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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, July 14, 2016
As a retired police captain, Dan Willis has seen firsthand how law-enforcement officials and other first responders can struggle with the stress and emotional trauma that go with their jobs. He has made it his personal mission to safeguard and enhance the wellness and wholeness of police officers, firefighters, EMTs, emergency-room personnel, and soldiers. His book, Bulletproof Spirit: The First Responder’s Essential Resource for Protecting and Healing Mind and Heart, offers field-tested expertise designed to be used by all first responders — and their families — to heal themselves so they can continue serving with compassion and strength. We hope you’ll enjoy this guest blog from Captain Willis, which is based on the book. 

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The most often overlooked pillar of support for law-enforcement officials is the most essential — support from home. Unfortunately, family members receive practically no information about how to uniquely care for loved ones who have devoted their lives to serving others. However, with awareness of the special needs of first responders — and of the ways to most effectively care for their loved ones’ emotional and spiritual wellness — spouses and other family members can become hidden partners in ensuring first responders’ overall wellness and emotional survival. 

Below are suggestions for family members, particularly spouses, of emergency first responders. By following these guidelines, they can fulfill their vital role in nurturing, protecting, and sustaining the spirit of their loved ones to help mitigate the suffering and emotional trauma so prevalent in first-responder professions. 

Creating a Supportive Home Environment
First, create a stress-free home; this is essential. Be positive, keep your spouse centered, and enjoy each other during the limited time you have together. Be understanding. Listen to their needs, without forgetting your own. 

Knowing your law-enforcement spouse is crucial in order for you to offer help. Being able to read them, and knowing when they need to talk and when they just need time alone to process what they are feeling, is very important. When your first-responder mate is quiet or somewhat distant, it isn’t always about you. Most of the time they are trying to come to terms with issues on their own before bringing them to your attention. Giving them the time they need without feeling resentful can be difficult, but it’s necessary. Understand when your partner needs to talk, and make sure you are there for them when that time comes. Learning to put your law-enforcement spouse’s needs before your own when they really need your understanding, support, and care is a valuable skill to cultivate.

Complaining or trying to force your spouse to talk can ruin a first-responder marriage. Your spouses have chosen a life of service, and you need to step up and be strong and independent so you can lead your family, often in the absence of your first-responder mate. Complaining about the way things are will not change them; it will only make the situation worse. 

Remember that time with your spouse is precious; value it and make the most of it. Try not to spend your time together complaining that they are never home and that you always have to do things alone. They know that, and it hurts them as well. First responders see many terrible things during their work, experience trauma and acute stress, and often have feelings of helplessness. They want and need to be able to come home to a safe, peaceful, and loving home. If they know that at the end of their shift they will be greeted with complaints and arguments, they will likely choose to go elsewhere.

It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open, without prying or nagging. Try to be patient. First responders often need some downtime when they come home so they can recharge, release the day, and tune in to being at home as an engaged and active parent and/or spouse.

Let your first-responder spouse know that you are always there for them whenever they need you or want to talk. Your role as their most essential pillar of support is to be there as a positive, loving, and understanding mate who helps keep them well. You are an essential silent partner for their emotional survival and ability to process what they experience at work. Remember that your spouse needs to be focused at work; their life and the safety of others depend on that. Don’t get into arguments on the phone or discuss home issues while they’re at work because you need to talk about it. Your first-responder spouse needs to remain focused at work to be safe.

The life of a first responder is a constant roller coaster of emotion. Between shift work, overtime, court cases, never-ending stress, and critical incidents, life always seems to be changing. There is a lot more to being a first-responder spouse than spending nights and holidays alone. Remember that your mate would much rather be at home with you; the separation hurts both of you.

If you’re a police spouse, go on a ride-along with your husband or wife at work to get a better understanding of what they face each day. You’ll begin to understand that the second they put on their uniform, they become more alert, serious, multitasking, energized, and decisive. After ten to twelve hours of this, they may come home tired, remote, grumpy, and disengaged, wanting to be left alone and not have to make any decisions. Allow them to have some downtime when coming home; they need it to regain balance and tune in to home life.

For first responders, having a supportive partner is something precious. By assisting your first-responder loved one in processing much of the stress, danger, suffering, and evil they deal with on a daily basis, you can become their lifeline.

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Dan Willis, a retired captain of the La Mesa, CA, police department, is the author of Bulletproof Spirit. He is a former homicide investigator and SWAT commander who has developed wellness programs and specializes in providing emotional-survival and wellness training to first responders. Find him online at   

Based on the book Bulletproof Spirit. Copyright © 2014 by Dan Willis.


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