So, You're Marrying an ATC...

LampLight

Member
Messages
4
I am posting this because it's something I wish had been available to me in my earlier years.

I don't expect it to be popular, but hopefully it will be helpful to those who are genuinely seeking guidance or support in facing the realities of being married to an ATC. These traits are obviously not ubiquitous.

That being said, based on a lot of first-hand experience and research, here are some things you can reasonably expect when married to an ATC:

- God Complex: I remember my spouse coming home from work one day and telling me how one of the instructors said something like, "Even neurosurgeons only have one life in their hands at a
time - we can have hundreds at any given moment. For all intents and purposes: You are God." While many would not be so bold as to come out and say it, this mentality has a tendency to gradually permeate the ranks, resulting in a truly nightmarish dynamic if you are not also a "god". If your partner didn't start out with a God complex, it is possible they may develop one as they are saturated in this environment.

- Alcoholism: At a NATCA convention once, I overheard an ATC say, "I hope they brought enough alcohol - this is a meeting for CONTROLLERS." It is an open "secret" that ATCs are very heavy drinkers. Really, they can't be blamed for this. They are pushed to the limit mentally, given shift work that results in sleep disorders, and then forbidden from seeking out the medications or treatments that may be effective in treating the conditions they live with. They are essentially both broken, and forbidden from healing, by their job. Alcohol seems to be the drug of choice to cope with the rigors of this job as it is one of the very few permitted, and I would advise you to expect this to be an issue in your relationship.

- Impatience: ATCs are trained to be obsessively efficient, and this often bleeds over into other areas of their lives. I can recall my spouse having to wait an extra ~2 minutes because of an error in the Starbucks drive-thru, and angrily snarling that these ~minimum wage employees' incompetence cost them "X dollars in at their overtime rate".

- Dictitorialism: While pilots are the ones operating the planes, ATCs are the ones telling them what they can and cannot do, and exactly where to go. An ATCs job is to issue concise, direct orders, and to have those directions complied with immediately and without question. Like so many other work traits that eventually spill outside the facility walls, this can begin to permeate their relationships with the people around them. They can easily (and without seeing the issue with it, or that it's even happening) begin to expect unquestioned compliance from you, and become frustrated when you assert your own will, desires or voice. The psychological damage that this can have is immense. Even confident, intelligent and driven people can be slow-boiled by this power dynamic into defeated, devalued shells of who they once were. Just because someone else has an "important" job does not mean that you and your personal goals are irrelevant, even if they are not as high-paying or socially revered. Don't forget this.

- Perfectionism: In ATC, there is no room for error. With enough years in, this, too, will begin to bleed into interpersonal relationships. Zero-tolerance policies for common human faults are not rare. When perfectionism is added to the God complex and impatience, a person who is almost completely intolerant of basic human weaknesses often results. The consequences of this can be catastrophic on someone not prepared for this reality.

- Narcissism: There are many professions that use the personality trait of narcissism to their advantage, and ATC is one of them. If you have the personal confidence to even ATTEMPT such a high-stakes job, or to pass the aptitude test, you likely have shades (if not heaps) of narcissistic traits. In the context of the job, this serves the FAA well. But, in the context of close interpersonal relationships? It can be toxic beyond measure. It is safe to expect your ATC spouse will see their career as more important than yours, for them to expect you to abandon your own pursuits to move to where a position for them is available (there is a chance to move to a higher level facility, into management, etc.) without question, for them to feel entitled to contribute little else outside of their job, as they need to recuperate. Be prepared that you may eventually be reduced to little more than a facilitator of your ATC partner's whims and lifestyle goals once the erosion of you, as an equal member of the marriage, has progressed.

- Missed Holidays/Events: This is obvious to anyone with even a vague familiarity with ATC, but holidays and events - even natural disasters - will likely be ridden out by you, alone. ATC scheduling is based on seniority, so the newer you are in the FAA, the worse your schedule will be. If you have young children or are planning to, this is very much worth considering, as you will likely not have any semblance of a normal schedule until you are well into your years with the FAA.

- Sleep Disorder: ATCs are required to do shift work, very often resulting in "Shift Work Disorder". Do not expect to wake up with your ATC spouse. They will likely be sleeping most of the day coming off of a midnight shift, or waking up at 5am to make it to work by 6am. There are very few days when an ATC reports to work at the same time, and you will eventually have to make your own schedule apart from theirs to maintain sanity and health. (I honestly don't know how the FAA gets away with treating ATCs the way they do from a mental health standpoint - it is literally inhumane).

- Untreated Mental Health Issues: Speaking of mental health, expect that your spouse will struggle with this at some point, and not be permitted to seek effective help, especially if medication is needed. Your ATC partner will likely even be hesitant to acknowledge that something is wrong, for fear of being reported to the flight surgeon, losing their job, etc. Because so many lives are on the line in ATC, weaknesses (which we all have) are unacceptable. This can be devastating to the ATC themselves, but also to their partner, as they gradually internalize that people should not have weaknesses, and if they do, should never show them. Do not be surprised if you experience a lack of empathy or concern for the struggles, health issues, etc., you face, especially if those issues are invisible.

- Toxic Work Environment: ATC is often referred to as a "Boys' Club" and this is very apt. A large percentage of ATCs are ex-military, and only in more recent years have women begun to enter the field in any kind of considerable number. They are vastly outnumbered, and sexual harassment is rampant. So much so, that some women actually keep a logbook of the incidents as a backup plan in case they wash out - at that point, they will simply sue the FAA. Not joking. "Bad company corrupts good character", and being so heavily immersed in such an environment will eventually have an effect on all but the most stalwart minds. Extramarital affairs amongst controllers are understood to be extremely common, and divorce rates are sky-high.

- Toxic Management: In the teaching profession, it is often said that "Those who cannot do, teach." The adjusted version of this is also said to be true in ATC. The controller vs. management dynamic is insane. NATCA actually handed out bracelets years ago that said, "Our collective spirit is their enemy". Like - that is their MOTTO. While this varies from facility to facility, corruption amongst management seems to be common. Sleeping with people to attain promotions is rumored to be par-for-the-course, and achieving promotions based on favoritism seems to be status quo. This can create some very bitter people, and lots of ill-will amongst the ranks, adding to the already heavy stress load that is intrinsic to the job. Because your ATC partner is mostly helpless at work (ATC is a very militaristic field with very little personal control over your job, schedule, etc.), it is very common for them to take their frustrations out on you. Be on guard for this, as it is easy to internalize their displeasure, and begin to think that something is wrong with you.

- Culture of Perpetual Adolescence: I honestly have not been able to put my finger on why, but ATC seems to have a pervasive culture of unending adolescence. It's almost like rap culture: Material competitiveness mixed with camaraderie, shaken together with alcohol, topped with an over-inflated sense of self and newly acquired access to money... IDK.

It is not unusual for the other factors I've mentioned above to combine into an age-inappropriate "party" culture that smacks of freshman year, even when the people involved are in their 30s/40s and have multiple kids at home. It is very, very strange. It is common for an ATC to be throwing up in a bar on a Saturday, working a shift on Sunday. This obviously depends on who you choose to associate with at work, but if this is not your scene, you may feel very lonely in the ATC world. You need look no further than the comments on the threads on this website for prime examples of the juvenile mindset that seems to be so ubiquitous in this field...

- In Summary: While the job offers security, good pay, vacation time and retirement benefits, the toll it takes on human beings is massive. It has been said that "Hurt people hurt people", and the way ATCs are treated (particularly at high-level facilities) is straight up abusive. If you are in a close relationship with an ATC, there is a good chance the poison they are forced to drink will eventually find its way to you. If you are primarily a money-motivated person, you may find that a career in ATC is worth it to you. If you are someone who is more interested in quality of life and other less material forms of success, I would enter this career (or a relationship with someone in this career) with extreme caution, and/or advise working at a lower level facility (probably a level 9 or below).

Do not blindly think you will be the exception to the rule when it comes to the aforementioned points of concern. I have personally witnessed the deterioration of exceptional people under the crushing weight of this career.

Sorry I don't have better news. Just being honest.

Sincerely,

- Someone who learned the hard way
 

LampLight

Member
Messages
4
I think this thread is putting the cart before the horse. You’re implying that being a controller makes you this way but in reality whoever you married was already this way and they found a career that fits their personality.
Yes - for sure, when it comes to aptitude. Agree, 100%. But many of the other issues are definitely cultivated through ATC, and some of them are 100% attributable to ATC, like Shift Work Disorder, etc. 🙏
 

Shikaka

Legendary Member
Messages
2,477
Pop Tv Reaction GIF by Schitt's Creek
 

Super Salt

🍻🍻🍻
Staff member
I ♥ pointSixtyFive
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957
Many of those points mentioned seem to be a personality disorder (narcissistic, “god complex”, etc). As was mentioned, the job seems to have really brought those disorders to the forefront.

The shift work and missed holidays/occasions is inherently part of the job, especially given how seniority is based. But aside from that, it is just a job.

I’m still the same white-trash dummy I was in my teens, I just get paid a lot of money per hour nowadays to talk to planes. Ain’t nothing changed 🤘🏻
 

CaptainObvious

Legendary Member
Messages
1,500
Many of those points mentioned seem to be a personality disorder (narcissistic, “god complex”, etc). As was mentioned, the job seems to have really brought those disorders to the forefront.

The shift work and missed holidays/occasions is inherently part of the job, especially given how seniority is based. But aside from that, it is just a job.

I’m still the same white-trash dummy I was in my teens, I just get paid a lot of money per hour nowadays to talk to planes. Ain’t nothing changed 🤘🏻
He ain’t lying
 

Peter Gibbons

Legendary Member
FAA
Messages
1,472
Facility
OKC Oklahoma City Tower
Eh. Honestly....

I've noticed I've become much more lax on a lot of things outside of work because I don't want my home life to be the same as my work life. Then again, I don't subscribe to the "my job is my personality" trait that seems to be pervasive in this career, particularly among newer, less jaded people or those who are big time aviation nerds. I drive out of the gate and I don't think about what I do for a living really until I go back in the gate. It's a simple as that, and to me at least the biggest perk of the job.

In my relationship I'm much more the laid back one, my wife is the taskmaster/worrier/one who must know or be making the plan. I don't want to be the one in charge of all decisions and plans at all times, and I am way way to laid back to get pissed at baristas etc.

Aside from that scheduling concerns, Sounds like you just married an immature, narcissistic jackass and didn't know it, and they are using the job as an excuse to be shitty, but I'm no marriage counselor.
 

LampLight

Member
Messages
4
Eh. Honestly....

I've noticed I've become much more lax on a lot of things outside of work because I don't want my home life to be the same as my work life. Then again, I don't subscribe to the "my job is my personality" trait that seems to be pervasive in this career, particularly among newer, less jaded people or those who are big time aviation nerds. I drive out of the gate and I don't think about what I do for a living really until I go back in the gate. It's a simple as that, and to me at least the biggest perk of the job.

In my relationship I'm much more the laid back one, my wife is the taskmaster/worrier/one who must know or be making the plan. I don't want to be the one in charge of all decisions and plans at all times, and I am way way to laid back to get pissed at baristas etc.

Aside from that scheduling concerns, Sounds like you just married an immature, narcissistic jackass and didn't know it, and they are using the job as an excuse to be shitty, but I'm no marriage counselor.
I think you make some excellent points and observations. There are definitely big differences between people who are very enmeshed with coworkers outside of work and those who leave work at the gate. I think the level of facility has a big role in how destructive the job is to a person, too. That and the management, which varies from facility to facility. I also think your latter observations are not totally incorrect. 😅
 

Shikaka

Legendary Member
Messages
2,477
Corporate middle management was far more toxic and worse for me than this job, before that was the USMC (not the softy air wing side) which was far worse than the Corporate world. ATC is a significant step down from my past lives, and most of what you mentioned would be found in the older generations of controllers which I would argue is more representative of that generation rather than the career field.
 
Messages
10
I can't figure out if this is just a very long winded troll post that someone with way too much time on their hands did, or if this is really someone who really thinks this to be true based on their life experiance and is trying to warn others... both make me wonder a great deal about the sanity of the poster.
 

LampLight

Member
Messages
4
I can't figure out if this is just a very long winded troll post that someone with way too much time on their hands did, or if this is really someone who really thinks this to be true based on their life experiance and is trying to warn others... both make me wonder a great deal about the sanity of the poster.
Why am I not surprised at all by this response...

I think we are buying a little too much into the "all carrots are vegetables, so all vegetables must be carrots" mentality here...
This is definitely not true of everyone in ATC, as stated, but the nature/structure of ATC has an effect on people - it just does. I definitely think if you’re at a level 8 in the tower, you will have a very different experience than someone working level 12 RADAR room, and this post may apply much less, but people do not go through life unaffected by their environment. It’s just not how they’re built.

Corporate middle management was far more toxic and worse for me than this job, before that was the USMC (not the softy air wing side) which was far worse than the Corporate world. ATC is a significant step down from my past lives, and most of what you mentioned would be found in the older generations of controllers which I would argue is more representative of that generation rather than the career field.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I definitely think you’re right that there is a big difference between older controllers and younger ones. And you’re also right to point out that ATC is not the only high-stress career out there - I think because it’s so specialized, though, and a relatively small field, there isn’t much info out there about the nitty-gritty, which is why I wanted to post about this, for those to whom it applies. Again, I think below a certain level, these things probably apply much less or not at all. But for people working in level 11+ and especially RADAR, it can get realllllly dicey...

I make 100 decisions a day and you can’t even decide what’s for dinner?
Classic ATC response. Thank you for making my point for me. 🙏
 

GulfBravoPapa

⭐SuperStar
Messages
1,399
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I definitely think you’re right that there is a big difference between older controllers and younger ones. And you’re also right to point out that ATC is not the only high-stress career out there - I think because it’s so specialized, though, and a relatively small field, there isn’t much info out there about the nitty-gritty, which is why I wanted to post about this, for those to whom it applies. Again, I think below a certain level, these things probably apply much less or not at all. But for people working in level 11+ and especially RADAR, it can get realllllly dicey...
I've worked in three level 11+ radar rooms in my career so far and while some of this is evident it is rarely all in one person. Out of the 200+ controllers I have worked with at these facilities maybe 5 have been as you described. And as a female I have never been sexually harassed. You are painting with far too broad of a brush because of a bad experience you had.
 

CaptainObvious

Legendary Member
Messages
1,500
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I definitely think you’re right that there is a big difference between older controllers and younger ones. And you’re also right to point out that ATC is not the only high-stress career out there - I think because it’s so specialized, though, and a relatively small field, there isn’t much info out there about the nitty-gritty, which is why I wanted to post about this, for those to whom it applies. Again, I think below a certain level, these things probably apply much less or not at all. But for people working in level 11+ and especially RADAR, it can get realllllly dicey...
10 and below are just too easy. They don’t turn you into enough of an asshole
 

Phillytroll69

Forum Sage
FAA
Messages
581
Facility
JNU Juneau Tower
Hey the FAA has an employee assistance program and you can always call that.
You'll lose your medical, your job, and your livelyhood, but it is available.

The temptation to fall into this routine of adolescence is real-imagine being hired at 18 or fresh out in your early twenties. You make good money and are qualified for this-or maybe middle management at your local retail store. Of course there are some idiots.

That said your personal life is your choice-am I going to destress by lifting or drinking or beat my kids/dog?

You are ready to attack a Starbucks min wage employee? Get a life-like they make 1/6 of your pay with two days of training-and are probably more qualified for any job (other than you riddlers)

If ATC is your life and you are allowed to just drink all the time so be it-some of us still find time to volunteer, coach little league, have a semi normal home life, and drink in moderation.

ATC allows you to be a shitty person-and I think the encouragement stems from the retarded backward ass policies-you talked to a therapist about over indulging as a coping mechanism for high stress situations? Enjoy your leave until you attend a 2 month rehab out of pocket.

You fell over at the bar and puked-haha crazy man great story-onto the ground briefing...

Tl:dr-ATC allows you to love how you want. Failure to grow as a person is more caused by the freedom and wad of cash. If you're single now I'd probably post a picture on here since you no what to expect
 
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