Most experts agree how a couple communicates can make or break a relationship. If one or both partners can't express themselves effectively or keep things bottled up inside, their mental health, as well as their relationship, will crumble. Add to this, the stressors of unusual schedules, negative encounters at work and the many other variables of police work, and a dangerous brew bubbles and poisons many law enforcement marriages which began as shiny as that newly-pinned-on badge.
Once again we find ourselves asking, "What can we do to keep our marriages strong?" How can we learn to communicate effectively? Even if this communication isn't either of your strong points now, it is a skill that can be learned. Here are a few tips:
Be sure your spouse is listening
This is so important. If your spouse has just walked in the door and hasn't even dropped his gun belt on the dresser, this is probably not a good time to say, We just got a bill from the doctor and Jimmy's cast cost $400. How are we going to pay it? This is not to say you have to wait indefinitely to communicate with your spouse. Everyone just needs some down time between work and life. Ask your spouse, Can you listen to me now? If the answer is "yes," go ahead. If "no," acknowledge the need for peace and set a time to talk in thirty minutes or so.
Begin with something positive
No one likes a conversation that begins with a negative statement. That's as bad as telling someone, We need to talk. Often these statements cause a person to become defensive and close down. When your partner "squares off," she is not going to hear what you're saying. At the same time, be sincere. Insincerity is just as destructive as negativity. Instead, begin your conversation with, I know you've been working off-duty a lot to help pay the bills, and I appreciate your dedication to our family. But, I need some time to myself also.
Do not attack
This is a very important element especially in police marriages. Making statements which attack your spouse or his work won't help solve any problems. He has little control over the annoying aspects of his work, such as court time or scheduling, so attacking these won't help find a solution to how you can have more alone time together. Use "I" statements, such as, I need to feel close to you, can we tentatively schedule a date night next week?
Do not mind-read
If we could truly know what goes through our spouse's mind and vice versa, there wouldn't be a need to communicate. However, there would be few relationships that could withstand that kind of knowledge. Even so, often when talking, we say things like, You knew it would upset me when you scheduled that shooting practice when you knew I had an appointment. Most spouses do not deliberately try and cause conflict. In my opinion, officers even less so. They deal with conflict all day long. They'd have to be a glutton for punishment to go home and rile up their spouse especially since they can't arrest you if you won't shut up. Instead of mind reading just say how you feel and believe what you hear.