It seems like you can't turn anywhere today without hearing a story of someone being unfaithful. Elin's reaction to Tiger had betrayed spouses cheering everywhere. Women came out of the woodwork claiming to have slept with him. His image was splashed over tabloids, newspapers and the internet for weeks. Discussions of restitution and punishment exploded. Then, we learned she might take Tiger back. What? Seriously? Many of us asked. Why? Relationships are complicated and infidelity is a very real threat. Whether research supports it or not, law enforcement officers have a reputation for having a high rate of extra-marital affairs.
Although difficult to think about and even more so to discuss, I've been on both sides of infidelity. Now that a significant amount of time has passed since that time, I've been able to look objectively at my first marriage. Both my husband and myself made a lot of mistakes. Hind-sight allows me to look at the ways we allowed our relationship to be vulnerable to affairs.
Reasons People Cheat
Tons of information exists explaining why people cheat. A lot is contradictory and supports the notion every person and relationship is different and dynamic. There are some common themes that I found applied to my life.
Relationships too easily fall into daily routines. That was definitely the case with mine. My husband and I went to work (opposite shifts), came home, cared for the children, did the dishes, went shopping, ad infinitum. Life was boring. When opportunities presented themselves to add a little excitement into our lives, albeit negatively, we both fell for the glitter. Instead of adding some pizzazz to our relationship, we chose to get our boredom lifted elsewhere.
Often used as a reason for the dissolution of marriage, this starts way before the end. This is where communication needs to come in. Most differences can be reconciled, if a couple chooses to address the conflict and talk to each other. My husband and I were not able to communicate with each other. I shut down and he got angry. He'd shut down and I'd get angry. Because of this, our differences became insurmountable and caused us to become alienated from each other and eventually lead separate lives.
Not Enough Sex
"The lack of sex in a marriage can trigger self doubt and discontent on the part of the spouse who is constantly rejected." I wish I had heard this and listened early on in my marriage. As a woman, I did not understand my husband's needs were more than physical and how important a healthy sex life is to a marriage.
Too many times, we let our relationships take a back-seat to the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, this seems to happen even more so in police relationships due to the additional hurdles many of us face. Experts agree there are several factors that reflect strong, healthy relationships. It is these factors that can help prevent infidelity. In her article, Immunized Against Infidelity: "Affair-proofing" Your Marriage, Megan Northrup suggests the following:
- Prioritize Your Marriage
We take each other for granted too often. Unfortunately, that comfortable feeling we get in our homes often becomes the basis for complacency and not truly seeing the marriage as something that is living and breathing. Work, kids and hobbies often dominate our time and we forget we have to nurture the foundation of our lives: our marriage.
- Avoid Temptation
Temptation is everywhere. The most common place to find it is at work. This is especially true in law enforcement. Officers need to be careful of the intimacy they share with their partners, especially if they are of the opposite gender. Also, the existence of police groupies, or badge bunnies, can complicate matters. These temptations often start out as emotional connections. As a police spouse, you also face temptations. Due to the unusual and often extended hours an officer works, a partner may find her/himself left alone quite a bit. He/she should be careful of filling this void with the company of another. Northrup advises, "If you are sharing intimate emotional closeness with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse in any arena, stop!"
- Know your Boundaries
It doesn't seem realistic in this profession to say a person can never be close to a member of the other gender. With more women joining the force, co-ed partners are to be expected. With many families being dual-income families, both spouses spend a lot of time around opposite gender co-workers. Awareness of boundaries is important here. As a couple, you should determine guidelines for what is acceptable behavior. Talking about what is appropriate before it becomes an issue is a lot better than trying to figure out the miscommunication after someone gets hurt.
- Learn Conflict Resolution Skills
Knowing how to deal with stress in a marriage is one of the most important factors to preventing infidelity. In a police marriage stress is a fact of life. Knowing how to talk to each other (here's that communication piece again) can help diffuse conflicts. Also, talking assists in compromise. Handling issues as they come up prevents resentment from building up and resentment is always a negative thing. Unresolved resentment puts up walls and tears marriages apart. Seek outside help if you find you can't work out a resolution.
- Rekindle Romance
Satisfied partners hardly ever wander. When someone strays, one of the first things many people ask is what they weren't getting at home. Even the offended spouse often wonders what they weren't providing that their spouse sought elsewhere. Northrup recommends creating a plan for romance in your relationship. She suggests each partner focus on being romantic and wooing the other, being sensitive to your partner's rhythms, needs and wishes and being imaginative and creative. If you need help there are many great books you can use for research on keeping your marriage as alive and fresh as the day you met.
Infidelity seems to be everywhere. In police circles, it may or may not be more prevalent than in the general public. Regardless, it is perceived to be a huge problem. A lot of the factors that make law enforcement a tough occupation make it tough on families. Spouses often feel abandoned, alone and resentful. I know I did. It is also easy for that time in the patrol car sharing stories to become an emotional bond. Choir practice can invite temptation into an officer's life. Visits from a family friend can turn into something inappropriate. Fortunately, by being aware of the factors that contribute to straying, couples can strengthen their marriage and their commitment to each other. Watch out for temptation and keep your relationship number one. Not every officer has to fall into the stereotype of the macho, cheating jerk. Not every shift-widow has to slink into the arms of the pool boy. Focusing on the person you chose to marry, setting guidelines and communication can make for many years of happiness coming home to the same open arms you've come to know and love.