to decompress or sleep off a shift. Understanding is key and perhaps the most important gift from the Spirit in this scenario.
Holy Spirit Power
Let’s leave it at this: if you’re going into a first responder relationship, especially marriage, plan to lean heavily on the Spirit. Yes, it’s true for all marriages, but early and often for these. Go to Him in prayer alone, together, with your children, with friends. When God is the center of what you share, He’s also the glue. Look at all He has to offer you, your marriage, your family, your life:
Gifts of the Spirit:
- Counsel/Right Judgment
- Fear/Wonder and Awe of the Lord
Fruits of the Spirit (CCC1832):