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Communicating Feelings

Topics: Couples

 

 

 

It is important that partners find ways to express their feelings to each other. This can be more challenging for some than others. The ability to recognize emotions and put words to them is important. Openly expressing feelings is vital for a healthy relationship.

 

Things to consider…
  • Listening, showing empathy, and actively trying to understand each other’s feelings.   
  • Taking responsibility for your own feelings by saying “I feel” or “I’m feeling” instead of “you make me feel”, which puts the responsibility on the other person.   
  • If emotions are connected to someone else’s behaviour, referring to what was specifically said or done (instead of making it personal). For example,    
    • If your partner leaves a mess in the kitchen after you have cleaned it, instead of saying, “you’re so inconsiderate!” try saying,
      “I feel
      frustrated (feeling) when you leave dirty dishes out (behaviour), because I think you don’t respect the work I just did (interpretation).” 
Do you want to know more about this?

Being able to express and talk about how we are feeling takes practice. Reviewing Speaking and Listening Skills can be helpful. Some couples find it easier to communicate about certain emotions compared to others. Consider the following: 

Labelling emotions

Being aware of our feelings is an important first step in communicating how we feel. Labelling emotions may seem straightforward but can be challenging at times. Finding the right words can help us better understand our emotional experience and help communicate with others.  

Sometimes feelings can be complex, and the feeling we immediately identify with and express may be made up of other underlying feelings (e.g., expressing anger when we are scared, hurt, or jealous). Also, we can experience more than one feeling at the same time. 

The Feeling Wheel is a tool that can be used to describe feelings in a more detailed and accurate way. It includes six core emotions in the center of the wheel. More detailed emotions related to the core emotions are listed in the middle and outer circles. It does not include all possible feelings, so feel free to make note of any additional feeling words you may want to use.  

Give it a try: 

  • Right now, or the next time you’re together as a couple, take a moment to practice focusing your attention on how you are feeling and label the emotion(s).  
  • Use The Feeling Wheel to help pinpoint the word that best fits how you are feeling.
  • Do this exercise several times over the next few days. Print a copy of The Feeling Wheel or save the image on your phone, so that you will have it handy.   

Was labelling your emotions easier or more difficult than you first expected? What did you both learn by practicing the skills of recognizing and labelling emotions?

G. Willcox. The Feeling Wheel. Used with permission from The Gottman Institute.

Expand and Download: The Feeling Wheel

communicating feelings checklist

When it comes to communicating feelings, couples have both strengths and areas that they would like to improve. Communication about emotions takes continuous practice. Taking time to practice effective communication is an investment in maintaining a healthy relationship.  

 

Download: Communicating Feelings Checklist

sharing and listening exercise

Both sharing feelings and “just listening” can be surprisingly difficult. To practice both sets of skills, try the following:  

  1. Set aside a designated amount of time together each week (e.g., 30-60 minutes) to listen to one another.  
  2. For half the time:
    • One person shares how they have been feeling throughout the week (remember to focus on your feelings about what’s been happening).  
    • The other person listens without offering advice or opinions (remember to use active listening skills)
  3. At the halfway mark, switch roles.  
  4. After the allotted time, discuss the following: 
    • How did each of you experience being the speaker? Was it easy or challenging to focus on feelings when sharing?
    • How did each of you find being the listener? Was it easy or challenging to actively listen without interrupting?
    • What was it like to have each other’s undivided attention when sharing feelings? 

Exercise adapted from: “Dealing with Feelings” chapter in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook [7th ed.], by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D.

References for this page (click to expand)

Bourne, E. J. (2020). The anxiety and phobia workbook (7th ed). New Harbinger Publications.

Wilcox, G. (2020). The Feeling Wheel. Positive Psychology Practitioner’s Toolkit. https://www.gnyha.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/The-Feeling-Wheel-Positive-Psycology-Program.pdf  

Willcox, G. (1982). The feeling wheel: A tool for expanding awareness of emotions and increasing spontaneity and intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12(4), 274-276. https://doi.org/10.1177/036215378201200411 

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Managing Worries About Risk

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Managing Worries About Risk

Topics: Couples

Skill building:

Everybody worries at times. PSP family members may worry about the risks and dangers associated with PSP work. This is understandable. Worries can be helpful, as they can urge preparation and planning for challenging events. However, worries become a problem when they happen a lot, make it hard to focus on other things, and feel like they “spiral” out of control.
Families may find that seeing or hearing certain things increases their worries. This could include hearing about traumatic events on the news, social media, movies or TV, or through conversations. Identifying what increases worries and focusing on not adding “fuel” to these worries can be helpful. It can also be useful to talk as a family about these concerns. Family talks are a chance for PSP family members to share accurate and reliable information about the job. Having these important talks not only reduces worries but also strengthens mutual support for families.

 

Things to consider…
  • Paying attention to what increases worries. These are often issues related to the risks associated with PSP work.  
  • Discussing together what increases worries or family tension.    
  • Cutting back on (or cutting out) media that increases worries (e.g., turning off the news, putting phones away). 
  • Practicing what you can say or not participating in conversations that increase worry (e.g., “I actually don’t want to hear about this.”) 
Do you want to know more about this?

If you are experiencing significant worry or anxiety that interferes with your day-to-day life (e.g., work, relationships, sleep, or other important parts of your life), it is recommended that you consult your health care provider. For additional information about anxiety visit: Anxiety Canada.

Free, internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses for managing anxiety, as well as other mental health concerns, are available for both PSP and SSOs who live in Canada. For more information, click here.

Skill building:
Discussing Concerns

Set aside time to have an open conversation about worries. This can include discussing feelings and asking questions and learning about the PSP’s job, the risks involved, and information about PSP training and safety protocols.  

It may be useful to consider the following story about Chantal and Jean-Paul. They are fictional characters, but their story comes from real experiences that PSP families have shared. This story begins early in the relationship and illustrates some of the worries and challenges that PSP couples can face.  As you watch the video below (around 4 minutes) about Chantal and Jean-Paul, consider your own story, the changes that have occurred, and the ways you have adjusted to this way of life. 

References for this page (click to expand)

Sharp, M.-L., Solomon, N., Harrison, V., Gribble, R., Cramm, H., Pike, G., & Fear, N. T. (2022). The mental health and wellbeing of spouses, partners and children of emergency responders: A systematic review. Plos One, 17(6), e0269659. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269659

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Resentment

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Resentment

We can understand resentment as a mixture of feelings of frustration, anger, envy, and sadness. This emotion can surface when we feel something is unfair or unjust, or if we fail to set boundaries, or we feel let down. Resentment can make us feel ill about something that we think is wrong. Resentment can be an individual or shared experience. It is a complex emotion that can be shaped by and shape other negative feelings like loneliness, fear, grief, etc.

PSP family members might feel resentment toward the PSP’s job requirements such as shiftwork or unscheduled overtime. PSP’s work is usually less flexible than typical jobs. Rotating and unpredictable shifts have to be accommodated. There could be resentment over the camaraderie/companionship the PSP has with coworkers. PSP family members have reported feeling resentment when the PSP job is prioritized and seems to be more important than family.

Resentment could result in:

  • a lack of physical and emotional support
  • emotional unavailability
  • reduced communication
  • lack of understanding

Sources of SSO resentment

Click to expand
  • SSOs may give up their careers or reduce hours to manage the home because the PSP’s work schedule and time at home is so unpredictable. The PSP career may be given priority over the SSO career.
  • Household tasks including childcare and eldercare may primarily be the responsibility of SSOs.
  • SSOs may be left to shift plans and schedules and pick up the slack when there is a unexpected schedule change (e.g., overtime or call-ins).
  • Explaining a sudden absence of the PSP family member to friends and family and dealing with disappointment can be difficult.
  • Work and home transitions can be challenging. SSOs may try to keep children quiet and allow PSP time to recover from a shift when they are experiencing stress and fatigue themselves.
  • SSOs may feel that the sacrifices they make and the responsibilities they take on are expected and taken for granted. It can be frustrating if their contributions are not valued or recognized.

Continuously shifting schedules, plans, and routines

PSP families have identified the many ways that the unpredictability of PSP work interferes with family life.

Over the years these experiences become ‘normal’ parts of daily life for PSP families. SSOs and other family members are expected to adapt. But, over time, with many changes and disruptions, SSOs can feel that they are taken for granted and ‘the job’ is more important.

Many PSP families understand, and many accept the risks and requirements of the job. However, the constant nature of the disruptions can pile up and become more than families can manage. The seemingly endless demands and the lack of recognition for the role of family members can be frustrating. Families feel resentment toward ‘the job’ which is central to tensions and conflicts that arise.

The impacts of work schedules on a PSP family’s social life

References for this page (click to expand)

Alrutz, A. S., Buetow, S., Cameron, L. D., & Huggard, P. K. (2020). What happens at work comes home. Healthcare (Basel), 8(3), 350. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8030350 

Black, A. (2004). The treatment of psychological problems experienced by the children of police officers in Northern Ireland. Child care in practice : Northern Ireland journal of multi-disciplinary child care practice, 10(2), 99-106. https://doi.org/10.1080/13575270410001693330  

Carrington, J. L. (2006). Elements of and strategies for maintaining a police marriage: The lived perspectives of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and their spouses. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cigrang, J. A. et al. (2016). The Marriage Checkup: Adapting and Implementing a Brief Relationship Intervention for Military Couples. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 23, 561-570. 

Cowlishaw, S., Evans, L., & McLennan, J. (2008). Families of rural volunteer firefighters. Rural Society, 18(1), 17-25. https://doi.org/10.5172/rsj.351.18.1.17  

Ewles, G. (2019). Enhancing organizational support for emergency first responders and their families: Examining the role of personal support networks after the experience of work-related trauma. PhD Thesis. University of Guelph. 

Merolla, A. J. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909880903483557 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: Stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Regehr, C. (2005). Bringing the trauma home: Spouses of paramedics. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 10(2), 97-114. https://doi.org/10.1080/15325020590908812  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Roberts, N. A., & Levenson, R. W. (2001). The Remains of the Workday: Impact of Job Stress and Exhaustion on Marital Interaction in Police Couples. Journal of marriage and family, 63(4), 1052-1067. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.01052.x 

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Unpredictability: Sleep disruptions

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Unpredictability: Sleep disruptions

Sleep can be disrupted for PSP families for a number of reasons. When PSP are at work, family members may have a hard time falling or staying asleep due to worry. The timing when PSP leave and return home can be out of sync with family members, interfering with their sleep and sleep routines. When PSP need to sleep in the day, family members change their activities to maintain quiet.

Both the shift work and the unpredictability of PSP work can interfere with sleep. In some PSP sectors, such as volunteer firefighting, there may be an expectation for a PSP to be on call often, leading to the possibility of call-ins at any time. This disrupts both their sleep and the sleep of their spouse/significant other (SSOs) and family members.

Unexpected call-ins and overtime can also lead to inconsistent schedules for children. Wake up, bedtimes, and nap times might get rearranged due to the unpredictability of PSP work.


Why is it so hard to sleep when the PSP is at work?


PSP’s daytime sleep is out of sync with family life

  • Family members feel like they have to be especially quiet.
  • Routines and extracurriculars for family members can be disrupted.
  • Weekends and holidays when the whole family tends to be home are particularly challenging.
  • Babies and young children who may cry create noise that interferes with the PSP’s sleep.
  • Pets who play and need to go outside may also be at odds with the need for daytime sleep.
  • All these issues were magnified during COVID-19 when family members stayed home to work or attend virtual school.
  • PSP sleeping in the day throws off everyday family routines such as mealtimes.
  • When PSP sleep during the day, their bedtime is often out of sync with the family that night.

 

What happens when sleep is disrupted?

Learn about some of the outcomes of sleep disruption by clicking on the “i”

References for this page (click to expand)

Ananat, E. O. & Gassman-Pines, A. (2021). Work schedule unpredictability: daily occurrence and effect on working parents’ well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 83(1):10-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12696 

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cowlishaw, S., Evans, L., & McLennan, J. (2010). Work-family conflict and crossover in volunteer emergency service workers. Work & Stress, 24(4), 342–358. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2010.532947 

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: A narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224  

Friese, K. M. (2020). Cuffed together: A study on how law enforcement work impacts the officer’s spouse. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 22(4), 407-418. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461355720962527  

Hill, R., Sundin, E., & Winder, B. (2020). Work–family enrichment of firefighters: “satellite family members”, risk, trauma and family functioning. International Journal of Emergency Services, 9(3), 395-407. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJES-08-2019-0046  

Landers, A. L., Dimitropoulos, G., Mendenhall, T. J., Kennedy, A., & Zemanek, L. (2020). Backing the blue: Trauma in law enforcement spouses and couples. Family Relations, 69(2), 308-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12393  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Tuttle, B. M., Giano, Z., & Merten, M. J. (2018). Stress spillover in policing and negative relationship functioning for law enforcement marriages. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 26(2), 246-252. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480718775739  

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Public perceptions

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

Public perceptions

Public perceptions are the stories about PSP and PSP sectors that are commonly believed by the general public. These stories can quickly shift and change which can be frustrating for both PSP and their families. Movies and TV often portray PSP work as either glamorous or corrupt which can lead to misinformation about ‘the job’. Media and social media can also shift public perception in the way that they report stories involving PSP. Stereotypes create further misconceptions. Because of these factors, PSP families never know what to expect from the public.

PSP family members may also feel that they are being held to an impossible standard. For example, children may feel pressure to be ‘extra good’ because their parent is a police officer. These feelings might be stronger in rural communities, where community members are more likely to know each other. 

Negative public perception can be very frustrating for PSP and for their families who sacrifice holidays, weekends, time, and personal safety to protect the community. It can be hurtful to know what a PSP family member does every day, and then hear negative things said about them. In some cases, negative public perception has lead to threats and safety concerns for PSP families.

Overall, because public perceptions can change so quickly, the importance of public perception – positive, negative, or absent – is felt by PSP families and can impact relationships and the wellbeing of individual family members.


Positive public perceptions

Impacts of gratitude on PSP families

Gratitude – When members of the public express gratitude to PSP and/or their families, they are showing their appreciation. This gratitude is welcomed by some PSP families who feel that it validates the importance of the PSP role. When gratitude is extended to other family members, the public is also acknowledging the contribution of PSP families.

Pride

Certain PSP sectors are shown to experience more gratitude than others. Firefighters are often publicly recognized for their bravery and service. Paramedics and similar emergency medical service careers are also often viewed positively by the public. PSP family members might also receive direct forms of praise from the public for the work their PSP member does (e.g., “thank you for the work your mother/father does”). 

Validation

Positive public perception can be experienced as validation by PSP family members. If the public appreciates what the PSP does, then it can make all of the commitment and sacrifices feel worthwhile. Sometimes, however, gratitude is shown only to the PSP, and the roles of SSOs and other family members are not considered. When families are not recognized, they may feel that their contribution is not well understood.

Civic mindedness

PSP families who are viewed positively by the public may develop civic mindedness. They may be actively involved in their communities and feel a sense of pride in being recognized as a PSP family. This might, however, also increase pressure for PSP family members to live up to public expectations. Because the community shows appreciation, PSP families may feel obligated to do more. This can increase demands on their time. 

Belonging

PSP families benefit when communities value the important work that they do. Families sometimes feel out of sync with others due to work demands and public recognition is important. When PSP families are acknowledged, there is a positive sense of identity and belonging.


Negative public perceptions

Impacts of public disdain on PSP families

Disdain is a feeling of dislike. It is often demonstrated through disrespect or contempt. PSP who are in positions of authority, such as police and corrections officers, are often targeted in this way. Current events, world news, and social trends can influence these negative perceptions.

Negative public perception can have a direct impact on PSP job satisfaction and the overall wellbeing of families.

  • For example, law enforcement officers are among the sectors treated with the most disdain. They can experience verbal abuse, anger, threats, etc., which can create stress for them and their families.

 

Mental health

Negative feedback from members of the public can challenge a PSP’s commitment and pride in their work. It can affect self-confidence and behaviours both at work and at home. This can lead to tension, uncertainty, and boundary confusion, experienced by PSP families. Families struggle with the negative feedback too. Negative public opinions can challenge beliefs and family values that are often related to the PSP role. PSP families may feel isolated from the rest of the community. A feeling of ‘us and them’ could develop resulting in a lack of social support. 

Children

Police children report receiving unfair comments and criticism about a PSP parent’s work. As children age, they sometimes grapple with negative comments from peers and social media. They might question the pride they once felt which can lead to ambivalence – they still believe in the importance of public safety but may resent the PSP or the ‘job’ because of the way they are treated.

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References for this page (click to expand)

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Carrico, C. P. (2012). A look inside firefighter families: A qualitative study. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Carrington, J. L. (2006). Elements of and strategies for maintaining a police marriage: The lived perspectives of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and their spouses. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Duarte, C. S., Eisenberg, R., Musa, G. J., Addolorato, A., Shen, S., & Hoven, C. W. (2017). Children’s knowledge about parental exposure to trauma. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 12(1), 31-35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-017-0159-7  

Freeman, R. M. (2001). Here there be monsters: Public perception of corrections. Corrections Today, 63(3), 108-111. 

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

Majchrowska, A., Pawlikowski, J., Jojczuk, M., Nogalski, A., Bogusz, R., Nowakowska, L., & Wiechetek, M. (2021). Social prestige of the paramedic profession. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18041506 

McCubbin, H. I., & McCubbin, M. A. (1988). Typologies of resilient families: Emerging roles of social class and ethnicity. Family Relations, 37(3), 247-254. https://doi.org/10.2307/584557 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: Stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Nix, J., & Wolfe, S. E. (2017). The impact of negative publicity on police self-legitimacy. Justice Quarterly, 34(1), 84–108. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2015.1102954 

Tucker, J. M., Bratina, M. P., & Caprio, B. (2022). Understanding the effect of news media and social media on first responders. Crisis, Stress, and Human Resilience: An International Journal, 3(4) 106-137.  

Walsh, F. (2003). Family Resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2003.00001.x  

Woody, R. H. (2006). Family interventions with law enforcement officers. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 34(2), 95-103. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180500376735  


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Improving Sleep

Topics: Couples

 

Even though sometimes it can feel impossible to get enough sleep, research shows that adequate sleep is essential to physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is associated with fatigue, mental health concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, irritability), and negative health outcomes. Sleep issues can impact the couple relationship, as one partner’s sleep problem can negatively affect the other partner. Research suggests that sleep difficulties and relationship difficulties often occur together.  

 

 

Things to consider…
  • Learning about sleep to generate ideas about how to improve sleep.
  • Prioritizing sleep by cutting out screen-based activities before bed (e.g., watching TV, time on computer/phone) that get in the way of sleep as much as possible.
  • Resolving any conflicting sleep priorities with your partner.
  • Establishing a consistent pre-sleep routine (this could include relaxing stretches, putting pajamas on, brushing teeth, etc.), which can cue the mind that it is time for sleep.
  • Consulting with a qualified health care provider if you are experiencing persistent or significant problems with sleep.
Do you want to know more about this?

The recommended amount of sleep is 7-9 hours/night for healthy adults, although the optimal amount of sleep can vary depending on the person.1 The environment, daily habits, and pre-sleep routines can have an impact on amount and quality of sleep. See Skill Building below for information to support better sleep.  

Life can get busy and it’s sometimes hard to find the time to get adequate sleep.

Many of the tips provided in the Skill Building section can still be useful during short-term periods with limited sleep to help you get the most out of the time you have.  

If your sleep problems are associated with concerns such as stress, anxiety, or low mood, please click here for additional information about the Spouse Wellbeing Course (for spouses or significant others of PSP). This is a free, self-guided course for managing stress and various mental health concerns, as well as offering additional information and strategies to help improve sleep.

Getting enough sleep can be especially challenging for those who work rotating shifts, night shifts, or on-call shifts.  

  • More information and tips for shiftworkers coming soon.
  • Click here for a free, interactive web tutorial for night workers, developed by Dr. Marie Dumont.
Tips for better sleep

The following exercise is designed to help both partners identify good sleep habits and areas for improvement. Being aware of habits that benefit (or interfere with) sleep is an important step in supporting better sleep.  

This exercise can be done individually or together. If completing this together, each of you can take a turn answering the questions on the slides below and discuss afterward. Sleep information and tips will be provided. (Note: some of the information and tips may need to be adjusted for those who work shift work.) 

Below, there are 18 question slides. Answer the question on each slide by clicking either “yes” or “no” or skip a slide that is not applicable to you by pressing the right arrow at the bottom of the slide. At the end of the activity, you will be provided with a summary of your answers. For the questions that were applicable to you, a value of 0/1 indicates an area to consider that may help to improve your sleep.

You can print this summary by clicking on the print icon located on the bottom of the activity. This information can be used to help set goals related to improving sleep.

 

Steps for setting sleep goals
  1. Review your summary or consider the other sleep information and resources provided.
  2. Choose a goal(s) related to improving your sleep that you would like to focus on this week. Start small – you can work up to bigger changes over time.
  3. Discuss with your partner ways that you can support each other’s goals.
  4. In two weeks, check in with each other to see if the changes made were helpful and consider your next step to work toward better sleep.
References for this page (click to expand)

1Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., Hazen, N., Herman, J., Katz, E. S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D. N., O’Donnell, A. E., Ohayon, M., Peever, J., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R. C., Setters, B., Vitiello, M. V., Ware, J. C., & Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology and results summary. Sleep health, 1(1), 40–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010 

Bootzin, R. R., & Epstein, D. R. (2011). Understanding and treating insomnia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 7, 435-458.  https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.3.022806.091516 

Dumont, M. (2019). Coping better with night work: Interactive web tutorial. http://formations.ceams-carsm.ca/night_work/

Lammers-van der Holst, H. M., Murphy, A. S., Wise, J. (2020). Sleep tips for shift workers in the time of pandemic. Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care, 20(4), 128-130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7189699/   

Luyster, F. S., Strollo, P. J., Jr., Zee, P. C., & Walsh, J. K. (2012). Sleep: A health imperative. Sleep, 35(6), 727-734. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1846 

National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from www.thensf.org  

Richter, K., Adam, S., Geiss, L., Peter, L., & Niklewski, G. (2016). Two in a bed: The influence of couple sleeping and chronotypes on relationship and sleep. An overview. Chronobiology International, 33(10), 1464-1472. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2016.1220388 

Silberman, S. A. (2008). The insomnia workbook: A comprehensive guide to getting the sleep you need. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.  

Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from: www.sleepfoundation.org  

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2021). Napping, an important fatigue countermeasure. CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/napping.html  

Troxel W. M. (2010). It’s more than sex: Exploring the dyadic nature of sleep and implications for health. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72(6), 578–586. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181de7ff8 

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Dangers: Physical injury and illness

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Physical injury and illness

How might physical injury affect PSP families?

Some PSP family members have identified the risk of physical and mental injury as their greatest worry.

Spillover

The risk of injury or illness can create stress for the PSP. This stress can spill over into family life causing tension. At the same time, family members may also be fearful and worry about the dangers of the job. The wellbeing of the PSP family member, loss of income, and disruptions to family life are primary concerns. Open communication about the real risks and contingency plans can prevent worry from getting out of control.

Physical stress

Family members often become caregivers when a PSP is injured or ill. There may be physical demands associated with this care. Family caregivers may experience physical fatigue due to increased responsibilities. This can put their own health at risk and lead to role overload. The expectation that SSOs or other family members will provide care is not always realistic. It is important for PSP couples and families to have conversations about caregiving.

Emotional distress

When a family member is injured or ill, family life changes. There are worries along with added responsibilities for SSOs and other family caregivers. They may experience the emotional distress of ‘not being able to do it all’ and concerns about the future. Having a network of support during these times can be invaluable. It can be useful to think in advance about who can be relied on for support. It is important to consider those who can offer both practical help and emotional support.

Social isolation

Routines and social activities can also be disrupted by an illness or injury. There may be less time and fewer opportunities to engage in activities outside of the home. Attention to caregiving may result in an SSO taking time off work. Added responsibilities may also limit contact with friends and family. Altogether, access to much needed social support is lessened. Having realistic expectations about how care might be managed ahead of time can help prevent such outcomes.

Shifting relationships

When PSP have a brain injury or a posttraumatic stress injury (PTSI), they may experience behavioural changes. This can impact intimacy in couple relationships and shift additional responsibilities to SSOs. These types of injuries can also affect parent-child relationships. There may be heightened expectations for children to regulate their behaviours. It is important for families to support both the wellbeing of the PSP and individual family members.

Financial strain

Both short and long term injuries or illnesses can put financial strain on PSP couples or families. There may be temporary or permanent loss of income for the PSP. SSOs may cut back hours of paid work to provide care which further reduces household income. Reduced earning potential and expenses associated with care can cause financial strain. It is important for families to develop a financial plan to manage these risks.

References for this page (click to expand)

American Psychological Association. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/ 

Bochantin, J. E. (2010). Sensemaking in a high-risk lifestyle: The relationship between work and family for public safety families. PhD Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224  

Friese, K. M. (2020). Cuffed together: A study on how law enforcement work impacts the officer’s spouse. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 22(4), 407-418. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461355720962527  

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

Karaffa, K., Openshaw, L., Koch, J., Clark, H., Harr, C., & Stewart, C. (2015). Perceived impact of police work on marital relationships. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 23(2), 120-131. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480714564381 

Landers, A. L., Dimitropoulos, G., Mendenhall, T. J., Kennedy, A., & Zemanek, L. (2020). Backing the blue: Trauma in law enforcement spouses and couples. Family Relations, 69(2), 308-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12393  

Miller, L. (2007). Police Families: Stresses, Syndromes, and Solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Watkins, S. L., Shannon, M. A., Hurtado, D. A., Shea, S. A., & Bowles, N. P. (2021). Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 64(2), 137-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23194 

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Problem Solving Together

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Skill building:

 

When concerns arise, it can help to ask, “Is there a problem that can be solved here?” If the answer is “yes,” problem solving can help to define the specific problem that you would like to tackle, come up with possible solutions, and make a plan.

 

Things to consider…

Working through a problem using the problem-solving steps below:

To start, practice these steps with simple everyday issues, then try these skills with more challenging problems.

Do you want to know more about this?

Problem-solving steps can be done individually or as a couple. Practicing problem-solving skills can help navigate current issues and prevent future problems. When there are multiple problems to be solved, it is often better to tackle them one at a time.

When deciding to problem solve as a couple, consider what is required:

  • Motivation and willingness by both partners
  • Acknowledgment and agreement by both partners that there is a problem to be solved
  • Collaboration throughout the process
  • Effective communication (see Speaking and Listening Skills)
  • Negotiation (being open to compromise, with both partners considering and weighing options calmly and thoughtfully)
Skill building:
Date night planning

Planning date nights can be challenging, particularly for PSP couples with nonstandard schedules. The upside is that it can be a great way to practice problem-solving skills and also enjoy some couple time!

To give it a try, make a commitment together to plan a date night (or date morning/afternoon) at least once a week for the next month. The dates do not have to be big outings – at-home dates count too –  so start with plans that are easier for you to make work. To begin, try the following:

  • Designate a time when you can plan the dates together
  • Have your calendars/schedules handy
  • As you begin to plan, make note of any problems that arise (e.g., conflicting schedules, childcare, fatigue, finances, etc.)
  • Focus on one problem at a time and work through the problem-solving steps together

After you have successfully negotiated your weekly date, take time to reflect on your experience problem solving together:

  • What did you find helpful?
  • What challenges came up when working through this process?
  • What did you learn?

After one month, how did you do? You may want to continue scheduling date nights or come up with other ways to spend quality time together. Taking opportunities to practice problem solving as a couple is a way to improve these skills and strengthen your relationship.

References for this page (click to expand)

Dattilio, F. M. (2010). Cognitive-behavioral therapy with couples and families: A comprehensive guide for clinicians. The Guilford Press.

Dattilio, F. M. & van Hout, G. C. M. (2006). The problem-solving component in cognitive-behavioral couples’ therapy. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 17(1), 1-19. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1300/J085v17n01_01

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Work and home transitions: Exit and recovery

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Work and home transitions: Exit and recovery time

Effects of exit and recovery time on families

Relationships

Without proper exit and recovery time, PSP may be physically present but not able to actively participate in family life. Families and couples can also experience conflict and tension. However, these types of routines can take time away from the family and add to an already long shift. Being aware of the value of this time is important. Families who create and manage exit and recovery time can enhance the quality of their time together.

Wellbeing

Family members may worry about how a PSP might feel or act when they get home (see anticipatory vigilance). This ongoing uncertainty causes stress and can threaten family wellbeing. No one is ever sure how PSP family members are going to be when they walk in the door after a shift. If the PSP family member is irritable or withdrawn, it affects everyone in the household. Conflict can arise and other family members can be upset and hurt.

Good exit and recovery time

When couples and families work together to manage exit and recovery time, everyone benefits. When PSP have downtime to unwind after a shift, they can return home ready to take on family roles. Families who talk about the why, when, and how of exit and recovery time reduce the risk of conflict and family tension. Being aware of the challenges of exit and recovery time and the impact on all family members is a first step in this process.

Preparing for re-entry

Research shows that, when exit and recovery time is not considered, PSP can spend their time at home thinking about the next shift. This may mean that they neglect family responsibilities and miss out on quality family time. Healthy exit and recovery time allows PSP to come home ready to engage in family activities. Active involvement benefits both PSP and their families.

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References for this page (click to expand)

Bochantin, J. E. (2016). “Morning fog, spider webs, and escaping from Alcatraz”: Examining metaphors used by public safety employees and their families to help understand the relationship between work and family. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 214-238. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1073853  

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., Krakauer, R., Anderson, G. S., MacPhee, R. S., Ricciardelli, R., Cramm, H. A., Groll, D., & McCreary, D. R. (2019). Exposures to potentially traumatic events among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 51(1), 37-52. https://doi.org/10.1037/cbs0000115 

McElheran, M., & Stelnicki, A. M. (2021). Functional disconnection and reconnection: an alternative strategy to stoicism in public safety personnel. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1869399 

Porter, K. L., & Henriksen, R. C. (2016). The phenomenological experience of first responder spouses. The Family Journal (Alexandria, Va.), 24(1), 44-51. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480715615651  

Regehr, C., Dimitropoulos, G., Bright, E., George, S., & Henderson, J. (2005). Behind the brotherhood: Rewards and challenges for wives of firefighters. Family Relations, 54(3), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00328.x 

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Groll, D., & Cramm, H. (2018). Qualitatively unpacking Canadian public safety personnel experiences of trauma and their well-being. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 60(4), 566-577. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2  

Shakespeare-Finch, J., Smith, S., & Obst, P. (2002). Trauma, coping resources, and family functioning in emergency services personnel: A comparative study. Work & Stress, 16(3), 275-282. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0267837021000034584 

Techera, U., Hallowell, M., Stambaugh, N., & Littlejohn, R. (2016) Causes and consequences of occupational fatigue: Meta-Analysis and systems model. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(10), 961-973. https://doi.org/10.1097/jom.0000000000000837 

Van Gelderen, B. R., Bakker, A. B., Konijn, E. A., & Demerouti, E. (2011). Daily suppression of discrete emotions during the work of police service workers and criminal investigation officers. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(5), 515-537. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10615806.2011.560665 

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Work and home transitions: Boundary confusion

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Work and home transitions: Boundary confusion

Boundary confusion in PSP families happens when the boundaries between work and home are blurred. It can also mean that a person is unable to understand that certain behaviours are not appropriate (whether that is at work or at home). Inappropriate behaviours can affect that person’s relationships either at work or at home or both.

Typically, there are different role expectations for people when they are at work and when they are at home. People behave differently depending on their role. These differences in behaviour are often necessary and require only minor adjustments. However, the adjustments for PSP can be significant. They may have difficulty transitioning from behaviours that work well at work to those needed in the home. Work behaviours that are more controlling, militaristic, and hypervigilant can spill over into the home.

PSP are more at risk for boundary confusion because of the distinct differences between work and home roles. The blurring of roles and inappropriate behaviours at home can be uncomfortable for families and cause relationship tension and conflict. It is important to recognize the signs of boundary confusion and support work and home transitions that reduce the risk.

How might families experience PSP boundary confusion?

Overprotection and Hypervigilance

When PSP shift from a high risk work environment to home, it can be hard to switch off the behaviours that kept them safe at work. PSP might remain on high alert for any dangers (hypervigilance). They might also be overprotective of their SSOs or children because of what they witness at work. Introducing new rules at home and strict discipline for children, expecting absolute obedience, and reducing social contact can be signs of boundary confusion.

Withdrawal and Avoidance

As part of the transition home, PSP might decide not to share any information about work. They may do this to protect themselves and their families. At the same time, SSOs and children might choose not to share information with the PSP family member. They don’t want to cause the PSP family member any added worry (see anticipatory vigilance). All of this can cause a breakdown in communication, and adults and children can feel alone. Sometimes the decisions about what and how much to share can be difficult. Being aware of and talking together as a couple or family about the challenges can help reduce confusion.

Jealousy

PSP may bring their work home with them or their work might dominate couple conversations. SSOs may feel that PSP pay more attention to their work than their relationship or family. Co-worker camaraderie off the job can also result in jealousy. Team building and mutual support that is important on the job can develop friendships outside of work. SSOs may feel that PSP express themselves more freely with their co-workers which threatens their couple relationship. Boundary confusion results when there is too much focus on work and co-workers and too little focus on the couple relationship.

Heightened Expectations

PSP workplaces can have heightened expectations requiring strict order, rules, and consequences to get the job done. When there is boundary confusion, PSP might bring those same expectations home and expect to be listened to, followed, and obeyed. This can cause frustration for families. The kinds of expectations needed on the job may be inappropriate at home. PSP might also expect that, after a long or difficult shift, everything at home will be organized and in control. Unfortunately, this is often not a reality in family life. When these expectations are expressed, SSOs can feel disregarded and overworked.

Examples of boundary confusion

Click on the icon “i” for the example

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References for this page (click to expand)

Agocs, T., Langan, D., & Sanders, C. B. (2015). Police mothers at home: Police work and danger-protection parenting practices. Gender & Society, 29(2), 265-289. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243214551157  

Ashforth, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., & Fugate, M. (2000). All in a day’s work: Boundaries and micro role transitions. Academy of Management.the Academy of Management Review, 25(3), 472-491. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2000.3363315 

Bochantin, J. E. (2016). “Morning fog, spider webs, and escaping from Alcatraz”: Examining metaphors used by public safety employees and their families to help understand the relationship between work and family. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 214-238. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1073853  

Fratesi, D. (2019) Police work and its effect on the family. Pine Bluff Police Department, Police Work and the Family. Retrieved July 15, 2022 from: https://www.cji.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/effects_on_family_paper.pdf 

Helfers, R. C., Reynolds, P. D., & Scott, D. M. (2021). Being a blue blood: A phenomenological study on the lived experiences of police officers’ children. Police Quarterly, 24(2), 233-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611120964954  

McElheran, M., & Stelnicki, A. M. (2021). Functional disconnection and reconnection: an alternative strategy to stoicism in public safety personnel. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1869399 

Miller, L. (2007). Police families: stresses, syndromes, and solutions. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180600698541  

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Groll, D., & Cramm, H. (2018). Qualitatively unpacking Canadian public safety personnel experiences of trauma and their well-being. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 60(4), 566-577. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2  

Ungar, M. (2009). Overprotective parenting: Helping parents provide children the right amount of risk and responsibility. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(3), 258-271. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926180802534247 

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