Police marriages have extremely high rates of failure. Schedules ruin birthdays and anniversaries. Shifts create a single parent out of the non-officer spouse. The officer could be seriously injured or killed. Temptations lurk around every corner. Being married to a police officer brings with it constant nagging negativity. It's in the media, online forums and in conversations.
"You're married to an officer? That must be so hard!" "Aren't you afraid he'll cheat on you?" "I bet you are afraid to even go to sleep at night when he's working."
I've heard these comments and many more from well-meaning friends and family. I'm not the only one. In her humorous article, Oh, So You're a Cop's Wife, a Los Angeles PD officer's wife describes common remarks. Add to these the high level of stress inherent in police marriages, and law enforcement homes have the potential to be a hotbed of negativity. At some point, we have to say "stop" and take our relationships back from The Man.
The first step is to take a close look at yourself. Often when things don't go as planned, we start spewing out negative comments about our officer's supervisors, the job and how we never signed up for this. Soon, the animosity turns toward the officer. Suddenly, we're no longer mad about the fact a late arrest ruined our dinner plans; we are pissed at our spouse and convinced he must not really care about us. This transfer of anger has to be overcome. Some aspects of the job suck, but for the most part, our spouses don't. I doubt the times my husband was called into court when we were spending time together were really a devious plan to ruin my sanity.
Changing from negative to positive is a choice. Many good books have been written about the benefits of optimistic thinking and behavior. Also, reading books written for police families, such as Ellen Kirschman's I Love a Cop, can help you understand some of the specific causes of your negative feelings. Once you make a conscious effort to think and behave in a positive manner, the atmosphere in your home will change. Even if you have to bite your tongue to avoid saying something nasty about the unidentified stains on the uniform he hands you, accompanied by a "Blood and Body Fluid Warning" slip, the results will be worth it.
Please Him, Please Yourself
Often it's hard to find time to express our feelings and intimacy becomes virtually nonexistent. Just like any living, breathing thing, a marriage has to be tended. Small gestures, such as stashing "I love you" notes in your officer's lunch box or on the steering wheel of the car, might nourish your marriage. Sometimes we forget that the stress of police life affects our spouses too. So, we need to take the time to let them know we care and have their back.
Another import aspect of a healthy marriage is "together time." Find time to cuddle and just be with each other. Looking deep into the eyes of the person you married will emphasize the person you love. After all, you married an individual and not an occupation. Taking the time to kiss your spouse and say you care each time they leave the house is a sure way to crack through that Kevlar-protected heart which truly belongs to you. Articulating a loving and safe environment for your spouse will encourage them to return the favor reinforcing the positive atmosphere you are creating. Living with the results is the ultimate reward for both of you.
Understand the Job
The best slogan for this step has to be "Police Wife: Toughest Job on the Force." An uncontrollable snort of agreement escapes most officers' spouses when they see this written on a t-shirt. I don't think I've ever seen anyone wearing one. Of course, this is probably due to a wish to avoid a lecture from said police husband about not advertising his occupation in public. Regardless, a clear understanding of both the officer's job and the job of being the officer's spouse can lead to a happier relationship. The stress inherent in police work can affect even the most balanced person. No one is closer to your spouse than you are, putting you in a unique position to watch for signs work is getting to them. Every person who loves a police officer should know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its symptoms. Early detection of excessive drinking, depressed behavior and other stress-related effects can get your officer healthy again quickly. Suicide and other self-destructive behaviors are common, although rarely talked about. Often officers do not recognize the signs they are being affected by their work. Their spouse can protect them from their job just by being observant. If you suspect a problem, a call to the department chaplain or a peer counselor could help.
Also important is to appreciate the little things. Often our officers are working overtime, spending most of their time at home sleeping and feeling left out of the family dynamic. Many times, the small things they do, like handling a load of laundry, taking the kids to the park or making dinner, is all they have time to do. We need to appreciate these things, even though it's easy to think, "Why should I pat his back for doing the dishes? I did them the other fifty times." Remember positive thinking can change the atmosphere. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need, but don't forget to thank him for the little things.
As police spouses, we have the power to define our marriages in whatever terms we want. Although being married to an officer controls many things, such as schedules and who gets to play chauffeur, we each have the power to make things more pleasant at home. Positive thinking, creating a warm atmosphere, and understanding the job are small steps each of us can take every day. With enough effort, soon people will be saying, "With the amount of stress in law enforcement, it's amazing how strong police marriages are." The thought of that day is what keeps the ring on my left hand and my arms wrapped tightly around my husband, who also happens to work for a police department.