Balancing Independence as a Firefighter
By: Kat Bozzo
The allure of a uniform never fails to appetize the curious and play into so many different scenarios of lust and appeal. Long fetishized as the ideal and the one to chase. And understandably so – a good steady job, responsible and solid, established and in control of their life. What’s not to love?
Well, what they neglected to inform you of however, is that the person in uniform is perpetually absent, exhausted, emotionally unavailable, and sometimes impossible to handle. Now I may be exaggerating a bit, but behind that old ideal of the uniform is a real human being. That human being has an emotionally taxing, exhausting and sometimes overwhelming career. Not everyone is suited to handle this type of person or the life that goes along with it. As a first responder, independence should be a quality you look for in a significant other. As you attempt to balance the needs of yourself and your partner, independence will be a key factor in your relationship that will allow for both personal and collective growth.
As first responders we often bear the burdens of others. The very soul of our job is to show up and take on the responsibility of someone else’s problem. We may be very good at this, but after long hours and exhausting days we become less good at it. And when that workday ends, our responsibilities don’t. Life continues – home, family, friends, chores, all requiring our attention and energy. Often, we neglect ourselves and instead put our dwindling effort into others, even after the shift is over. Putting work into relationships after spending the day taking care of others can be overwhelming. And let’s be honest, whatever work we are putting in is sub-par. Having a partner that can hold their own in a relationship and give us that emotional break we need, is essential in maintaining balance.
Your key gets stuck in the front door as you try to withdraw it. The door is unlocked but the key is stuck and you can’t seem to wiggle it out. The frustration starts to mount as you try left and right and left and right. Unproportionate anger is building as the key continues to stick and all you can do is swear and kick the door with your steel toe boot. Rationally you know that won’t help but it doesn’t stop you from dropping another expletive before the key finally withdraws and you are able to open the door.
It’s not your partner’s fault the key got stuck. It’s not their fault that the call went sideways and you couldn’t help someone the way you wanted to. It’s not their fault that you felt unsupported by your team and brought the day home with you. It’s not their fault, but for some reason you resent them. You resent them because when you finally got the door open you tripped over shoes in the middle of the hallway. When you stumbled into the kitchen the sink full of dishes felt like it was reaching the ceiling. You resent them because in your deflated and over-tired state, you feel as though your work is not yet done.
You know they also worked today, and even if they hadn’t, are the dishes really that big of a deal? Reality – no. Your brain – yes. You know you’re not being fair. You know your time is not more valuable than theirs, but when they start to complain about their day and ask for your support, you have nothing left. Instead of pulling empathy from your cup you hurl the empty cup at them and wage a war.
When the dust settles and the emotions start to level out, the guilt sets in. It’s not fair that you have energy for everyone else but not for your partner. It’s not okay that you want to spend some of your limited time off alone. You start to feel as though you’re unreasonable and asking a lot of other people. Is this the type of partner you are? Quick to anger and not empathetic to the struggles of your spouse? Or are you just drained? Are you stretched too thin? Are you giving so much to others that perhaps the person who would balance you, is someone who doesn’t need as much?
Independent partners are understanding of the limits of mental energy and how a first responder may not have it to give. They are able to temporarily carry the responsibilities of both partners when needed, and ensure when we return to our homestead, we aren’t worried about what we’re walking into. Independent people have other ways of filling their emotional needs and don’t always need their partner to do it. They understand the value of “me” time.
Your need for independence is probably good for them too! They appreciate your need for time away from them, because it gives them the same. They understand your need for emotional support from elsewhere because so do they. They like to grow, learn and evolve both separately and together.
This is not to say there is a right way or a wrong way to be in a relationship. There is no reasonable vs unreasonable request of a partner. It is simply about recognizing what you need from another person and what you are in a position to give. It is about recognizing your own limitations and what you value in others. There is room for growth here. There is the opportunity for self realization and discovery. There is a chance to strip away that perfect uniform and reveal the imperfect person underneath. The person that needs a partner with patience, understanding and of course, independence.
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