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Fighting Fair, Part I

I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me.   - Dave Barry

It is inevitable.  All couples are bound to experience conflict from time to time, despite their best intentions to fairly and calmly resolve differences.  And no matter how accommodating and easygoing they are – or think themselves – sometimes both partners feel the need to dig in, draw the battle lines, and defend their position.  It is when the tactics taken during these times leave more battle scars than feelings of love, affection, and support that conflict threatens to harm or even destroy the relationship.  Knowing how to establish rules to ensure fairness and respect is crucial and, if these rules are carefully set and followed, conflict (or argument, debate, discussion, or whatever you choose to call it) can be weathered and your relationship come out stronger for it.  But, as cops or someone who loves a cop, or wants to be a cop, or is thinking of getting into a relationship with one, you may face some unique challenges when it comes to managing conflict.

As police officers, you are used to verbal and physical conflict, and have probably gotten pretty good at dominating and prevailing, too.  Over time you grow skilled at taking control, maintaining the upper hand and, should your safety be threatened, know how to decisively end a fight and come out on top.  A primary goal of the LEO's training is to make a decisive response second nature, and police agencies go to great lengths to select personalities who believe are able to do just that. Unfortunately, what works well on the job too often becomes second nature away from work and, when you instinctively move to “dominate and overcome” at home.  While quickly establishing control or dominance when in in conflict on the street is a valuable skill for self-preservation and doing your job effectively, it is usually very destructive to a personal life when the person you are conflicted with is your spouse or significant other.  No one wants to feel dominated or controlled by the person they love the most.

But even though conflict is inevitable in even the healthiest of relationships, and sometimes you are just going to fight, it need not be destructive.  The trick is to fight fairly, lovingly, and supportively… even when you both just KNOW you are right!

Challenges for the Law Enforcement Couple

It’s easy to pay lip service to fighting fairly, and with an eye toward loving and supporting each other no matter how strongly you fell about your position and how frustrated you may be; it’s quite another thing altogether in the heat of battle.  The reason for this is twofold, really, and centered in both “normal” human nature as well as certain unique characteristics police officers – and sometimes even their partners by virtue of being in and adapting to the police subculture – bring to the conflict dynamic. 

First, it is common for us to abandon logic or succumb to our even basest emotions when we are frustrated or angry, and it is not uncommon for smart people to say and do stupid things. Emotions can bring out the worst in us no matter who we are, how much control we like to think we have over them, or whatever best intentions we have and hope will govern our actions at the onset.  Sometimes we just lose control and our personal version of “Mr Hyde” comes forth to inflict some deep wounds on the one we love the most.  Resorting to behaviors such as sarcasm, criticism, yelling, contempt, stonewalling, or intimidation hastens the death of intimacy, open communication, and may possibly cause so much pain that one or both partners choose to end the relationship.  As most cops get to know far too well, these are problems too many relationships struggle with and succumb to.

Second, as a police couple you likely face additional challenges that largely come directly from the training, experience, and inherent qualities the LEO partner brings to the table.  Police officers have a unique job that allows them the opportunity - and expectation - to be assertive, blunt, and to sometimes aggressively call people out on their behavior.  Cops are usually very carefully screened before ever being hired, chosen for their assertiveness and the will to confront those who need confronting, and those qualities are further honed through training and experience.  Over time most cops become rather no-nonsense and physically and mentally tough.   Sometimes, however, this appears (or truly is) uncompromising.  Through in a strong dose of self-assuredness and all these traits that are so valuable on the street begin to cause strife at home.  To succeed in a relationship requires you be able to view the challenges of the home-front much differently from those of the street and soften you stance accordingly.  How many of your colleagues' relationships have you seen crumble?  And how many of those relationships broke under the unique strains created because one or both partners were cops?

This is the Part I of Fighting Fair, intended to make you start thinking about what challenges you might face as one half of a police couple.  As we conclude with Part II we will bring solid strategies to help you build a framework for fighting fair that, if you follow and do correctly, enable both partners to be and feel heard, solve problems and disagreements, and usually never even feel like they were fighting in the first place!