First Responders: Invest in Your Relationship

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, many Americans (including first responders) are wondering what they can do to make their relationships more successful. It’s no secret that public safety work can put intense strain on couples and families, so focusing on making these bonds stronger can be very rewarding.

In the spirit of the “month of love,” Dr. Rachelle Zemlok, a strategic wellness director with Lexipol, has created a series of short videos with evidence-based, actionable advice for couples who want to help ensure that their relationships will endure. If you like what you hear, please share the videos with your spouse, your partner or anyone who might benefit from the insight into what makes relationships last — and what can cause them to fail.

Video 1: Gottman’s Four Factors

In relationships, as in work and life, first responders often just want to know “how to fix it.” Psychologist and researcher Dr. John Gottman created a “roadmap for success” for couples wanting to stick together and succeed over the long haul. Gottman identifies four behaviors most likely to cause a marriage to fail: criticism, defensiveness, shutting down and contempt. Learning to avoid these behaviors is necessary for building enduring, fulfilling relationships.

Video 2: Culture of Appreciation

One pitfall of couplehood is taking each other for granted, which can lead to loneliness and resentment. In his research and practice, Dr. Gottman found the couples with the best relationships constantly find ways to show appreciation for one another. Dr. Zemlok suggests building the habit of expressing gratitude for your partner, acknowledging their efforts and contributions to increase feelings of mutual appreciation.

Video 3: Emotional Bank Accounts

Part of Dr. Gottman’s formula for relationship success is the idea of an emotional bank account which both partners can access for deposits and withdrawals. The “deposits” include everyday things that help build up the relationships, while “withdrawals” are acts (both big and small) that tear down the connection. If minor slights tend to escalate into big conflicts, both partners should recommit to increasing their deposits and reducing the withdrawals.

Video 4: Accepting Influence

According to Dr. Gottman’s research, couples who do a good job of “accepting influence,” listening without judgment and finding compromises to accommodate the needs of their partners, are much more successful in the long run. Learning to respond with humility can be difficult for first responders, but it’s an important skill to develop. Accepting influence will deepen your relationship while making it more fulfilling for both partners.

If your agency subscribes to Lexipol’s Cordico wellness solution, you can get even more in-depth content from Dr. Zemlok and others, including a whole module in your Cordico app geared toward helping you and your partner make your marriage successful and enjoyable.

Rachelle Zemlok, PsyD

Rachelle Zemlok, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in California, specializing in work with first responder families. She serves as the strategic wellness director at Lexipol, supporting the content and strategy related to first responder mental health and wellness, with a special focus on supporting spouses and family members through the Cordico Wellness App. Prior to joining Lexipol, Zemlok founded First Responder Family Psychology, which provides culturally competent therapy to first responders and their family members. She is the author of “The Firefighter Family Academy: A Guide to Educate & Prepare Spouses for the Career Ahead.”

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