*This is the third and final installment on our series on infidelity and its threat to police marriages. If you missed Parts I or II, they are linked below. Throughout this article we use the terms marriage and spouse, but consider these interchangeable with any committed long-term relationship or partner.
Any marriage faces challenges that, if not faced intelligently and with eyes-wide-open, can undermine or even destroy the relationship. The threat of infidelity is one such challenge; some studies indicate that up to 60% of people will be unfaithful at some point in their married lives. Police marriages may be particularly vulnerable, with long and often strange hours, unique stressors, and a high incidence of cops coming into contact with people more than willing to help them go astray.
So, in acknowledgement that even the best-intentioned might - and probably will - someday face the temptation to stray, we offer you a five-point strategic plan to harden your marriage defenses.
Define - or redefine - LOVE
When most people think of what it means to love someone they define it in terms of the associated feelings or emotions of love, wherein the word love is a noun. To be fair, there is some truth to that, as the feelings we associate with early love are very powerful and tangibly defined. We are going to challenge that definition a little, though.
Consider two simple sentences with us, and which one you would most likely say to your spouse/fiancé/partner/etc... (assuming they are true, of course):
I have feelings of love for you.
Probably the first one, right? Notice the use of love in the first sentence. It is the verb. That is exactly how we urge you to think of love, as a verb, or an action or actions you do rather than something tangible you possess.
One problem with feelings is how fleeting they can be. Honestly, do you always have those "feelings of love" for your _______? Feelings and emotions wax and wane, and this is true in the best of relationships. We cannot control the volume of our feelings, but we can control our actions.
The second problem with feelings is how deceptive they can be. We confuse the early excited emotions we feel in a new relationship with love when, in reality, they more accurately represent infatuation. Unfortunately, deceptions can be addictive and hordes of people are addicted to the giddy feelings associated with those early emotions, and too easily bored with the steady, and occasionally monotonous, rhythm of true, long-term love. As cops, you know that when addicts get bored they go out and feed their addiction.
Instead of focusing on the feelings, focus on the actions of love for your spouse that you can control.
Seems too simple? Guess again. The physical act of infidelity is momentary and then the cheaters part ways and move on, maybe for good or maybe until the next moment in time comes.
The physical act is rarely what does the damage to the relationship, though. For solid, long-lasting, heart-crushing hurt what you really need is the associated betrayal, alienation of intimacy, and loss of trust. And if that is what you are looking for, we have some good news for you: you can achieve all of that without ever laying a finger on another person!
Emotional affairs are every bit as damaging as a sexually intimate affair. In fact, betrayed partners often are far more hurt by the fact of the emotional betrayal and theft of intimacy that goes along with the affair than with any physical acts.
It is important you and your partner understand where each of your limits are and, if there is disagreement on terms, come to an mutually agreeable understanding. This may cover topics such as: opposite sex (or sexually preferred) friendships, flirting, spending time with persons of the preferred sex away from your partner, pornography, and anything else either of you might have as a concern.
A good cop knows complacency is deadly when routine dulls your attention to officer-safety. You can handle a thousand uneventful, and mostly false alarms, but must still anticipate the burglar waiting to ambush you on number one thousand one. Similarly, when it comes to temptation you must expect it will happen, and at the most unexpected time.
Some people travel through life with an eye out for their next sexual partner, and a little thing like a spouse at home is never going to get in the way of some dirty fun. They are not the ones this is for. Complacency becomes a threat when you assume it can never happen to you, that your eyes will never wander, that your relationship is too strong. Realistically, I never thought it would happen to us is a common refrain; countless attractive people with engaging personalities will stroll in and out of your world every day, and even the strongest relationship can have off times where one of you is feeling insecure or unappreciated or out-of-touch. All it might take then is a flirty smile, extra attention, or some other ego boost from one of those attractive coworkers or citizens to nudge you off-track.
Never assume you will not face temptations, or you will always be able to walk away from them. Instead, know in advance who and what your temptations might be. Know in advance what circumstances might make you vulnerable. Know in advance that temptations will come your way. Take the advantage of surprise away from your potential temptations by knowing in advance how you will react to defuse temptations.
Be prepared to react defensively
Just as you come prepared, mentally and physically, to work the street you have to be mentally and physically prepared to deflect temptation and advances. There are plenty of people anxious to bed a cop, or as many as they can get their hands on, who are far from coy. Others live lives starved for compassion, and if you happen to be the one who offers help or kindness during a tough time, they are hooked.
Be kind but direct. Have a plan ready to counter advances, and follow through. Let them know you have professional concern for them. Mention your spouse early and often in conversations with attractive coworkers or people you routinely see and who you think might have more than a friendly interest (if it is safe to do so). Bring them to department functions and social events when you can so you are thought of as being part of a strong couple.
Most importantly, remind yourself that the ego boost you might feel, or the bit of excitement at being noticed, diminishes with time, and that the short-term reward of an affair never lasts as long as the devastation it causes.
Put your marriage first
This one is simple. Forsake all others!
There is a reason for Biblical admonishment against adultery and letting others come between you and your spouse. There is a reason people are reminded to forsake all others in the middle of their wedding ceremonies. And there is a reason we chose to remind you of that here.
Others will try to come between you and your spouse. Guaranteed! You will face temptation. Guaranteed! And sometimes what tries to come between you will be inanimate; your jobs, your hobbies, summer softball league, maybe even your own kids! It is absolutely necessary, however, that you put your marriage first. If you can do that, it makes it so much easier for everything else to fall into place. A solid, healthy marriage that comes first becomes the foundation for a life where everything else - the job, the possessions, the hobbies, the kids - are better for it, too. When you invest deliberate and devoted effort to making your marriage your first priority, forsaking all the others who would harm it becomes a no-brainer.