The Four S’s for Trust and Safety in Your Relationship

Kristal DeSantis talks about how utilizing the Four S’s in your first responder relationship can build trust and safety.

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There are all kinds of challenges in our relationships as law enforcement and first responder couples. The time away from each other can cause our insecurities to arise and create negative stories about why your spouse really isn’t answering the phone, what they’re doing with their time away from you, or why that connection just doesn’t feel as strong as it once did. Our stories impact the emotional trust between us and can become toxins that create conflict and disconnection. Today I talk with Kristal DeSantis, author of Strong, A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man. Kristal brings to us her experience as a first responder spouse of 13 years, as well as her system for building a proactive approach to increase trust in your relationship through her Four S’s to create relationship safety.

Stressors in first responder relationships

Many stressors or problems in first responder relationships can threaten the foundation of trust. One of the biggest is the unpredictability of the schedule. Conceptually, as a couple, we understand what we are getting into, but the actual practice is really stressful. Whether it’s being a firefighter who’s gone for 24 or 48 hours or an officer who’s got the night shift, you might not actually have a lot of time to see and connect with each other. Missed communications, events, parties, family gatherings, holidays, and mandatory overtime can be tough to navigate through and impact trust.

For couples with small children, stressors already exist.  When one partner is not consistently present this stress compounds while their first responders can offer support, it is from afar.  First responder couples who have bonus children and stepfamilies have multiple family dynamics to understand and work through. These include parenting children that are not biologically yours, and that can be difficult without direct support from the biological parent. This can also create conflict between spending time as a couple, with the children, or as a family.

Stressors are numerous and the challenges in connecting or communicating can challenge our belief in the security of our relationship.  Insecurities can start to arise as the brain tries to protect and warn us based upon hurts in our relationship prior and our past relationships, including those with our parents.

Kristal designed the Four S model to assist first responder relationships to build trust and safety.

The Four S’s

When couples enter therapy, it is commonly due to trust issues caused by being away from each other for long periods of time and a lack of clear communication. The four S’s focus on creating safety before trust. It promotes proactive techniques instead of reactive strategies to strengthen your relationship. Inspired by the experiences of first responders, these four skills – self-awareness, stability, self-regulation, and support – provide a roadmap for creating a safe and trusting relationship.

Here are the Four S’s you need to build trust in your first responder relationship.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the first step toward building safety and trust. It involves knowing WHY.  Why can refer to being a first responder, the sacrifice you make as a spouse or partner, or why you chose each other.  For first responders, connecting with the purpose behind your work helps you stay grounded and focused, despite the external challenges you face. Similarly, couples must reflect on why they chose each other, articulating the reasons behind their commitment. Self-awareness allows individuals to align their behaviors with their values, eliminating doubts and concerns about the authenticity of their relationship.

Stability

Stability involves creating a secure environment and is vital in establishing a safe relationship. For first responders, securing the scene is a primary step in building trust with the public. Likewise, in a relationship, stability translates into creating a consistent and secure home environment. Minimizing unnecessary conflicts, addressing roommate-like issues, and reducing chaos in the household help foster a sense of calmness and well-being. Providing a safe space where both partners can decompress and feel at ease is essential for emotional stability and relationship growth.

Self-Regulation

Self-regulation involves managing emotions and reactions. This is crucial for maintaining safety and trust in a relationship and while on shift as a first responder. Officers are conditioned to have self-regulation during high-pressure encounters to maintain their safety; however, when they come home they may struggle with this due to the downside of the hypervigilance cycle. In relationships, self-regulation means being aware of one’s internal emotional state and finding healthy ways to manage and express emotions. If there is self-awareness and a desire to create stability, we then must cultivate techniques like box breathing, a form of intentional breathing, that can help individuals regulate their emotions, lower stress levels, and respond to their partners in a calm and collected manner.  Taking a timeout and self-regulating is also very effective.

Support

Support is nurturing emotional connection and is the final S that completes the foundation of safety and trust. Just as first responders rely on their team for support, couples must provide emotional support to one another. This involves actively listening, empathizing, and validating each other’s experiences and emotions. Creating a safe space for open communication, expressing needs, and offering reassurance strengthen emotional connection and builds trust. Supporting one another through the ups and downs of life helps partners feel secure, loved, and understood.

Establishing safety and trust in relationships is a continuous process that requires the development of key skills. By focusing on the four S’s, self-awareness, stability, self-regulation, and support, couples can cultivate a strong foundation for trust, enhance their emotional connection, and navigate challenges together. Whether you are a first responder or in any relationship, prioritizing these skills will help you create a safe and trusting space for growth, love, and understanding.

Kristal DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist who focuses on first responders. She is a certified clinical trauma professional and the founder and director of Austin Strong Relationship Building Center. She is a First responder spouse who has been married for 13 years to a fire captain.

Strong.love 

@atxtherapist 

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Kristal DeSantis talks about how utilizing the Four S’s in your first responder relationship can build trust and safety.

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