Mike and I were at a nice restaurant recently, enjoying an expensive dinner, when he casually announces,
Ya' know, I am really good at finding prostitutes on Craig's List. I found a few locals today, and started teaching (his beat partner) how to do it, too.
I about fell off my chair with pride! Then I did a quick scan around this upscale, fit-for-a-foodie dining establishment to see who might have overheard this odd conversation. It is just one of the nuances of being in a relationship with a cop. At that moment I could not imagine many other dinner conversations across the United States being similar to the one we just had.
I have been a police wife for over 14 years and it has been an interesting journey. It has been one of overwhelming pride, joy and fun. It has also been one of intense loneliness, sadness, conflict and anger. It is scary at times. Not only for my husband's safety, but even my own has occasionally been at risk because of his job. There are unique challenges to a police lifestyle that only those of us who live this truly understand. If you are not a police spouse and are reading this, please proceed with your eyes wide open. It is not for the weak.
We are not the traditional police marriage, being that Mike became a police officer after we married and when he was older than the average recruit. We had only been married a few months. Mike had begun his studies for the Master of Social Work degree while working a low-paying, but fun, supervisory job at a social service agency. As often happens, however, a sweeping change in administrators and hierarchy occurred and his position was eliminated. He found himself demoted back into the same entry level job he had started at more than five years before, only now working overnight. He was able to move into another position in the agency, but landed in a boring, dead-end job licensing foster homes. Knocked off what had been a promising career track, he was depressed and lifeless.
I knew his life's dream had been to become a cop, but no way could I tolerate the lifestyle of a police marriage. I never believed I was strong enough to live life largely alone, or with what would feel like a part-time spouse. But seeing Mike in despair? I knew that was worse. So I gave him my blessing and he began the testing process.
Mike was thirty when he was hired into his current department and I saw new life begin to breathe within him. He was excited and I was excited for him. However, before he started the academy we had some very difficult conversations because I knew we had just signed up for a life of very difficult and unique challenges. The main promise Mike made to me - and that he has always upheld - is that the marriage and I would always come before the job. I know from talking to other cops this is a hard promise to make and harder to keep. I am proud of Mike that he has never broken his word. In order for me to feel emotionally safe with him, and in order for me to know that the sacrifices I make for his career are valued, I needed this in return.
The police lifestyle is not easy. Sometimes I wish he had chosen the life of a fireman. Everyone loves firemen! I cannot count how many times I have endured criticism from friends, strangers, neighbors, and even family about what he does. Policing is one of the most admired and reviled jobs, all at once. After a few months of him being on the job, I learned to never tell someone I had just met what he did for a living - even as my pride made talking about it almost irresistible. It hurt to hear the profession criticized, because even if the worst cop story is about a cop I have never met, it still hurts. I take it personally. For me, if you criticize one you criticize the profession and unless someone is in the profession, they have no idea what a cop does or why. When I have tried to explain why the cop did what he/she did; no one really wants to hear it. It is usually better to just stay silent. The criticism of the profession wears at my soul. It is one of the sacrifices I have chosen as a police wife - to be silently proud of my husband while the world around him is not.
Isolation is another difficulty. I often consider myself a single married. I spend part of my time married but when he is working, I am single. Since police work is shift work, holidays, and weekends, I spend a lot a time alone. This is compounded by the fact I do not have family of my own and Mike's family live hours away. Finding compatible friends as a single married is difficult, too. Singles want to have single friends and marrieds prefer spending time with couples. I have spent many a holiday and extended time alone. For me, this has been the most difficult part of our marriage, as I am an extreme extrovert and need the energy of being around positive people for my emotional survival.
There are many ways I give of myself in order to support my husband's career and I do not have enough space to list them all, but the biggest one I make is the knowledge that when he goes off to work each day, he may not come home at the end of his watch. The reality of the dangers he faces are not lost on me. I know just one traffic stop gone wrong and I can see the police chaplain, social worker, and police chief come walking up my driveway delivering me news I desperately never want to hear. It is the fear every police spouse lives with when they kiss their partner good-bye and why every conversation ends with be safe.
So to those of us who support the one with the badge, it is a life of sacrifice that often goes unrecognized. I think most of us do it in silence because it is a hard role to define, explain, and understand, even to ourselves. I know we often go with our own needs unmet because how do we assert our needs when we see the greater good our partner is doing for the community they serve? For those of you contemplating a relationship with a LEO... Run! Well, maybe not, but it is definitely not for the weak.
For those of you with the badge, listen to your partner! Know how they support you, and learn and know how to support them. Recognize what they sacrifice so you can live your dream, and know when and how to sacrifice in return. Notice how your partner provides for your needs, and learn how to provide for theirs. Being a police spouse takes hard work, dedication, commitment, and unlimited sacrifice of self. It is a hard lifestyle - and one many marriages will not survive - but if you stay face-to-face, communicate openly and honestly, and put your relationship first, your partner might just decide you are more than worthy of the sacrifice involved!