Understanding Your First Responder

In February 2008, Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney blogged about a surprising example of Biblical manhood as displayed at an ice hockey game. His entry centered around a statement made by Russian Alexander Ovechkin, left winger for the Washington Capitals: "Today was special day. I broke my nose; I have stitches; I score four goals." Ovechkin displays the kind of boyish fervor we so desire (albeit reluctantly) for our sons, yet find tough to cope with when displayed by our husbands.

It's a syllogism common to the marriages of many first responders: She loves him. He loves the thrill of "battle" – be it running into a burning building, pursuing a wanted criminal in a high-speed chase or entering a hostage situation to provide first-aid to a man about to bleed out.

The conclusion of the syllogism likely depends upon your gender.

His conclusion? Therefore, I love both, and rightly so.

And hers? Therefore, he doesn't love me.

Such misunderstandings plague far too many first responder marriages, says psychologist and author John Trent, founder of The Center for Strong Families. To him, the following Winston Churchill quote clarifies a lot: "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."

"Battle, or the potential for battle, really trumps most of real life from an adrenaline standpoint," Trent says. "God wired men to respond to challenge. The adrenaline produced by those challenges can become addictive to the point where all focus goes into occupational challenges presented instead of relationships."

Most men have a natural bent towards challenge; most women have a natural bent towards relationships. According to Trent, while many women affirm their womanhood through marriage and childbearing, many men look to affirm their manhood through experiencing and surviving dangerous situations.

What is the key to building stronger marriages despite God-given differences and life-threatening situations? It lies in a shared walk with the Lord and frequent reconnecting, says Trent.

"Everybody's great at courtship because we see it in movies, but so many of us don't see the continuation of a great relationship lived out," he says. "Men need to be challenged to work on their relationships. If they don't, all women will see is their warrior picking up his sword and walking away to battle."