It is just a job.
Since I've had a police officer as a significant other, I've often heard this from people outside law enforcement. Many of my friends and family misunderstand some of the stress and complications that come with loving an officer. What surprises me most is sometimes I hear this same sentiment from those who do love an officer. We all have different experiences and there are no blanket statements when it comes to loving someone who has made the oath to protect and serve. All I know is my experience and what it means to me to love a policeman. How I feel it differs from loving a file clerk, a lawyer, or a trash collector.
If a trash collector went out on his truck every day poised to potentially face a life threatening situation, would his loved ones consider it just a job? His body rigid for 10 hours, hyper-alert to everyone and everything around him waiting, watching for a sign something deadly is happening. Along with this, wearing equipment that stresses his body and continues to remind him of his purpose and his potential for the power to take a life. The trash collector would have to go to every house not knowing what was really happening and having to have the mental alertness and acuity to sort through piles of human deception, horror and pain. He does his rounds, which include seeing the depth of human evil, possibly the body of a baby or a family wiped out, the pain of a mother's face who’s lost her son to death or drugs, a drunk driver wrapped around a tree, or a 13 y/o runaway with a baby face but hollow eyes prostituting herself. After he finishes carrying the weight of mediator, law enforcer, bearer of death, protector, mental health worker and devil, he returns to the station where the real fun begins.
I've never heard of a trash collector's wife listening as her stone-faced husband tells the story of pulling a 4 y/o out of the mud after being run over by her father's tractor. Her mother standing wailing beside him. A trash collector's wife does don't hold his head in her lap when the numbness cracks and the sobs begin. In my experience, here are a few things that make loving a police officer different.
One of the biggest complaints I have is the hours. They were erratic, long and make planning things a nightmare. Even though he had a set shift (I was lucky because my husband's department did not have mandatory rotations every 2 or 3 or 6 months), that didn't mean he would be home when he wasn't on duty. He might not be on patrol, but he would have training or most likely court. When he was home, he could be on stand-by which I felt was worse. We couldn't plan anything and we'd go into any activity with apprehension as to when he would abruptly be pulled away for his job. After we had kids, I felt like a single parent. He allowed me to make most of the day-to-day decisions because he felt he wouldn't be there to execute the plans so he didn't need to make the plans. When I needed to switch out due to frustration, often there was no one to switch out with. There wasn't the hope, which lingers when you don't have a partner, that someday it might be different. As long as he wore a badge, I would be the primary parent.
This was another struggle for me especially when I continued to study communication style, command presence and police technique. In the beginning, I didn't recognize his training in those things that bugged me about how he would handle conflict in our home. It seemed every argument was a challenge to him. He would flip to an authority in his voice and in his stance. It wasn't aggressive, just commanding. In time, I realized we both had to adjust our communication style because neither of us had been taught how to talk to our significant other or how to express our needs in a healthy manner. He reverted back to the only communication training he had which was designed to control situations and people in a law enforcement situation, not one with his wife.
Living in a Fishbowl
Another hard thing to take is living in a fishbowl. To each law enforcement officer and his or her family this can look very different. My husband and I lived in a large metropolitan area and many of our neighbors did not know what he did for a living. He worked in an area away from our home and didn't have to mediate conflicts with people he had grown up with. Many officers and their families struggle with separating the personal from the professional. What we faced most often were the constant questions or requests for advice from people when they learned he was an officer. I would stand quietly by his side waiting to go mix and mingle at a party as he would explain why the officer had a right to give this friend a ticket, how a civil case was different from a criminal case or why a recent police shooting across the country was or was not justified in his opinion. I doubt a trash collector's wife has to listen to queries about the best way to get out of putting their can at the curb at the right time of morning.
The biggest difference in being married to a law enforcement officer, in my opinion, is being connected to the pain that comes with the job. No human could be out in the world seeing, feeling, hearing and experiencing the amount of chaos and turmoil that exists in a police world and not be affected. This affect comes home with them. It gets reflected to those this officer loves in many different ways. It comes out as frustration, anger, impatience, distrust, and the hardest for me to handle, grief. Words cannot express the fear and sorrow that entered my heart when my strong, well trained, composed, stoic husband cried. The ache it caused in me is indescribable. I faced those tears after he witnessed the death of a child, after a violent sexual predator who he had spent hours meticulously building a case against went free on a court blunder and after losses of his brothers in blue; three to gunfire, one to a fight that ended up under a semi and one to a car wreck on his way home from shift. The ache still haunts me.
Being married to a police officer is not like being married to someone who does any other occupation. Yes, it is just a job, but within this job comes a lifestyle, a way of thinking and a social atmosphere. For these reasons, and those I've described, we have been given books such as, I Love a Cop and Cops Don't Cry. These manuals, along with support groups, online forums and informal get-togethers, help us survive in our world affected by our LEO's world. As long as we love a cop, we get to enjoy the whirlwind of emotion that comes with pride when he, or any other officer, does well or shame, when someone in blue messes up. We want to defend and justify when they or just their badge is attacked. We know most of them are good, honorable men and women. Because of this, we fight for them in public and in our hearts. This is what makes it different.