Marital and Family Issues specific to Law Enforcement Personnel

He's Changed!

" He's changed. Now how do I live with him?" So booms the too often heard cry of many police wives. He's always so negative. We don't talk much anymore. He's not the man that I've married".

"I'm not the one that's changed. You don't like anything. You act like you don't like my job, my friends, or ME!" the officer retorts.

So goes the battle of the police wife. The man she married, the man she fell in love with, seems to be different since he became a cop. It doesn't happen to all, and it doesn't happen too all at once. But it does happen to too many police families.

Research suggests that negativity and cynicism build over an officer's career. Some even suggests that a cynical attitude can be seen developing in the police academy! This cynicism effects an officers relationships, especially with non-officers (like his wife!). They tend to communicate less and use humor, (often black humor), as a defense to avoid dealing with problems. As they get more entrenched in the police subculture they become more isolated from the "outside" world. Unfortunately an officer's family lives in that outside world!

As a result of a cop changing, so does his wife. Wives of officers tend to feel more isolated. They perceive themselves as facing the world alone. They see themselves as not in control of their lives. The department's schedule controls their schedule. The departments needs take precedents over their own!

Often a police wife will tend to get more emotional to compensate for their husband's lack of emotion. They can exaggerate lesser problems in order to get help or attention that otherwise does not come their way. In essence, wives go the opposite extreme in an effort to maintain balance in their family. Unfortunately, when two people reach extremes, the balance is too delicate and can become easily upset.

The tendencies discussed above, however, are not pre-destined. We all have tendencies: whether promoted by work, upbringing, or genetics. We get to decide whether we give in to these tendencies or fight them. That's the good news. The bad news: It takes a lot of work to overcome a tendency rather than give into it. The picture is clear: Mental health is like physical health -- it takes work to become healthy and continued work to stay that way!

Below are five suggestions that can be used to overcome the tendencies of police life -- five marital exercises that can help establish and maintain a healthy relationship. These exercised are only a start. Add more as you work on you own relationship! Follow them as best you can. Hopefully you will reap the benefits.

1. One of the first areas that a wife can work on are her negative attitudes toward his job. A wife's stated satisfaction with her husband's career carries great weight in determining the extent to which his career affects the family's life. Focus on the advantages of being part of the police family. It is like being part of a community. A community that can be helpful, supportive, and protective. For every negative statement you make force yourself to make at least three positive statements. Actually take control of your language. Positive language about being a police family will yield positive results.

2. Make a commitment not to be a victim to the tendencies of police life. Sit down with your spouse and review the directions that many police marriages take. Make it a habit to review these areas monthly. Rate yourselves and rate each other on what direction the relationship is going. One of the best ways to overcome potential problems is to look for signs that it is developing and deal with it while it is manageable. Be aware! Avoid letting the tendencies that plague police relationships become realities.

3. One of the unfortunate parts of living in the 90's is that we have been brainwashed to compact as much activity into as little time as possible. Time gets further compacted when children come along. Many lives seem to be filled with clutter that chokes us from having any quality in our life. Police families are particularly prone to this "cluttering" because they try to compensate for shift scheduling, overtime, and the perception of many wives that they are "single-parenting". Keep your life as uncluttered as possible by avoiding unnecessary purchases, over dependence on credit, over booking your calendar or your children's calendars, and avoid pack ratting of material possessions. Take the time to sit with your spouse and methodically go through each part of your life and eliminate the things that are not necessary. The amount of clutter in your life is directly related to the amount of stress you feel.

4. The most important commodity in life is time. Time is needed to build a strong relationship. Time is needed to overcome problems. Time is needed to firmly establish changes. Money can be replaced. Possessions can be replaced. Jobs can be replaced. Once time is gone, it is gone forever!

It is important for police couples to make time for each other. Time alone. Time away. If a daily period of time can be taken, 15 minutes to a half-hour, it will make a tremendous difference in the relationship. Some couples find that time in bed right before falling asleep is the easiest to arrange. Just a cooling down, talking period. Others find it best to talk on the front porch immediately after a shift, or before a shift. Whenever this time is taken, it is best if the time is taken alone with your spouse and regularly scheduled. Make it a personal ritual! Time with family is wonderful, but couples need time together without children. In the same vein, regular nights or days out alone with your spouse is also necessary. Whether it is every other week, or once a month, a day or evening out is an important part of maintaining a relationship. Take turns organizing this day or night. Let the activity be a surprise to your spouse when it is your turn. But, don't let the weeks turn into months without some quality alone time together.

5. We are by nature a task oriented, goal directed, species. Through most of our existence, if we lose sight of goals, we become less satisfied. Marriage must also be goal directed. Sit down with your spouse and set the goals that you will follow for the next year. Write them down and date them. Don't use general language like "be happy". Use specifics like "help Johnny read at first grade level, " or "save $2000, " or "take a trip to Canada," or "spend a half hour alone together five days a week," etc. Once your goals are written, post them somewhere visible and review2 them together every week. Add new goals, if necessary. In a year, re-write the goals. Don't project more than one year at a time.

In may seem like a lot of work, but it is the most important work you will do. Remember, the career, family, and home are all built on your relationship. Don't ignore this foundation.

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Anonymous said...

I found this article to be excellent. My husband has been trying to get in the police force for quite sometime now. His investigator called me today and asked me how I felt about him becoming a cop and I replied I was reserved at first but I support him in all he does. I'm really hoping that this doesn't ruin his shot I would be devistated as would he. He would be an excellent cop and it was more for personal reasons that I had hold up with a small child I just worry about his safety. I'll definitely be following your blog. If you have any advice with this matter that would be great. Thank you

Jennifer_Parker said...

I began reading this article and I swear the author listened to a recent conversation between my husband and I. This was very helpful and made me look at things from another point of view. Thank you.
Unfortunately we don't have any groups for spouses of LEOs so I have to look online. This hit closer to home than you even know.

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