Overcoming the Time Away

firefighter time away from family

Have you ever asked yourself what is the safest date and time to travel across your city or town? I used to find myself thinking as I drove to the station Christmas morning at 06:00, the only ones out here are cops, firemen and medical personnel. If I crash the’s odds are in my favor for being taken care of by one of these.

Why? Because they were the professions with people willing to give up “family time” — personal time — on those days when everyone else was at home. It goes beyond just the individual. It extends to their families and loved ones. During my 13 years as a career firefighter, my wife was a single mom for 2 of every 6 days and this does not include local training, out of town training, over time or longer deployments.

How can we as a firefighter help them “be on board” if they aren’t already 100%? The first step is to look at ourselves and seek to understand why we do what we do. I would like to introduce you to the six human needs as understood and explained by Tony Robbins who developed this version of human needs psychology.

6 Basic Human Needs

According to this understanding of human behavior virtually all decisions that we make have the pursuit of one or more of these needs as the primary motive. Here is a list of the 6 human needs chunked into the four needs of the personality and the 2 needs of the soul or the spirit.

Personality:

Certainty: we all need a sense of certainty in our lives also known as comfort consistency and predictability
Uncertainty: also known as surprise, variety, unpredictability, adventure spontaneity
Significance: everyone needs to feel important as if their life matters and have a purpose
Love and connection: many people settle for connection because to love is to scary.

Spiritual:

Growth: everything in the universe must grow, if you’re not growing you’re _____, that’s right, dying.
Contribution: when people actually feel fulfilled they are either growing or contributing

Now these six needs may be met or filled in positive, neutral, or destructive ways.

For example, one can meet the need for certainty by indulging in addictive behavior or by volunteering for a worthy cause. One can meet the need for uncertainty or variety by picking a fight with their partner just to change the mood or trying a new cuisine for dinner. One can find significance by tearing others down or by building others up and becoming the best person that they can be. One can find connection in the story of one’s misery or by sharing a smile with a stranger. Growth can be found in discovering new methods to harm other humans or in finding and discovering methods to feed the hungry. Contribution can be done for selfish reasons in order to meet one’s need for approval from others or it can be done out of love and caring. Understanding the six human needs helps to not only understand the fundamentals of ourselves but also virtually every other human being on the planet.

Let’s take a moment and consider what is the order and sequence of your partner’s needs really think about which ones they value highest and ask yourself how well you have been meeting those needs. When a person gets angry or hurt it is often an indication that one of their top two needs is not being met.

What’s it look like in life?

So let’s take the scenario of a volunteer firefighter who is often called away from home even though they are already away from home working a full-time job. When they hop in the car to respond to the firehouse and they hopped in the big fire truck or they get up early on Saturday morning  to go training at the fire station, which of the six human needs are being met at the high level? I believe it could be argued that all six human needs can be met by the firefighter just by doing their job. There is a lot of certainty; there is variety; there is significance; there is a connection; there is growth; and there is contribution.

When this same firefighter returns home to what degree are these six needs being filled by the home environment? Do our partners, spouses, families have the tools or the awareness to actively meet these needs in such a way to even have a chance of competing with the level that they are met by the job?

Another thing Tony talks about is that a relationship is not a place to go to get, it is a place to go to give. What this looks like in this scenario is that the firefighter must not look to his intimate relationship as a place or a means to meet his human needs at a higher level than is met by doing his duties. His primary outcome must be to creatively find the strategies — the things, the activities — that meet his partner’s needs at a high level. Any person in a relationship who seeks to fill their partner up with the six human needs will almost always find that they are meeting their needs at a higher level. In other words the only love that you can be certain of feeling is the love that you give. The only compassion, caring, tenderness, support, etc. that you can be 100% certain that you will feel is the love, caring, tenderness, support, compassion that you share toward your partner.

Now some might say that this sounds too touchy-feely, too soft, but the truth is that it takes a man of courage to approach his relationship with his wife from a place of service. Rather than going to the relationship for her to make him feel significant or certain, it is important for him to own those qualities within himself and bring them as a gift to his partner. And ladies, those of you who are female firefighters, you also have the challenge to discern the level to which you seek to fill your partners six human needs.

In fact this strategy has very little to do with the gender of the sex of the firefighter but it has everything to do with the fact that more often than not a firefighter when faced with the choice will choose the job over his partner or his family. This alone is evidence that more needs are being met more consistently through the job at the fire department than through the intimate relationship at home.

I personally challenge each and every one of you firefighters to seek to make your partners feel as if their six human needs are being met at the highest levels by you. I challenge you to have the courage to have the conversation with your partner about:

  • What has to happen in order for you to feel certain in our relationship, in my love for you?
  • What has to happen in order for you to feel like there is a variety or uncertainty in our relationship in a healthy way that you enjoy?
  • How can I make you feel that you are significant to me?
  • How can I love and connect with you more? (You may consider reading The 5 Love Languages as a great strategy to finding out how to meet this need.)
  • How can you and your partner grow together?
  • How can you contribute to the household, to your partner, to your family?

Any relationship is in trouble when a partner believes or feels that something or someone is more important to their partner than they are.

Guys this does not mean that you are to lose your focus or your passion for your mission, your career. This simply means that when you come home she must feel that she is the most important person in your life, that she is more important than the guys, that she is more important than the public that you serve and sometimes it must take a gesture to validate the statement that she is more important. But if you lose your focus or are distracted from your mission she will lose respect for you though she may not admit it.

The secret is when you return home be present. Be. With. Her. Often times when we return home we are distracted, we are unfocused, we just want to relax, etc. etc. It is in those moments that she is watching for evidence that she is more important. When we return home she wants to feel we are paying attention to her and her needs and that we are not acting selfishly or otherwise preoccupied.

And for you volunteers, I respect you. At times it seems that your sacrifice is at a higher level. When you are able to demonstrate to your partner that they are the most important even if you must get up and leave during dinner that you just returned home for, your partner will feel significant to you. If you are able to take a moment and connect with your wife unapologetically stating I love you and I am being called to serve and you make the effort to connect when you return, I believe you will see a transformation in your partner’s willingness to support you in your chosen profession.

So the take away from this is seek to meet your partners six human needs proactively and creatively in healthy ways that build each other up. When you are at home be at home. Be present. Be stable. Be strong. Seek to be the best version of yourself.

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