Famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey once reported 50% of men and 26% of women had engaged in extramarital sex. Other studies place the rates between 22.7% and 50% for men and 11.2% and 38% for women. While we cannot be certain of the true percentage of people having extramarital sex - these studies ask people to admit to something they are not supposed to be doing, after all - it is clear a lot of married folks are making naughty with people they are not married to!
Sex is one of the most powerful human drives, crucial to our very survival. It is also one of the most dangerous and potentially abused drives. Sex addiction is as real as addiction to alcohol, nicotine, or heroin - the physiologic responses are very similar - and may be even more pervasive. Even short of addiction, sexual desires and attractions can push otherwise cautious people into impulsive, irresponsible, and self-destructive behavior.
In almost every law enforcement agency there are stories of officers and staff involved in sexual indiscretions. Sometimes the stories are urban legend or fuel for gossip, but are often true and the reason officers have earned reprimands, days off, or even early "retirements." "Hookups Gone Wrong" between officers and (pick your favorite) dispatchers, other officers, new recruits, or citizens provide ample opportunity for cops to have uncomfortable conversations with both IAU and their spouses. Downloading internet porn on department computers and good old-fashioned sexual harassment are also perennial favorites. We think it would be hard to find an agency that does not have an incident of sexual misconduct. For this article we are not going to focus on why it happens, but on how to safeguard your personal relationships by preventing it from happening to you.
In our last two articles (linked below) we focused on improving your sex lives with your partner. In keeping with that theme, we are going to provide guidelines to help you identify and avoid the pitfalls of having an emotional or physical affair with someone other than your partner.
A basic, but too often neglected, relationship talk is one where both partners define and agree upon what would be considered cheating. Is it as simple as flirting? Is porn ok? What about physical touch? Some couples are very conservative and others liberal in their views on this topic. Some consider flirting a form of cheating while others practice open relationships. It is not our goal or role to define "cheating" for anyone else; that needs to be defined by each couple, whose goal is to come to a mutually agreed upon definition so it is known which lines not to cross. If your spouse is more "vanilla" in their sexual attitudes, while you are more "banana-split with latex and handcuffs," a good rule of thumb is to adhere to the more conservative view in order to keep the relationship intact. Let your partner sample other flavors at their own pace.
Never say "Never"
Your marriage is strong, you are perfect for each other, and no one could ever come between you and your spouse. You might even say you are "soul mates." You would NEVER have an affair.
Okay, maybe, but just to be on the safe side, learn to think tactically about your marriage as you do about your job. Prepare for the worst, expect the unexpected, study and know your environment, and never let your guard down. Like police lives, police marriages are in the most danger in moments of complacency.
Understand the Allure of the Badge
For many people police officers are modern-day cowboys, strong, self-assured, surrounded by mystique. The badge represents authority, strength, and security. These are very attractive traits and some people are powerfully drawn to those whom they perceive to possess them. Some women in particular will aggressively pursue male LEOs. Seriously, do you think Barney Fife ever would have had the game for Thelma Lou except for the badge?
Like Ora Lee Tingle and Carolina Moon in The Choirboys, "Badge Bunnies" and "Cop Groupies" have become part of police lore. There are far more subtle, but more dangerous, threats to a police marriage, however, be wary of the needy victim who adopts you as her "personal cop," bypassing dispatch in favor of your direct line when there is a problem to be solved. Keep it professional with the friendly convenience store clerk who gives you extra customer care, and never allow yourself to be blinded by the attention you receive on the job.
Friendship with the Opposite Sex
It is an old question and one that has spawned much debate: "Can men and women remain 'just friends'?" We think so, and each of us has enjoyed strictly platonic, opposite sex friendships throughout our lives. Having and learning from those relationships has strengthened our own friendship and marriage. Men and women working side-by-side and developing professional and personal relationships is the norm in almost every profession. It is almost inevitable close relationships will form, especially in the often intense and emotionally-charged world of law enforcement.
There are some important caveats, though. The relationship must be understood as platonic by both friends at all times. It must never come before, or take precedence over, the marriage. And it must never be exclusive of the either friends' spouses. The moment it comes before or threatens the marital relationship it must be reexamined, and possibly ended.
Slippery Slope of Emotional Affairs
Many physical affairs start off because two friends get together to spout off about their partner. During these conversations the two friends bond over their miseries and begin to tell each other they are too good of a person to put up with that crap. As emotional intimacy continues to build one thing leads to another the two friends end up in a hotel room. Neither one of the friends ever "meant for it to happen" as the friendship started, but over time they gained a deeper emotional bond with one another than they have with their partner/spouse.
However, pure emotional affairs where no physical contact occurs are just as dangerous as a physical affair. A person is being unfaithful to their relationship whenever they share more intimate emotional feelings and secrets with their new friend than they do their partner. One of the safeguards of preserving our committed relationships is to have a deeper emotional intimacy with our partner/spouse than with any other person. When something good or bad happens during the day, who is the first person you think of calling? If it's someone other than your partner/spouse, then you may be on the downward slide of an emotional affair. Jump off immediately and start reinvesting time into your committed relationship!!!!
Relationships are fragile and even the best relationships hit challenges, difficulties, and hard times. Do not be naive and think you could never fall victim to either a physical or emotional affair. Basic human needs are to feel loved, accepted, and connected to another person on a deep intimate level. When our current relationship is suffering we become vulnerable to attention from someone new. As cops you learn tactical skills to keep ourselves safe on the streets, consider the skills above as tactical skills that keep your relationship safe.