Marriage Before The Job: Really?!

Last month our article Married To A Cop. WT?! (linked below) was one of the most emailed and most read article for about a week. In the world of cops and online publishing, that is a long attention span! So I thought it would be a good idea to write a follow-up article, since I am taking the attention to mean readers are hungry for more, and offer some very practical applications to make your relationship a true partnership.

We found this to be true when we taught at the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA) this past April in Wheeling, Illinois. We instructed three courses; Survival Skills for Police Marriages, Survival Beyond the Street, and Police Burnout. Obviously, the first course was targeting relationship skills, but when marriage came up in the latter two courses, the reaction was comparable to the old E.F. Hutton commercials. A pin could drop and be heard hitting the floor. The officers in the room were starving for information on marriage skills! This room of very successful law enforcement officers, who also happened to be trainers in their own right, became alive and vibrant as they asked questions. There was also a lot of personal sharing of their own frustrations of balancing their intimate relationship with the job. The big, burly officers began to expose their personal pain as it resembled more of a group therapy session than a skill training session.

In last month's article I stated how Mike has always stayed true to his pledge to put our marriage before the job. I believe this is the primary key to the success of our marriage, but when Mike and I presented this concept at ILEETA it nearly sent the room into a tailspin! The other officers were adamant the job needs to come first or you will not physically survive! Others stated this was their dream and who they are! A police officer cannot turn that off when they walk through the door of their home at the end of the day, or when out with the family, or going about the everyday routine of life. After all, being a cop is not a job, it is who you are! Being a warrior is a full-time job and many of the officers argued that, if they turn that part of themselves off - even a little bit - they and their families will not be safe.

There is another side to this; that of the one who loves the officer. I talk to a lot of police wives through websites such as The National Police Wives Association and I also have friends who are police wives, and have counseled many professionally in my office. One theme I often hear from wives is of loneliness, because they know they cannot compete with a greater good: The call of duty. They so desperately want their husbands to succeed and to love the work they do. However, what they often see is the stressors of the job and the politics of the department beginning to rob their partner's soul. They also see the critical incidents an officer lives through and how it changes their demeanor. For many, by the time their spouse has become a veteran cop the person they married, who was excited and happy about the job and what every day would bring, becomes a cynical, angry, paranoid, choir-practicing, S.O.B. who wants to hang out in his easy chair channel surfing all night long. When it comes to this point, many police wives will either start making statements of well, when he retires it will get better or they will simply leave, for it is not what they signed up for when they said I do.

Forsake all others and become one

I am very blessed Mike has always kept his promise to me that our marriage will always come before the job! It has not always been easy and can be a struggle. We know it is a concept even non-LEO marriages have difficulty keeping, which is one reason divorce rates are so high across the nation and across all professions, but as police families we have unique challenges.

There is a part of the marriage ceremony Mike & I consider the most important part of our vows: To forsake all others and become one. Sounds easy, doesn't it? In truth it is very hard to live. What this means is we reserve the best of ourselves for each other. We do not give that away to family, friends, children, or our careers. We hold that close to our hearts and mutually make sacrifices for the relationship. We are intentional about being in a good mood with and for each other when we come home from our work days. No matter how crappy, we come home offering positive anecdotes about our day, or focused on what is good about it. We use our drive time to decompress from the negativity of office politics and often stupid people we encounter, and get into a positive frame of mind. We want our time at home to be spent loving each other with our words, behaviors, and thoughts. We want our time off to be fun! This takes practice and discipline.

How this translates for Mike as a police officer is we make decisions about his career together. Mike knows what he chooses to do will affect our relationship. He includes me in the decision of what shift he will choose, whether or not to accept overtime (and he better accept overtime!), when and if to sit for the Sergeant's exam, and whether to pursue any special assignments. He also keeps me up to date on the gossip, how the people on his shift are doing in their personal lives, and what he did that day. He shares the excitement, the mundane, the frustrations, and the pain of his job. I have noticed many officers do not share this part of them with their partner at home, but keep them at arm's length. They keep it close to the vest. I encourage each officer to talk with their spouse to see if this harms or helps the relationship. Be open to feedback and make the appropriate changes.

Mike and I also keep the marriage at the forefront by checking in with each other by asking a very vulnerable question: Mike will ask me how am he is doing as a husband, and I will ask him how am I doing as a wife. We follow it up with are you happy in the marriage and is there anything you need from me? We are honest with our answers while being kind in our message. Sometimes it is difficult to hear each others' response, but we want our marriage to survive in a culture where marriages traditionally do not thrive, and in a time when so many give up so easily. We do not want to become another statistic. Plus, life rocks when a marriage is solid and we are committed to putting in the work needed.

Being married to a cop can be awesome! You can see a different side of life than most people ever experience through your partner's eyes, and by taking an active part in his or her world. You have the opportunity to be accepted into a uniquely close fraternity. You can share the excitement and fun the career offers, in your support and love for your cop. However, it also brings unique challenges to the relationship and requires a bit of extra care. In order for a marriage to survive, any marriage, we must first forsake all others and become one.