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Resentment

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

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

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  • 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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Dangers: Physical injury and illness

Topics: Couples, Family, Mental Health

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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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

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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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Unprocessed trauma

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What is unprocessed trauma?

PSP are frequently exposed to trauma and may need time to process events that occur during a shift. When PSP transition from work to family life without adequate exit and recovery time to process their experience, they may carry unprocessed trauma. This unprocessed trauma can make it difficult to relax and engage in family activities. The PSP is sometimes unable to leave work behind and may be emotionally distant or irritable. This can impact couple and family relationships. PSP can be physically present but grappling with events from work which interfere with their ability to fully participate in family life.

Signs that PSP might have unprocessed trauma

 

The effects of unprocessed trauma on PSP families

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References for this page (click to expand)

Anderson, L. (2019). The impact of paramedic shift work on the family system: a literature review. British Paramedic Journal, 3(4), 43-43. https://doi.org/10.29045/14784726.2019.03.3.4.43

Beks, T. (2016). Walking on eggshells: the lived experience of partners of Veterans with PTSD. The Qualitative Report 21(4):645-660. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2016.2269

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

O’Toole, M., Mulhall, C., & Eppich, W. (2022). Breaking down barriers to help-seeking: preparing first responders’ families for psychological first aid. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 13(1), 2065430-2065430. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2022.2065430

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

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


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Proactive versus reactive behaviours

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Proactive versus reactive behaviours

How do negative affect and reactivity influence home life?

There are consequences when the impact of work stress spills over into family life. Negative affect can impact how someone engages in family life. It can reduce the quality of family interactions, relationships, and communication.

Withdrawal

If a negative affect leads to withdrawal and disengagement, family members might feel lonely or uncared for. There can be a feeling of loss when the PSP is mentally and emotionally withdrawn from the family. They may be physically present but not actively engaging with the family. This can lead to a loss of intimacy, a loss of relationship, and feelings of frustration and disappointment (see ambiguous loss).

Reactivity

Families may experience reactivity if the PSP family member ‘acts out,’ showing a response that is too ‘over the top’ and not what one would typically expect. Families might feel that the PSP family member loses their temper easily, overreacts to simple things, or makes unreasonable demands. This can lead to emotional fatigue, particularly for spouses and significant others (SSOs).

How do positive affect and engagement influence home life?

Positive affect can support healthy engagement in family/couple life. Relationships and social interactions are enhanced when a PSP family member returns home with a positive outlook. The whole family benefits when all members are able to contribute to complete household tasks and enjoy leisure time together. Engagement and positive interactions build relationships and support the wellbeing of the family. When individuals can show each other respect and kindness, they feel that they are valued members of the family.

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/ 

Bateman, T. S., & Crant, J. M. (1999). Proactive behavior: Meaning, impact, recommendations. Business Horizons, 42(3), 63–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0007-6813(99)80023-8 

Brandt, A. (2018). How reactive behavior damages your relationships. Psychology Today. Retrieved August 10, 2022 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/mindful-anger/201810/how-reactive-behavior-damages-your-relationships  

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. (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 

Sonnentag, S., & Binnewies, C. (2013). Daily affect spillover from work to home: Detachment from work and sleep as moderators. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(2), 198-208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2013.03.008  

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 

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Indirect trauma

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Indirect trauma exposure

PSP and PSP families can experience direct exposure to trauma by experiencing, witnessing, confronting, or being involved in a traumatic event. Over time, repeated exposure to details of a traumatic event can also impact PSP families. This is called indirect exposure and is sometimes referred to as vicarious trauma and/or secondary trauma.

 

Vicarious trauma happens when a person takes on the emotional experiences of another. It can affect an empathetic family member of a PSP trauma survivor. While empathy can shape good social behaviours, it also can lead to an SSO taking on a PSP’s distress. The likelihood of developing vicarious trauma may also be influenced by coping strategies, personal trauma history, stress, low levels of social support, etc. Vicarious trauma can develop over time after hearing about several traumas rather than all at once because of a single event.

Secondary trauma is trauma that can cross over from one person to another; the non-exposed person develops posttraumatic stress symptoms. Secondary trauma may occur through exposure to a PSP who has been exposed to trauma, but it does not always develop. Any family member can develop PTSD symptoms, including children.

There are some differences between vicarious and secondary trauma. Vicarious trauma occurs over time and can change how a person sees the world. The person with secondary trauma experiences trauma-related symptoms in response to another person’s trauma.

Difference between vicarious and secondary trauma

Vicarious trauma

  • comes with a lasting change in worldview through an empathic relationship
  • can develop as an accumulation of hearing about several trauma over time
  • can include affective and cognitive changes, such as alterations in self-identity and mental health

Secondary trauma

  • involves experiencing trauma-related symptoms in response to another’s trauma
  • can happen as a response to a single event
  • can lead to manifestation of PTSD symptoms among contacts of traumatized individuals, including family members
Did you know?

Research has found that SSOs of PSP feel directly responsible for helping relieve the PSP partner’s stress, and for encouraging them.1 Many sectors, such as paramedics, have identified that their PSP partners often debriefed with them after a shift. These SSOs identified that they experienced feelings of distress related to what their partners shared with them.2

Effects of indirect trauma on family members

SSOs and other family members who are indirectly exposed to details about serious traumatic events can be affected. When SSOs and family members become “sounding boards” and learn about traumatic events through PSP family member, they are at risk of indirect trauma.

How might indirect trauma affect me and/or my family positively?

Exposure to PSP’s trauma may also result in:

Postraumatic growth

Posttraumatic growth (PTG) occurs when an individual experiences a positive psychological change after exposure to major trauma or life crisis.

Hearing about someone else’s trauma can lead an individual to develop more positive views on human resilience, including amazement at the human spirit.

This can result in positive changes, including learning to be more compassionate, becoming more accepting of others, and gaining a greater appreciation for life itself.

 

Vicarious resilience

Vicarious resilience occurs when those indirectly affected by trauma are positively influenced by the resilience of someone who was directly affected. Resilience is often demonstrated through that person’s journey and recovery process.

Vicarious resilience can include positive meaning making and growth through the vicarious experience of someone else’s journey through trauma.

 

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References for this page (click to expand)

1Porter, 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

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

3Cramm, H., Tam-Seto, L., Norris, D., Eichler, M., & Smith-Evans, K. (2016). The impact of parental operational stress injury on child mental health and well-being: A scoping review. Military Behavioral Health, 4(4), 334-344. https://doi.org/10.1080/21635781.2016.1181582

4Dinshtein, Y., Dekel, R., & Polliack, M. (2011). Secondary traumatization among adult children of ptsd veterans: The role of mother-child relationships. Journal of Family Social Work, 14(2), 109-124. https://doi.org/10.1080/10522158.2011.544021

5Kishon, R., Geronazzo-Alman, L., Teichman, M., Teichman, Y., Cheslack-Postava, K., Fan, B., Duarte, C. S., Wicks, J., Musa, G. J., Djalovski, A., Tadmor, B., Moreno, D. R., Cycowicz, Y., Amsel, L., Bresnahan, M., & Hoven, C. W. (2020). Parental occupational exposure is associated with their childrenʼs psychopathology: A study of families of Israeli first responders. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(11), 904-915. https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000001971

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

Cohen, K., & Collens, P. (2013). The impact of trauma work on trauma workers: A metasynthesis on vicarious trauma and vicarious posttraumatic growth. Psychological Trauma, 5(6), 570-580. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030388

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

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

Hernandez-Wolfe, P., Killian, K., Engstrom, D., & Gangsei, D. (2015). Vicarious resilience, vicarious trauma, and awareness of equity in trauma work. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 55(2), 153-172. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167814534322

Hoven, C. W., Duarte, C. S., Wu, P., Doan, T., Singh, N., Mandell, D. J., Bin, F., Teichman, Y., Teichman, M., Wicks, J., Musa, G., & Cohen, P. (2009). Parental exposure to mass violence and child mental health: The first responder and WTC evacuee study. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12(2), 95-112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-009-0047-2

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

Meffert, S. M., Henn-Haase, C., Metzler, T. J., Qian, M., Best, S., Hirschfeld, A., McCaslin, S., Inslicht, S., Neylan, T. C., & Marmar, C. R. (2014). Prospective study of police officer spouse/partners: A new pathway to secondary trauma and relationship violence? PloS One, 9(7), e100663-e100663. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100663


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Coparenting

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Coparenting

Coparenting is the coordination of childcare between two or more adults. The parents may live together or apart and provide care for dependent children. This is often a supportive relationship where positive childcare practices are reinforced. However, there can be disputes which create an unstable environment for children.

 

The nonstandard schedules of PSP often involve rotating shifts, mandatory overtime, and call-ins. These work requirements can conflict with childcare responsibilities. In some cases, this puts pressure on the non-PSP parent to fill-in the gaps. When one parent takes on an unfair share of child rearing in the coparenting relationship, they may experience fatigue and resentment due to role overload.

Adaptive coparenting

Adaptive coparenting is when two parents work together to overcome challenges related to parenting roles. For example, the non-PSP parent might arrange a family visit to the fire station to visit their firefighter (PSP parent) on duty – this gives children a chance to connect and see where their parent works. Rotating shifts also provide opportunities for parenting. Certain shifts allow PSP to be home with children during the daytime which can benefit dual-career couples.

Challenges of coparenting

Coparenting may become more difficult when there are problems in the relationship due to poor communication and conflicts.

Competing Demands

Some PSP organizations have yet to take into account family and childcare responsibilities within dual-career households. This can make it difficult to balance work and family life.

Maladaptive Coparenting

Families can suffer when parents are unable or unwilling to share childcare fairly. Problems can also arise when a parent undermines the other parent’s child rearing practices.

Gender Inequality

A study showed that married male police officers spend less time caring for children and elders than their spouses. With the birth of children, there is sometimes a shift for women to traditional roles within the family.

Examples of adaptive and maladaptive coparenting

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/

Brodie, P. J., & Eppler, C. (2012). Exploration of Perceived Stressors, Communication, and Resilience in Law-Enforcement Couples. Journal of family psychotherapy, 23(1), 20-41. https://doi.org/10.1080/08975353.2012.654082

Duxbury, L., Bardoel, A., & Halinski, M. (2021). ‘Bringing the Badge home’: exploring the relationship between role overload, work-family conflict, and stress in police officers. Policing & society, 31(8), 997-1016. https://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2020.1822837

Feinberg, M. E., Boring, J., Le, Y., Hostetler, M. L., Karre, J., Irvin, J., & Jones, D. E. (2020). Supporting Military Family Resilience at the Transition to Parenthood: A Randomized Pilot Trial of an Online Version of Family Foundations. Family relations, 69(1), 109-124. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12415

Paley, B., Lester, P., & Mogil, C. (2013). Family Systems and Ecological Perspectives on the Impact of Deployment on Military Families. Clinical child and family psychology review, 16(3), 245-265. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-013-0138-y

Saltzman, W. R., Lester, P., Beardslee, W. R., Layne, C. M., Woodward, K., & Nash, W. P. (2011). Mechanisms of Risk and Resilience in Military Families: Theoretical and Empirical Basis of a Family-Focused Resilience Enhancement Program. Clinical child and family psychology review, 14(3), 213-230. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-011-0096-1

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