There are a lot of new faces around Mike’s department these days. Young, unlined, and disconcertingly “just-happy-to-be-here!” faces topped by heads of silver-free hair, and attached to well-conditioned bodies wearing shiny new blues. It seems we’ve been lately overrun by a batch of fresh FNGs, as well as a small platoon of college criminal justice interns determined to be part of the next batch after graduation.
We’ve written a lot about relationships over the years, offering advice, observations, and hard-won experience from our lives, the work of recognized relationship researchers and experts, and what we’ve discerned from people we’ve known personally and professionally. Today we’re going in a slightly different direction. For all the new cops out there, just starting out and likely early in relationships and marriages – especially as part of a police relationship – we’re going to just cut to the chase. We’re going to give seven time-tested tips on how to most efficiently wreck a solid, loving relationship. Help them get that starter marriage out of the way quickly (and also hand-select personalized emotional baggage to screw with the next one, too).
This should be an easy one! Most police officers are naturally competitive to begin with, and up to this point it has served you well. The first two steps in a cop’s journey of getting hired are usually competitions; remember nervously sitting in that room filled with other eager, hopeful wannabes waiting to take written exam? Then you and the other survivors (amazing how a simple test can really tidy up a candidate pool, isn’t it?) came together for Round 2, the Physical Agility Test, and that peeled off even more also-rans. Of those intellectually sharp, physically fit candidates left – many with college degrees, distinguished military service, and histories of professional success – just a tiny handful made it through the rest of the selection process to actually earn a badge, and you are one of them! Most of those other kids are never going to be a cop. But you are. You won. You’re a competitor!
Never lose that competitive edge! Every chance you get, make sure to let your spouse know you are better than they are. Downplay their personal or professional accomplishments and milestones – they’ll never really compare to yours or what you do, after all – or, better yet, simply ignore them. But if you can’t ignore it and they insist you take notice, draw the attention off you, or otherwise rub your nose in their success, get really pissy! Redouble your efforts to outshine everyone, elbow your way back to the center of the universe, and grant no quarter in your quest to be best!
Be sure to point out failings
Does your spouse sometimes make mistakes? Does she step on the punchlines of your best jokes and mess up your war stories, sometimes stick her foot in her mouth, or add a new ding to the car every time she takes it out? Is he a useless klutz with power tools and not at all handy, easily flustered with the kids, and hitting dead end after dead end in his job search?
Or is your spouse really not living up to your expectations? Maybe gained a few pounds lately, doesn’t seem as interested in dressing well and looking good for you like when you were dating, the sex drive has kind of dropped off a bit, or there’s been no headway whatsoever to go after those goals you’ve taken the liberty of setting for them?
Unfortunately, your partner’s failings will frustrate and anger you sometimes but that’s no reason to take them lying down. Assume your spouse is simply unaware of his or her shortcomings and human frailties and take it upon yourself to point them out. In public is best, loudly if necessary, and be sure to explain how deeply they embarrass and annoy you. This should be all the motivation they need to never fail again.
Be a dictator instead of a partner
Countless scientific studies show that adult humans feel safest and most content when granted only minimal autonomy and choice. Based on these studies it is safe to assume that, much like very small children and dogs, your spouse will greatly prefer you take on a role of master or mistress of the house and simply set the tone and rules everyone is to live by under your roof. “Benevolent dictator” is a big responsibility, sure, but comes with wonderful benefits, mainly that you get to have everything your way! Sweet deal if you can handle it, right? And why wouldn’t you be able? You’re a cop; you were one of the select who passed all the tests and psychological screening and background checks. Heck, you’re a natural! Step up, take charge, and enjoy the perks!
Okay, full disclosure… we made up that part about the “countless scientific studies.” It sounds kind of good, though, and if you really try you can probably convince yourself it’s true. Besides, you do have the rest of it going for you so, you know, give it a try anyway and let us know how it works out!
Even if you decide against full-on “benevolent dictator” status, still be sure to always get your way
Maybe you’re a little bit country and he’s a little bit rock and roll, or your perfect vacation is a two-week unplugged, off-the-grid camping trip, while her idea of “roughing it” means the resort isn’t all-inclusive. Or what about the perennial debate over “whose family will we spend the holidays with this year?”
Conventional wisdom has always been to find compromise or seek a middle-ground where you both feel your needs and desires are understood and met, occasional self-sacrifice for the happiness of your partner is a joy unto itself, and expanding personal horizons by embracing activities you wouldn’t normally choose on your own is one of the unique gifts of relationship.
Forget all that.
Dig your heels in. Whine, sulk, or bicker incessantly until you get your way if it looks like you’re being led down a road you really don’t like. You work hard all week; you should get to do what you want to do come the weekend. It’s your life on the line out there day in and day out; why shouldn’t you get the vacation of your choice every single time? Take a stand and your spouse will surely thank you when they finally come to see the simple wisdom of your ways.
Be a cop instead of a husband or wife (or mother or father)
Tens of thousands of dollars have gone into training you to be a Cop, and countless hours on the street have finely honed your investigative and survival skills, so why should you turn them off at home? It’s unfair to expect; being a cop is just who you are, right?
So, go ahead and bring that no-nonsense command presence home at the end of the day! Parse the kids’ words for logical inconsistencies, bring your interrogation skills to disputes and disagreements with your partner, and confront family, friends, and neighbors over any whiff of B.S. you sense in their words or actions. It will keep everyone on their toes and make sure even those closest to you know who not to mess with!
They really don’t want or need to know, do they? Police spouses are best treated like mushrooms, “kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of bull____” as the saying goes, and what they don’t know cannot hurt them (or you!).
So keep what you do all day close to the vest. Assume they can’t handle it, would worry too much, be somehow soiled with the knowledge of what the police see, or think less of you if they knew too much about how the “sausage gets made” in the LE world.
And when what you see gets too much for you, the politics of it all wears you down, and stress becomes a constant companion, just tamp it down deep inside, put on a smile, and swear everything is just dandy! Works every time…
Be a martyr
Remind your spouse as often as you can how you put your life on the line everyday (because they probably forget). Let everyone around know how important your job is compared to theirs, all the danger and frustration and world-weariness it entails, and how it’s a higher calling but a burden you gladly bear for the privilege of serving something bigger than yourself. Make a show of hypervigilance (danger is all around, you never know!) and how law enforcement has changed you (you wish you could go back to more innocent times, but once you’ve walked the mean streets…). Let how you are “different than other people” define you. Who could ever get tired of that?
For all you fresh-faced young cops out there looking to get busy crashing your marriage or relationships with the help of your new career (as well as any veterans needing a quick refresher) we generously offer these seven time-tested tips. You’re welcome!
Wait… what? You’d like to keep your relationship strong? You’d rather not drive off your husband or wife, or family and friends? You actually want to buck tradition? Fine, then. We suppose you can use these as some sort of caution, as common pitfalls a lot of your more traditionally-minded elders perfected, and stay mindful of what to look out for. You can develop insight, coupled with a sense of your own frailty, and intentionally do the exact opposite of these, we guess.
If that’s what you really want, good luck with that. Maybe you newbs can do it better. We certainly hope so.
Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University. She provides individual, couples, and group psychotherapy for adolescents, adults, & geriatrics. She is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and is a certified divorce mediator. Once word got out her husband is a police officer, law enforcement agencies began to refer to her.
Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been a police officer for a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department's Crisis Intervention Team and Domestic Violence Team. Together, Mike & Althea, who have been married since 1994, provide unique training programs for police officers and therapists.