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.
Explain what made you feel the way you did
Expressing feeling can be one of the hardest things a person can do. Try to remember you are a team and your marriage is a safe place to say what's really inside. Telling your spouse what circumstances led up to how you are feeling will help him better understand how to meet your needs. When he does the same, neither of you has to guess. In my experience, guessing is not a good thing. I usually get it wrong and so does he.
Clarify your needs
Before you begin a conversation, know what the issue is and what you'd like to see as a solution. This has to be the biggest obstacle to my communication. Many times, I've found myself "making my point" for five minutes or so, just to stop talking and realize I have no idea what I was expressing. The bewildered look on my husband's face tells me he's even more at a loss. Know what your point is and what you need before you start talking. Then stick with that without trying to bring in more than two issues and every infraction existing from the day you met. This might make a good novel someday, but it won't create an understanding between you and your partner now.
Communication is so important in a marriage. At some point, I would hope, both you and your spouse enjoyed talking to each other. By following these tips and continuing to improve communications, even difficult conversations, like money and in-laws, can be less stressful and create a bond strengthening your marriage instead of tearing it apart.