One of the most common complaints we hear from the spouses, and especially wives/girlfriends, is, “He refuses to talk about anything that goes on at work,” or “he tells me ‘you would never understand,’ when I ask him about his day,” or “he puts up walls to keep us separate from the work part of his life.”
Ironically, we hear form a lot of officers exactly the same but with the insistence that, “She doesn’t care to hear about that,” or that “she couldn’t handle what I do everyday” or that refusing to talk “is my way of protecting all of them from all the terrible stuff in the world.”
Guess what… if they are going to sacrifice for your career they want at least a peek into the window of what you do. That doesn’t mean you need to regale the family with all the details of a grisly suicide scene:
Daddy, how… how did his eye get stuck to the ceiling fan?
Well, Little Janie, when the superheated gasses driving the shot leave the end of the barrel they expand very, very rapidly and violently, exploding the head just every which way…
Ohhhhhh, I see, Daddy. More spaghetti, please?
You can let them into your world as much as they want, and as is age-appropriate, in ways that they feel connected to and a part of who you are. If anyone truly does want to be left out of it, that’s their choice and it may be a good one for them, but let it truly be their choice rather than yours.
Resist the urge to disconnect from those closest to you. A lot of cops get into the habit of retreating to what Dr Kevin Gilmartin calls “The Magic Chair” whenever they’re not at work. “The Magic Chair” is that special chair – or a metaphor for whatever your particular go-away-leave-me-alone escape from reality is – that so many cops adopt as their refuge from a harsh world.
There is nothing wrong with an escape, and having one can be healthy as long as escaping is done in strict moderation, but danger lies in the tendency to make it your second home (or, home-within-the-home). When that happens it is inevitable that your loved ones will begin to grow distant, and form resentments. Their willingness to sacrifice for and support you will also wane.
Instead, figure out ways to go the extra mile. Strengthen old connections with those you love and build new ones. Double down on your efforts to be with them when you’re away from work. Sure, you need time to yourself – we all do and should make sure we get it – but they need time with you, as well. Remember, this is about their sacrifice, not yours, and how you can honor it. Being present is the sincerest way. It’s also one of the hardest for an off-duty cop. Get over it.
Make deposits in the bank
Relationship expert Dr John Gottman talks about the need for couples to make regular deposits in each others’ “emotional love banks.” What this means, in short, is building up a repository of shared goodwill and good feelings. Deposits are made when you spend time and share together, make sincere efforts to care for each other’s emotional wellbeing on a regular basis, give gifts (whether material gifts, spending time together, doing things for each other, etc) to show affection and concern, and generally put each other first. The idea of a “love bank” is usually applied to couples but makes just as much sense with kids, extended family, and friends.
All relationships experience tough times but research by Gottman and others has consistently shown that those relationships with high balances in the “emotional love bank” are the ones that not only survive crisis, but emerge stronger. Think of it this way: If your partner can easily recall the 91% of the time you’re a great spouse – the selfless, eager to help, awesome parent, attentive lover, perfect-for-me you – then overlooking the 9% of you that’s a crabby, absent-minded, self-absorbed jag-off becomes pretty easy! (and for the record, I was basing the 9% JO quotient on what I figure I routinely exhibit)