No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Actually none of us are even guaranteed the next minute. We take precautions, try to make healthy choices, and make plans on returning home to our loved ones. Car wrecks, acts of crime, and medical emergencies often turn a simple ring of someone’s phone into a life-altering moment. No one expects to hear the words from a stranger that their loved one is gone. But it happens. And some people are in positions that place them in situations that increase the chance of a loved one getting that call. One of those positions is that of a law enforcement officer. The very nature of the job places police officers into situations that they very well may not walk away from. They acknowledge this fact and continue to function and perform their duties. But what about their families? Spouses in particular. Everyone knows about the stress that officers face but what about the family members who are married to a cop?
Marriage is no easy task. Romance, fireworks, and the desire to constantly be with someone fades into paying the bills, cleaning the house, and raising children. Add into the equation a job that has a rotating schedule, long hours, dealing with every horrible aspect of life, and this stress can put a marriage on the fast track to disaster. Being married to a cop brings about its own set of problems and stressors. Being a police officer means belonging to a tight brotherhood. You discuss your shift with those who understand. Everyday officers are witness to horrors and tragedies. Coming home to a spouse complaining (even rightfully so) about a broken dishwasher and kids fighting over a game can seem insignificant in light of what the officer saw on that shift. One woman stated she felt like a single parent due to her husband’s schedule¹. But it isn’t insignificant; it is real life and one that is shared by two parties. Many spouses of officers may feel as if their spouse dismisses their struggles. This disinterest can lead to feelings of resentment and lack of communication.
A marriage is a partnership. When married to a cop, it is natural to want to discuss the day’s events with your loved one. But maybe the officer who had to respond to a child abuse case simply wants to spare their spouse the pain. Maybe there are no words. But continual lack of communication can build up walls and distance spouses from each other. Even having the good intention of sparing your spouse any pain by keeping quiet on your day’s events can open the door to further problems. If you aren’t talking to your spouse, chances are you are talking to someone. And this is where many marriages end up in ruin over affairs. Finding a fellow officer to vent to is expected and necessary; just do yourself and your spouse a favor by making sure you aren’t venting to someone that turns into more than a sympathetic ear.
Missed birthdays, anniversaries, and forgotten date nights. When married to a cop, all of these things can add up and cause major marital issues. But what about the fear that a police officer’s spouse must face? We all kiss our loved one’s goodbye and expect them to return. What about those whose loved ones are walking away in Kevlar, going out to wage battle against the evil and chaos in the world? How do their spouses keep from being paralyzed by the fear of never seeing their loved one again? Law enforcement has always carried a high risk for those serving. They know this and their spouse knows this, or soon learns. High speed pursuits, weapons, drug-altered individuals, criminals with nothing else to lose. All of these present a threat that most people never face when they head off to work. How do you balance being concerned with dreading the ring of your phone, expecting the worst?
This threat has only increased with the recent changes we’ve seen around the nation in how society views police officers. While many people still respect officers, a cultural shift has occurred that has opened a door for a new threat to appear. Officers are facing the threat of random attacks at a level never before seen. How can you defend yourself from an enemy you never see? This fear is compounded onto the fears a spouse may have of their loved one getting shot in pursuit of a suspect, or being injured in a response to a domestic violence call. Knowing that your spouse has taken on the commitment to protect and serve means coming to terms that they will be in situations that can take their life. Sitting down for a meal shouldn’t be one of those situations. But it is yet another aspect of life for police officers and those that stand behind them in support.
With all the stress placed on the spouse of an officer, there are steps that both parties can take to shore up their marriage.
- Fight fair
- Pray together
- Make time for intimacy
This is just some of the good advice given by Dr. Olivia Johnson in her article addressing marital health in a law enforcement marriage².
In any marriage, communication is key to maintaining a healthy partnership. With the additions of rotating schedules, overtime, court dates, training, fear of the dangers of the job, raising children and feeling like a single parent, wanting to talk when your spouse needs to just unwind, being married to a cop can seem an insurmountable task. But you can do it. Just like the officer needs a support system of people who understand, so does the spouse. Everyone has trials and struggles in life; occupations do not exempt people. But knowing your spouse is willingly placing themselves in dangerous situations brings a level of stress not known to the spouse whose loved one calls to say they got caught up in traffic. Not being able to call or text during the day can make you feel separated. Make sure you keep the lines of communication open between you and your spouse. Give them their down time but have them realize you need them to share in this life, even if it’s just hearing about your day’s events. Make time for the two of you. This can seem impossible but can be a life-saver. Have friends and family that can give you a break and be there when your spouse can’t. It isn’t the same but you won’t be alone. If the stress is overwhelming, reach out for help. Church groups, community groups, and other opportunities exist that allow you to get the burden off your chest. Officers often receive debriefings and other support services after extremely stressful incidents; you are no different. Staying connected and supported are key to thriving as the spouse of a law enforcement officer. Sprout Health Group and Frontline Responder Services are committed to not only helping our dedicated police officers, but to being a resource for the loved ones of these brave men and women.
John Becker Jr. has experience as a police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John also possesses a unique understanding of substance abuse among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. He is the Director of First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group. John is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. John has provided training to a number of agencies and organizations. He can be reached at 215-833-1572 or JohnB@SproutHealthGroup.com
¹Perin, M. (2011, January). Married to a Cop. Retrieved from http://www.officer.com/article/10227641/married-to-a-cop
²Johnson, O. (2015, March). 10 Pieces of Advice from Police Spouses for a Successful Marriage. https://www.policeone.com/family/articles/8402183-10-pieces-of-advice-from-police-spouses-for-a-successful-marriage/