Being married to a police officer has taught me many things. Some have been good. Some - not so good. Like many LEO spouses, I’ve learned to adapt not only my mentality but my schedule, my household, my expectations of control and normalcy in my own life, etc. I feel there are three things necessary to being successful as an LEO couple: compassion, cleaning savvy and comedy.
Relationships can be especially tough when the added stress of one or both people being in law enforcement is added. People are nasty and meant and they do nasty and mean things to each other. A LEO spends most of his or her time being exposed to the worst in people and experiencing extremes in antisocial behavior. They see innocent victims of atrocious crimes or horrible accidents. They’re exposed to extreme hatred and prejudice. They are subject to verbal and physical assaults and sometimes witness their colleagues and friends murdered and/or attempts made on their own life. Out on the street many LEOs experience compassion fatigue. The stress created by natural emotion and the requirement to cloak natural emotion creates imbalance physiologically. This creates more physical, emotional and psychological stress.
Due to this added stress and compassion fatigue, many LEOs need to experience even more loving kindness from their partners. Many times providing this compassion can be tough for their significant other, especially when your officer comes come in a nasty mood, is withdrawn and you are already irritated over feeling like a single parent due to his or her overtime and shift work and you’re grouchy yourself. Try to remember your partnership. Life’s hard and you’re in it together. You’re on the same team. Have compassion for each other and try to set aside the ugliness of the world and be peaceful in the safety and security of your home and family. Create an environment that encourages and nurtures this. Neither of you needs to recreate the nastiness of the streets inside your front door. Have compassion for yourself as well. Care for each other, care for your family but also care for and have compassion for you.
Although many of the unique qualities important when having an officer as a significant other are emotional or character-based, one very important one is more practical. The ability, as well as, the knowledge of how to clean certain unusual items. The first time my husband came home and asked, “Do you know how to get blood out of a uniform?” I looked at him like a deer in the headlights. My mind raced, “Blood…out of a uniform…? How in the….ewwwwww!” My head tried to pull an answer from all my previous experience while my husband was shoving a bundle of clothes towards me. “Umm…no,” I said. Back then, I couldn’t just Google my answer so I did the retro-equivalent--I called my mom. She didn’t know off the top of her head (she was married to a career sailor), but together we figured out the answer. I disinfected the clothing, kept the blood from setting and then disinfected the washer after the cycle. I also have since learned the value of club soda, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.
Another important cleaning tip I’ve learned is keeping the dirty uniforms (shoes, gunbelts, etc) separate from other laundry. With the threat of being contaminated by a variety of vile bacteria and germs, including MRSA (mer-suh), it’s important to have your significant other take off their uniform in a special spot, like the garage or laundry room. This way the contamination won’t get onto the carpet, the bed or onto other clothes potentially infecting the entire family. Uniforms should be washed separately and the washer disinfected afterwards. It’s a fact of life for LEO families; nasty stuff from the streets comes home with them.
If you can’t laugh at the ridiculousness of the world around you with your LEO significant other, you’re too serious. And, in my experience, being too serious in this line of work will make you cynical, bitter and extremely unhappy. Being able to laugh when your dinner plans are interrupted by a call out or when schedule changes make you cancel your vacation…again is important. It’s easy to want to get angry and place blame on each other for the difficulties in life and those things that are out of your and your LEO’s control. Being able to keep it in perspective, it comes with the job, will allow you to not create resentments. Being able to laugh about it and work around it will strengthen the feeling of partnership and reinforce the “we’re in this together.”
Laugher is the best medicine. Research has found it to be incredibly good for physical and mental health. It’s a rocking ab workout and reduces stress. One morning, my LEO brought me doughnuts at work after I had just finished Third shift and was gearing up to do a double and work First. He came into dispatch in uniform carrying a box of doughnuts and wearing the Krispy Kreme hat. When he told me he had barged into the shop and practically shouted, “Where’s the doughnuts? I need doughnuts,” I almost wet my pants laughing at the image. I appreciated his ability to bring comedy into our relationship, especially since law enforcement mandatory staffing was creating my staying at the console for at least another six hours instead of going home with him. So, rent a funny movie, go to a comedy club or play Guesstures with some friends. You’ll both feel better.
Being married to someone who works as a law enforcement officer has its challenges. Relationships can take a beating. If as a significant other you have a few important skills, including the ability to be compassionate, knowledge in how to clean (or show him or her how) certain items and bring laugher into the relationship, some of the stresses can be neutralized. It can be a fun ride being with an LEO, especially if you can keep love in your heart, a bottle of peroxide under the sink and smile on your lips.
About the Author
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. Her credits include Law Enforcement Technology, Police, Law and Order, Police Times, Beyond the Badge, Michigan State Trooper, Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine and Chief of Police. She writes two columns a month for Officer.com. Michelle worked for the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for almost eight years. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. Currently, Michelle works as the Administrative Coordinator at Jasper Mountain a residential psychiatric facility for children. In her spare time, she enjoys being the fundraising coordinator for the Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue, playing her bass, working on her young adult novel Desert Ice and raising her two sons in a small town in Oregon.