You think it’s hard being a firefighter? Try being a firefighter’s wife. You’ve heard that phrase before and watched it splash across all your favorite social media feeds and of course the ever popular firefighter t-shirt. Such pride! Those spouses love the challenge of this fire life. They wouldn’t trade it for the world. And their social media comments scream it:
“It’s hard work but I love every second of it.”
“We never see each other because of his job but I knew that coming in and won’t complain about it.”
“So proud of what he does.”
These comments make me warm and fuzzy inside. These spouses seem to “get it.” Hundreds of thousands of them from what I can judge. Suddenly everyone seems to have a fire-themed moniker to go by online. FyrWife, FireWife194, HeartMyFF, CFDWife, FireWifeForever. (Totally random if one of these is you. I didn’t look them up but pulled them randomly out of memory. I see them endlessly in our newsfeeds!)
Part of me wants to scream YES! Marriages on Fire! This is what we are working towards. With a crazy divorce rate in the fire service — not officially measured but look around at your crew and you’ll see it’s around 75 percent — to see husbands and wives spouting their love for each other across the “interwebs” is something to smile about.
In fact, we seem to be pretty lucky to live in an age when shouting loudly that you love your spouse is acceptable and somehow a bit hipster — at least from this lonely and divorced first at 27 and happily remarried almost 43 years perspective. There are so many marriage devotions and podcasts and yes, even t-shirts available now online. Everyone is grabbing their share of the obsession with “I heart my hot husband” to “I heart my hot wife” clothing lines.
Do you want to know the dirty truth behind all that positivity that may some days make your stomach turn? Those marriages aren’t perfect. I don’t know one that is. They are simply choosing to do the hard work and to focus on the positive. To remember why they first fell in love and work like crazy to not let anything come between them. Or in the worst-case scenario — fake it until they make it. Not my recommended strategy by the way. Do the work!
Yes, like all things on the Internet, perception is not always reality. Now I’m not going to dig down the path of what kind of junk is in their marriage trunk they don’t slather all over their Facebook feed. You know why? Because every marriage has it! You already know what it is. Struggles with money, balancing work and family time, differences in opinions on parenting, behavioral health issues and seasons of medical issue after medical issue robbing you of feeling strong and healthy. All with a big dose of fire service topics like PTSD, pension stress, medic school and promotional processes to emphasize the challenges.
Everyone has junk in his or her marriage. Especially our honored, brave, admired and set on a pedestal firefighters.
My husband, the firefighter, the one who speaks alongside me on this topic and makes me legit as “the firefighter wife” and “wife on fire” on social media, has a favorite way to say this much shorter and sweeter than me. According to Dan Mercer, “Firefighters are good at so many things — world class and professional in many categories. And they are ready to help a buddy out with anything – HVAC, deck building, ropes rescue, car repair. But as a profession, we stink at marriage. And to make it worse, we don’t reach out to help each other when our marriages need some maintenance.”
If you are in that space where you don’t want to proclaim everlasting love from the Instagram rooftops you probably feel pretty defeated seeing these optimistic couples shout their love online. It’s hard to see when you are in that space of hurt and frustration where you love each other but don’t like each other very much right now. Or those spaces of so-much-busy-we-haven’t-slept-under-the-same-roof-in-a- week that you can’t even imagine time for a date night. Next moment you have alone together you need to figure out bill pay and schedules and make sure you’re still kissing that same face that made you giddy on your first date.
Let me share some quick tips for digging out of those dead places in our marriage:
- Don’t compare – but give it a try. Especially don’t compare to what you see online. Comparison is the thief of joy right? Focus on what’s going well in your marriage and then, shout that out loud and see how good it makes you feel. Better yet, see how good it makes your spouse feel. This is so especially effective for fire service marriages who spend long times away from each other. To see a little love note on your Facebook feed that your firefighter took time to post between runs can go a long way in keeping that love tank filled up.|
- Reach out and ask. Hey Joe, I really admire your relationship with your wife. What’s your secret? We’re really stuck and I could use some advice. If you’re a firefighter and wonder if this is going to pull your “man card” or make you look less capable, forget that right now. More than likely the response you may get is “Yeah man, me too. This marriage stuff is hard work.” (You can also ask online in our Honor Guard – a community for men who are devoted to fire fighting and their marriage.)
- Don’t go at this alone. I know that feels counter intuitive. It’s your marriage. The most intimate and personal relationship of your life. But there’s the problem. We lose perspective. We must get into community to learn from others and grow. We weren’t meant to do this alone.
Spending time around other healthy marriages is going to improve yours. Observing how they speak to each other and interact and being able to unpack situations in a crowd with humor can be the breakthrough your marriage needs to say “Hey, that’s just like us! She doesn’t like it when I do that either.” There’s always going to be a hurdle to get over. And if you’ve never been there, you don’t just magically have the tools to make it. Learn from others.
Here’s your challenge Fire Service. Can we get world class in marriage?
Can the police and military and corporate executives and professional athletes whose marriages are also struggling look to the fire service and say, I really admire the true sense of family and brotherhood / sisterhood that they have. Strong marriages are the center of that family.
Next time you’re ready to tweet your marriage’s latest sweet moment, I want you to think of this. What can I say or do here to be helpful and an inspiration to another marriage at our firehouse? And if that’s just not possible where you are right now in your marriage, your challenge is to reach out and ask that next optimistic tweeter for some advice.
I’m ready to be proud-er. Not just proud that we are part of the fire family, a group of people willing to step into danger and care for those in need. I am proud that we do it while keeping our own families intact and our marriages burning red-hot. Now, that’s an act of bravery, courage and commitment.
Lori Mercer is wife of 13 years, married to a career firefighter. Together they parent four children and through their early marriage challenges, founded a community focused on honoring, strengthening and encouraging the marriages of first responders. FirefighterWife.com is the original community supporting wives through the Fire Wife Sisterhood and now 24-7 COMMITMENT is the nationally recognized non-profit serving first responders and their families with programs such as the Honor Guard, Fire Wife Academy, Commitment Weekends and Marriage On Fire. For more information on these programs go to Lori Mercer is wife of 13 years, married to a career firefighter. Together they parent four children and through their early marriage challenges, founded a community focused on honoring, strengthening and encouraging the marriages of first responders. FirefighterWife.com is the original community supporting wives through the Fire Wife Sisterhood and now 24-7 COMMITMENT is the nationally recognized non-profit serving first responders and their families with programs such as the Honor Guard, Fire Wife Academy, Commitment Weekends and Marriage On Fire. For more information on these programs go to 247Commitment.org.