By the time Mike joined his department, we had been married for little over a year. Since he was low on the totem pole and an FNG (fabulous new guy) he was on shift work or permanent midnights for the first eight years. We had gotten used to sleeping alone in what seemed like a large queen size bed. The challenge began when Mike finally graduated in seniority to a COG (cranky old guy) and moved to permanent days. Suddenly our queen bed felt very cramped and small. It didn't help that our two dogs and two cats were accustomed to only sleeping with Althea. They resented Mike and often shoved him out of the bed. The most aggressive was our ten pound cat named Oreo versus 230 pound Mike who started off in the bed, but within an hour was literally shoved off. Instead of removing the animals from the bedroom, Mike chose the lesser of two battles and slept most of the night on the couch.
After a few weeks away from his bed, we decided the answer to our problem was to spend money we didn't have on a king size bed. We figured if we had more space, we could acclimate to sleeping with one another again, but in reality we filled the space with animals. We had been apart for so many years we were not used to having another person in the bed. It was bizarre getting used to each other's sleeping habits, noises, movements, bedtime, and each other's alarm clock. We had become really good throughout our marriage at spending time together while we were awake, but we had to negotiate now how to sleep with one another and when to be intimate.
From designing and leading marriage seminars at our church, and counseling others in their marriages, we know sex can be one of the biggest flashpoints for relational conflict. Negotiating a mutually satisfying sex life is crucial to a relationship. It is also an ongoing and frequently difficult task as we face stressors that constantly influence our relationship. Financial pressures, health concerns, child-rearing, and work are just a few that get in the way of sex. Plus unlike the exciting early stages of a relationship, our libidos will rarely be at exactly the same place as our partners.
Police couples, where one or both partners are a cop, are just as susceptible to problems in the bedroom (or wherever... that's your business). Many of the problems police couples face are the same Bob the banker and Linda the lawyer. There are, however, some unique challenges police couples face that can impair a healthy sex life. Since our focus here is helping cops, let's look at some of those issues.
Strange Hours and Shift Work
This was one of the biggest hurdles in the early years of our marriage, and one faced by many police couples. Simply put, for most couples both high quality and high quantity of time spent together outside the bedroom is essential before a high quality and high quantity of time will be spent together inside the bedroom. When a couple is more or less on the same schedule they more easily get that quality and quantity of time together. Once they begin living life at different times of the day, the amount of time together decreases and the quality can slide. Weekends can be especially hard. Kids' events and adult parties are missed, weddings and graduations are attended alone, and your old friends plan "couple things" together you are no longer invited. Try being romantic when you feel like "two ships passing in the night," or when one of you is tired and just wants to sleep while the other wants to be together.
"I had to get the hell out of there... I thought they were all about to take turns humping my leg!" - female police officer describing the scene after her department's Special Response Team made back-to-back apprehensions of homicide suspects.
A lot of jobs require shift work but few have the unpredictability of law enforcement. How often have you had to cancel plans at the last minute, or dragged yourself home, hungry and exhausted, after working several unexpected hours of overtime? We all appreciate the money, and it is not so bad to have it happen occasionally, but when unpredictability becomes the norm it can have a large impact on a relationship and a sex life.
The partner of a cop lives everyday with a certain degree of fear. You go off to work each day wearing a gun and they know exactly what that means. If you've been together for awhile they have probably seen you come home banged-up, bruised, bloody, or bandaged, and they know they will again. Always in the back of their mind is the question, "Is this the day the Chief knocks on my door?"
This small, constant fear, especially if it is not acknowledged or talked about very often, can have a huge emotional and physiological impact and can become a wall between a couple. The fear may drive a partner to be emotionally and physically distant rather than intimate.
Tension outside of the bedroom does not translate to romance inside the bedroom. Police work brings you into contact with a lot of angry, upset, stressed out people, many of whom are only too happy to project their anger onto you. It is not unusual to encounter a stream of these people all day long, nearly every day. Over time this "anger-state" becomes normalized for the officer, maybe even necessary for his or her on-the-job survival, but this will cause relationship conflict if this "anger-state" is your approach with your partner. They may experience you as critical and judgmental. Instead leave the cop at work and replace the anger with tenderness, kindness, love, affirmation, and respect.
Having a mutually sexually satisfying relationship is a challenge for most couples. Next month we will examine more of those challenges.