A healthy, lasting, happy marriage is possibly the hardest relationship to maintain. For a long time it was understood that 50% of all marriages would ultimately end in divorce, with at least anecdotal evidence of law enforcement marriages being at even greater risk (with some estimates placing LE divorce rates as high as 75%). Marriage is hard. Done right, it is incredibly rewarding and fun, but doing it right is something that simply escapes too many well-meaning couples.
In order for the relationship to thrive it requires the following traits:
- Loving communication
- Willingness to get hurt emotionally
- Being vulnerable and honest about our individual flaws
- Putting your spouse before first before everything, including the job, kids, in-laws, and hobbies
- Never keeping secrets
- Ability to state what you need assertively but without being aggressive
- Taking ownership of our mistakes and making the necessary changes so the hurt to our partner does not reoccur
- Always loving, honoring, and cherishing your spouse, in all of your words and behaviors, even when you are the angriest at them!
All of the above traits go against our base human nature to protect ourselves emotionally. In the context of when one or both partners is/are a LEO, they run counter to the emotional and physical survival skills of your training. Instead of embracing vulnerability, police officers are taught to take control of situations, instill peace in the face of chaos, and remain emotionally aloof. Officers are taught to walk towards danger when others have the instinct to run away, and default to assuming control and command presence.
The divorce rate has lately fallen as the age of first marriage has risen, couples wait for financial security before tying the knot, and less formal relationships become more prominent. It must also be noted that marriage rates themselves have dropped to their lowest levels since at least the Great Depression with no signs of impending rebound, even as young people express interest in marriage and commitment. Insecure, often raised in or around broken relationships and lacking models of success, and faced with an equally insecure and untutored dating pool, many face weak prospects for relational and marriage success.
Marriage and couples counselors know this. People still clamor to overcome the pain of troubled relationships, and the issues standing in the way of healing and happiness.
Lately we’ve been addressing our writing largely toward the new and young officers joining the profession, the millennials who are its future and on whom it will evolve. This is no different, although what follows has no age boundaries. New cops just getting into law enforcement face perhaps even greater stresses and expectations than did the veterans they’re joining and replacing, at a time they are negotiating outside lives and loves that will surely be influenced by how the job impacts them. Most of their relationships are at the stage they are still young, still fun, and still hopeful. Our hope is to help keep them there, but knowing well that all lasting relationships undergo stress, face challenges and threats, and even experience multiple failures and recoveries. Realistically, at some time or another, every long-term relationship and marriage begins to unravel and fail. The secret to lasting success and happiness is catching the signs of impending failure and then correcting the underlying behaviors. Today, we’ll focus on identifying some of the most common signs of serious trouble on the relationship horizon.
Signs Your Marriage/Relationship is failing
A marriage fails over time. It is generally not just one event that destroys an intimate relationship but the series of multiple signs underlying issues that have developed over time. Instead of taking notice and putting time into correcting them, they are ignored or, even worse, come to seem normal! At least until everything collapses.
Although exhaustive lists of warning signs could be compiled, we find most fall under the umbrella of one of these broad – and surprisingly simple to see and define – categories:
Bickering and constant fighting – Commonplace in many relationships, this can signal a multitude of underlying issues. Perpetual conflict often becomes de rigeour for many couples as they settle into maladaptive patterns of communication they experience as normal but should raise red flags. Whether coming from a place of vastly different outlooks and expectations, underlying anger, disappointment or disgust with each other’s actions and choices, or as a way to deliberately push away from one another, when every interaction is edged with anger it is time to take stock.
You’re bored or have lost interest – Long-term relationships favor an easy comfortability between partners, settled and secure in their affection and care for one another. These relationships provide safety in an otherwise stressful or tenuous world. This is most certainly a good thing and something healthy couples strive for. Without due care, however, comfort can mask an encroaching complacency. Safety too often leads to boredom. And familiarity can, in fact, breed contempt in our highly evolved, stimulation-seeking, novelty driven brains.
This is normal among most human beings, so imagine how much greater the effect in cops who’ve chosen a profession that feeds often outsized appetites for excitement, risk taking, newness. Boredom is an important sign. Heed it, and develop strategies to counter the boredom that doesn’t scrap an otherwise perfectly good relationship.
Date nights are a thing of the past – Romance and “dating” – even past the courtship stage and after becoming established as a couple – are two of the first casualties in most relationships and marriages. This is both normal and unfortunate.
Continually courting each other – showing your desire and appreciation of one another – is critical to sustaining passion, seeing each other through fresh eyes, and ensuring fun lives on. If you’ve stopped dating, ask yourself why? Being busy or having fallen into other, mutually enjoyed routines is one thing (although breaking routines for a date night might be well-appreciated); because you no longer want to make the effort, have succumbed to boredom, or are harboring hidden feelings of contempt are quite another.
No affection – Diminished affection – physical, sexual, and/or emotional – is another common symptom of marital problems. While it’s normal for the early, hormonally-driven passions to wane somewhat, true lasting affection should never go away.
Business conversations vs. Personal conversations – Even though couples may stay engaged and keep talking to one another, too often they are simply “business” conversations focused on the simple daily maintenance of life, kids, appointments, and running a household. These are necessary, of course, and foundational, but the fun “personal” conversations that cement the foundation and keep it strong often fall away. Pretty soon it’s all business/no fun (or no passion) and life together becomes transactional.
Living without the personal invites coldness into the relationship and leaves both partners starved for emotional connection beyond the day-to-day business of living.
Defensiveness, justification, and rationalization – Being able to accept ownership of, and responsibility to change, your own behaviors that hurt your partner and the relationship is an important skill few people are willing to take on. Do you, faced with criticism, see it as a threat and throw up walls to protect your ego from perceived danger? When your partner brings up concerns and hurts is do you minimize, justify, or rationalize behavior? Or are you a counterpuncher, instinctively looking for weaknesses to exploit and responding with an attitude of, “Yeah, well what about when you…” as a way to deflect the threat?
If you see yourself or your relationship in any these warning signs it is time to reevaluate the health of your relationship. It may be time to make some changes. Next month we’ll look at simple changes and fixes you can do now.