When There is No Checklist for This: A Glimpse into his Perspective During Furlough, Downgrade, and Shutdown

Pilots. What a lot they are! The more I get to know this community, the more I love the beautiful individuals who comprise it. While every single person has unique characteristics and personality traits based on his/her life experiences, family values, religious beliefs, etc., most pilots tend to have some important commonalities, not least of which is their response to crises situations.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense! After all, the airlines look for and hone very specific characteristics in their pilots. In fact, potential aviators generally must pass a personality test in order to acquire employment to begin with. Once hired, they are then further trained (and trained some more) to respond to emergency situations in a calm, precise, predictable, and cohesive manner. This is the way.

Sometimes life launches a curveball so egregious at us - so incredibly unprecedented, unexpected, and outlandish - that it throws us into an uncontrolled tailspin. Coronavirus is that curveball. Click To Tweet

If something were to go terribly wrong in the cockpit, there are a few things that they are explicitly expected and trained (did I mention over and over and over again) to do: 1) Remain calm. 2) Suppress emotions and feelings. 3) Follow the checklist. These traits (both natural and taught) make them great pilots as well as fantastic people to have around in pretty much any emergency situation. In short, it saves lives!

But sometimes life launches a curveball so egregious at us – so incredibly unprecedented, unexpected, and outlandish – that it throws us into an uncontrolled tailspin. Coronavirus is that curveball, and it was lobbed at our heads at a hundred and ten miles per hour…while our backs were turned. And friends, there is no checklist for this. Ouch.

None of us are looking forward to October 1st. We all know how we are feeling – scared, uncertain, overwhelmed, frustrated. But have we stopped to consider in depth how our emotion-suppressing, checklist-following, aviation spouses are feeling and why?

I think it is important in light of the current situation to take a moment to consider it together today as a community and seek deeper clarity. If we are going to support and love our husbands through this current difficult situation, we have to have some kind of firm foundation from which to do it! And ladies, they need us to be there in a way that truly matters – now more than ever. They need us to see them. I think many marriages are going to be tested by this crisis, and we need to be in a place to grow together instead of grow apart! My goal is for your marriage to come through this stronger than it was before!

Men and women are not the same. I think we can all pretty much agree on that point. We process information entirely differently. We cope with grief completely differently. We express our emotions, frustrations, fears, hopes, and joys very differently. We utilize community differently. We need to understand and own this important fact. He is not you; he can never be you. We simply can’t expect him to be something he is not created to be! By doing so, we are frustrating ourselves, alienating our spouses, and ultimately harming our marriages. When we understand one another better (or at least accept our processing differences!), we can love one another better. And that’s really important, especially right now.

There are several traits (Yes, I understand there is no such as ‘all’, so we obviously have to talk in generalizations here) that you need to remember about men and factor into your understanding of your spouse’s unique perspective, feelings, and reactions during this season of furlough, downgrade, and shutdown.

  • Men are stoic. Society tells boys (for better or worse) from a young age that ‘men don’t cry’. They are taught to suppress their emotions, hide their feelings, and suffer in silence. Couple that with his aviation training, and I am willing to bet that on the outside he probably looks as cool as a cucumber – because that is exactly what he is supposed to look like in a crisis. However, on the inside he is in utter turmoil. Don’t be deceived by his calm outward demeanor. He’s not fine right now. He doesn’t have it all together. How could he? Don’t mistake his stoicism for apathy. He needs you desperately.
  • Men are providers. The majority of men are deeply ingrained with the innate desire to provide for their wives and families. Many of them, whether consciously or subconsciously, base their own value and worth upon their ability to do so. When the means by which they do this is suddenly eradicated, they feel lost, angry, scared, worthless, and frustrated. The uncertainty of your financial future is a dagger to his heart.
  • Men are protectors. Your husband wants to protect you from all harm. While that certainly includes direct physical injury, it is not limited to just that. It also means emotional duress, excessive stress, hard tidings. Did you know that he will often keep things from you because he actually feels like he is buffering you from harm and ‘protecting’ his wife! (By the way, we women often mistake this particular chivalry as trying to ‘hide’ something from us or being aloof!) Watching the hurt of all this on you hurts him too. Deeply.
  • Men find identity in their careers. While we all 100% agree that our husbands are not ‘just pilots’ and are oh-so-much-more than what they do for a living, most men equate at least to some degree a portion of their identity to their career – especially when that career stems from a lifelong passion such as flight. With all they have invested in this endeavor, how could they not? We well know that they have spent a goodly amount of money, time, and sacrifice (as have their we!) pursuing the dream of flight. To unexpectedly lose something they have worked so long and hard for can certainly feel a little like losing a piece of themselves.
  • And of course we are also talking about pilots here! Most pilots (not all!) lean heavily towards the Type A side of the personality scale. They like to be in control. They like to have flight plans and checklists for everything from flying to vacationing. They are used to being the ones everyone else looks to for their safety and wellbeing. They want to have the answers. They are taught not to show their fear in emergency situations to prevent mass panic. They are logical. They are are trained to reach for the checklist. But when that checklist doesn’t exist… Then what?

In short, our guys have a whole lot of ‘cargo’ riding on the wings of those planes they fly! Identity. Provision. Safety. Finances. And much more.

Enter Covid. WARNs. Downgrades. Furloughs. Shutdowns.

Every one of those words is like a rusty knife to his soul. Your husband is being forced to watch helplessly as everything he has worked so hard for – his very means for providing for his wife and/or children – is being robbed of him…by no fault of his own! He has lost control of the situation. He’s watching his livelihood disintegrate, his friends suffer, his industry crumble. The stability of his family is being threatened. This is a heavy season for him, my friends.

He knows he can’t protect you from the fallout. He can’t stop the avalanche that is roaring down the mountainside. He has no idea how he will provide for his family tomorrow, next week, or even next month. He doesn’t even know if he will ever fly again. It feels like his entire life’s work is being ground out beneath the heels of the panicdemic. It’s beyond devastating. In fact, it is soul crushing for him! As he watches the world of aviation crumble around him, he feels the weight of it all bearing down on his shoulders. He is now faced with an inconceivable, all engines on fire, completely inverted, emergency situation of epic proportions.

Listen, ladies… He may look calm, cool, and collected on the outside, but I promise that’s just the pilot and the training in him shining through. He’ll probably even tell you he’s fine, but he’s anything but. On the inside he’s hurting. Badly. And when he reaches for the checklist to guide him through this emergency event… Well, there simply isn’t one in existence for what he is going through right now. It’s scary. It’s frustrating. It’s just plain hard. He’s struggling.

Now, please note: I am not trying to be super negative here. I know the language is harsh and heavy, but I think we really need to look deep into the truth of what our spouses are experiencing right now so we can walk beside them with great clarity, extreme love, and compassionate understanding. Especially since he is a master illusionist and probably looks for all intents and purposes like he is ‘doing okay’ on the outside no matter the chaos within. I want you encourage you to see past the exterior shell to the man beneath.

Friend, you are going to have to give him some major grace as you walk through this period of great unknown together. I can promise you that it might get pretty darned hard. He might not even behave in ways you expect or understand. What your spouse is experiencing right now is akin to the grieving process. And truly, he has lost something precious to him. He is grieving! Each person grieves in a unique way, and you are going to have to let him find his way through these difficult days the best way he knows how. Listen to me, because this is the hard part: You cannot fix this, but you can be there. In fact, trying to fix it will more than likely just frustrate him more. Or even drive him further into his shell.

Here’s the thing. You have to give him the space he needs to process…while remaining close enough to catch him when he falls. You have to listen closely when he wants to vent…but be understanding of his silence. You must encourage him to keep moving forward…while understanding that he is going to stumble. And you are going to have to stand beside him always…and kneel for him every single day. He needs you to love him unconditionally right now.

You are going to have to give him some major grace as you walk through this period of great unknown together. He needs you to love him unconditionally right now. Click To Tweet

I just want to note one other important thing as well. Internally, he is dealing with a lot of stress, and he may demonstrate a wide variety of emotions and behaviors including but not limited to denial, anger, frustration, short-tempered tendencies, depression, self distancing, despondency, excessive silence, under eating, over eating, obsessing, or even mania, to name a few. He may not seem like the man you married right now…because he’s not! He’s a man carrying a very heavy burden. There is no end to the individual methods of dealing with life change and stress, so I encourage you to remember when he is being uber frustrating or not acting remotely like the person you think he should be over the next few weeks or even months that he is essentially grieving a loss…and then love him more fiercely. He will come back to you. Don’t let him go.

Be patient and kind. Pour out excessive grace. Don’t nag about the little stuff. Give him room to process. Remind him often that he is more to you than any job. Try to see things from his perspective and love him fiercely. He needs you now perhaps more than ever before. After all, we are in this for better or worse, right?

In a world full of enemies; be his closest ally. He needs you.

In a world full of enemies; be his closest ally. He needs you. Click To Tweet

I love you, family. Life is hard right now for so many, but not impossible! You are created, loved, precious. Stay strong, be brave, hold onto your spouse, love one another. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I promise, you will get through this. Nothing lasts forever, and a brighter day is on the horizon. This too shall pass. I know it might not feel like it today, but it will!

Let’s hold onto our spouses and one another with white-knuckled tenacity until it does. We are always, always, always BETTER TOGETHER.

I am praying for you now and always,

Angelia (a fellow Pilot Wife)

P.S. I know that you may need some extra love and prayer or a place to vent in the coming days as you navigate this season. My door is ALWAYS open to you. Please feel free to contact me through any of my options anytime. I am available through my email at angelia@thepilotwifelife.com, through my FB messenger, and through the contact forms here and on my app. You have a friend and advocate in me. Today. Always.

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1 thought on “When There is No Checklist for This: A Glimpse into his Perspective During Furlough, Downgrade, and Shutdown”

  1. Angelia,
    Your words are beautiful and convey deep insight and helpful advice to pilot wives. May God grant all of the pilots and their wives peace in this storm!

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