"A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature."
Life is stressful and law enforcement life adds to it. But, it's a life we and our loved ones chose, so finding ways to neutralize the stress is important to keeping our sanity. Research shows having a network of supportive friends has health benefits, including stress reduction. Strong relationships improve other relationships in your life. To keep your marriage healthy, look to your friends.
"Friends are the sunshine of life."
For years, the medical community believed stress caused the fight-or-flight reaction in humans regardless of gender. UCLA Doctors Laura Cousino Klein and Shelley Taylor, reflecting on the bonding women in their lab did when under stress, began to question this. The results of their study surprised the scientific community, but not most women. The study supported "that females create, maintain, and utilize these social groups, especially relations with other females, to manage stressful conditions." Instead of the fight-or-flight response of men, women's biological response is more of a "tend-and-befriend". Women group together to support each other when stressed out. The urge to call a friend when you're upset is not only based in your experience, but in your biology.
"A friend is a gift you give yourself." --Robert Louis Stevenson
Although your spouse is often your best friend, this doesn't diminish the need to have a social network. In fact, the stresses inherent in law enforcement marriages increase the need to have a friend or two to talk to when things seem overwhelming. Besides, it's nice to have a friend over for coffee those mornings when court has stolen your husband or for popcorn and a movie when shiftwork leaves you alone on Friday night. It's especially beneficial when two law enforcement spouses can support each other. A deep understanding of the costs and benefits of LE relationships often binds friends together. Also, these friends won't expect you to ask your husband any questions relating to their rights after a traffic stop.
"Friends are needed both for joy and sorrow." --Samuel Paterson.
According to the UCLA study and common knowledge, friendships improve the quality of life of women. They also improve the quality of your marriage. According to an article by Shelley Kimmons Bacote, "Women and men think and communicate differently. Sometimes women need to be around other women who understand what it's like to be wives and mothers, friends who can offer spiritual guidance and healthy perspective." This perspective can improve your relationship, especially when the aggravation of police work has blinded you to the virtues of the man you love. Bacote explains how friendships encourage and energize, and spouses benefit from the overflow. "The more encouragement a husband and wife share, the more energized and fulfilling their marriage will be," she states. In addition, the healthier you feel physically and mentally, the better your sex life will be, and both of you will thank your friends for that.
"Loneliness is the most terrible poverty." --Mother Teresa
Due to the isolation of police culture, finding meaningful relationships can be difficult. Many steps which can be taken to overcome loneliness, regardless of whether you are the out-going party girl or the shy stay-at-home woman. Elizabeth Scott, M.S. suggests the following:
- Meeting people- "The more people you have in your life, the more likely you are to have truly supportive relationships with at least one of them." She suggests joining a gym, getting involved in a hobby, volunteering, getting a pet, throwing a party or simply just smiling at others.
- Time Management- This is so important, although it seems when life gets busy the first thing to be cut out of our schedules is our friends. Next time, you're tempted to skip the monthly girls-night-out or put off calling back your friend who talks for an hour, remember how valuable friendships are to the balance in your life. And who doesn't need more balance?
- Assertiveness- An important thing is making sure you are getting your needs met while meeting the needs of your friends. Not every friendship is a supportive one and most of us do not have the time or energy to nurture bad friendships.
- Listening to your friend- Good communication is essential to nurturing supportive relationships whether it's a friendship or a marriage. Inherent in good communication is the ability to truly listen. I know I'm guilty of thinking about what my reply is going to be and just waiting for my chance to interject it rather than really listening to my friend (or my husband, especially my husband). Being able to listen to a friend helps "turn stress into a feeling of connection and well-being."
- Listening to your intuition- Keeping a healthy social circle is imperative for friendships to be able to reduce stress. Toxic friends, those who give off negative energy or make you feel drained after being with them should not be part of your social circle. Keep in mind, you might be that toxic friend and may need to address some things in your life to become the friend you'd want to have.
- Letting go- One of the toughest lessons in my life was the ending of a wonderful seven-year friendship with a girl friend I truly loved. We had supported each other through working in emergency communications, divorce and many stressful life changes, including law enforcement relationships. Then one day, we realized our friendship was no longer supportive. It was a tough decision, but we knew it was time to let it go. This is common and occurs at all stages of life. Just remember, letting go of a non-supportive friendship is not the same as not tending to supportive friendships due to lack of time.
"A friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." Walter Winchell
The UCLA study supports what women have known for years. We rely on each other for support, empathy and companionship. Friends make us feel better about ourselves, our lives and our marriages. With all the uncontrollable negative and unexpected stress in law enforcement life, having a strong social network can make us smile even through the tears.