For anything worth having one must pay the price; and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice -- no paper currency, no promises to pay, but the gold of real service.
- John Burroughs
During most traditional wedding ceremonies, especially if they take place in a church or under the auspices of a faith community, the new couple vows "to forsake all others." Most of us take this to mean they vow to forsake intimate relations with anyone of the opposite sex who is not their spouse. They have chosen “to become one” emotionally, spiritually, and physically, and most assume the forsaking others part has most to do with preserving the physical oneness – and, in turn, the emotional and spiritual safety - sexual monogamy helps ensure. That is one correct interpretation of the vow but it is incomplete. What this vow really does is emphasize the first and most important principle for a successful marriage: that each person places their spouse, and by extension the marriage itself, above all other earthly relationships. This means your marriage comes before your parents, your siblings, the old buddies from the day, and all the hobbies that make you the individual you are. You are no longer operating solely as an individual. It comes before the kids. And it comes before the JOB.
For such a sacred vow, it is so easily broken when we take our eyes off our spouse and turn them to a distraction. How many LE marriages have you seen shattered by infidelity? The temptations are ever-present with the job, true, but are not always about another person.
Temptations take many forms and letting one become your mistress is every bit as dangerous as a physical or emotional affair with another person. Police officers, like everyone else, may be distracted from putting their most significant and intimate relationship first in their lives by all the most common temptations, but some of the most common for cops are:
Ambition – Attaining a plum assignment or ascending the ranks are both noble pursuits, and it’s certainly necessary someone chase them for the good of the department (so it might as well be you, right?), but usually require a lot of sacrifice on your part – and also of your partner at home. You might dream of chasing down drug dealers in the night but you’ll likely have to log a lot of patrol time working the busiest shifts in the hardest beats to set yourself apart from everyone else who wants that job, and this can wear on the home life, especially if you have three young kids at home and a spouse or partner raising them more or less as a single parent. Ambition is fine but weigh its dangers and proceed cautiously.
Obsession – It is easy to lose yourself in the job. Every dedicated cop knows how it feels to be caught up in uniquely fascinating case, or the overwhelming empathy for a crime victim that makes the push for justice irresistible, and how these feelings can drive them to obsess. The mind zeroes in on the case and everything else is shoved aside. That kind of focus is good… on the clock. When you cannot shake it on the drive home, at the family bar-b-que, during your kid’s band concert, or while you should be devoting your attentions to your spouse? Then you might just have a problem (or are about to).
Pursuit of the overtime dollar – This is another guy we all know (and, truthfully, maybe have been at times… or now): The overtime whore! No OT detail is passed by, no call for holdovers ignored. A truly dedicated OTW will abandon the family vacation and drive across three states to grab a 4-hour gig at time and a half, or elbow her best friend in the throat if she thinks he might be making a move to snag “her” overtime. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little extra, but at what cost when the chase becomes all-consuming? Chase too hard or too long and pretty soon you’ll really need the OT bucks… to pay your lawyer.
The lure of the badge and all it gives – “Being the police” is a powerful hook, isn’t it? It comes with adventure, fun, power, cool toys, and the distinction of working a job most could never get, let alone succeed at. The job itself is a huge pull with its camaraderie and esprit de corps. For a lot of us, day-to-day domesticity pales in comparison. Where’s the adrenaline rush in that?
This is not to say there are never times for ambition, obsession, looking for that little extra, or passion for work. Of course there are, and most partners of cops know this and are okay with it. They’ve chosen to sacrifice for your sake and the sake of the career, and most do so willingly, but you need to sacrifice, as well. Here are the basic steps to “forsaking all others” in a way that both strengthens the marriage and still honors and devoted time to those things (in this case the JOB) that have been “forsaken.”
In Part Forsaking All Others, Part I (linked below), Althea described how she had willfully chosen to forsake certain dreams and expectations of in her ideal version of marriage for me, in giving me her blessing and encouragement to pursue a law enforcement career. She sacrificed greatly for this, and I knew it, and I have an even greater responsibility to honor her sacrifice. One of the ways I do this is by making our relationship and marriage primary over all else, even the job.
But how do you do this in a way that honors your relationship above all else, while still recognizing the importance of your career and all the ambitions and excitement you hold for it? We follow a handful of simple principles.
Make career decisions as a team
Marriage is most successful when you view yourselves as a team rather than two individuals each trying to put his or her self-interest first. As such, we have made sure career decisions are team decisions for both of us. Which shift and hours each of us works, whether or not to seek a different positions or paths in our careers, when or if the time was right to take the sergeant's exam, how to focus our writing and training ambitions, etc. are all decided by the two of us as a team so no one is left behind and no one feels disenfranchised. Teams decisions are empowering, strengthen your bond, and enable energy to be placed first on the relationship, but also to pursuits outside the relationship.
Because her input is an integral part of my career, Althea is invested and engaged in it. We talk frequently about what is going on at work and with me – things that are often hidden from our partners – and I have a supportive sounding board at home. My work isn’t something she has to compete with but an integral part of who we are as a couple. Because we are invested in each other’s careers she knows me professionally and is my biggest advisor; her input and support has made my career richer.
Devote as much – or more – time to the relationship as you do to your career
Consciously devote as much time and effort into your marriage as you did give to your career. As a LEO it can become easy to put too much time into solving the latest crisis that there is not enough energy left over to put into the relationship. Do this by scheduling time together every week to simply catch up with one another and to see how the other is doing. Make a concerted effort to take an interest in each other's hobbies, friends, families, and careers. It is important for spouses to put time and effort into each other so that they know beyond a doubt that they are the most important person in each other’s’ life. If your spouse feels they are competing for your time, you will then begin to experience your spouse as putting restrictions on you; if they believe they are first, they will likely give you freely to other pursuits.
Devote yourself to being well-rounded… together
Althea and I have our own interests and pursuits – each maintaining your individuality is crucial to a relationship, of course – but we have taken great care to cultivate shared interests that take both of us outside our comfort zones and expand who we are together. So many people are content to reach homeostasis in both their personal and relational worlds, deciding they are somehow complete. For us learning, growing, and experiencing anew is a lifelong process. There will always be something else to master (or flail around at, just hoping for adequacy, but enjoying the effort), somewhere to visit, something to see, or new things to learn. Great books and movies continue to be produced, and ideas for articles to write will pop into our heads.
There are only so many hours in a day, and so much to do and learn, how can we not be growing together? For some reason, though, a lot of us just stagnate. Get up and go! Devote yourselves to growing together… it is well worth it!
If both of you are first committed to each other first, your relationship will be on solid ground and there will be room for other things. If the husband or wife of a cop is committed to their LEO spouse, they will know that sometimes sacrifice is necessary, even noble. Holidays and functions will sometimes be missed, plans will be changed at the last minute, and energy will need to be directed toward the department in order to get ahead. All fine and to be expected sometimes, but if you are the LEO in the couple always remember to bring the marriage back to the forefront.