A Battle for Your Mind
It was a beautiful morning but hot. A small group of men sat in chairs, facing us from the front, their duty uniforms blending in with the helicopters parked behind them. We were honored to be in their presence as the master of ceremonies recounted the heroics of these men while deployed in Afghanistan. Their ordeal sounded like a scene in a movie, but what they’d been through was very real. After they were awarded their distinguished medals, the families joined them up front for pictures. The officer we were there to support was joined only by his kids, as he was divorced. I felt a lump in my throat. This brave yet humble man before us had been deployed twice to provide medical assistance to those fighting for our freedoms.
When at home he serves as a police officer. I’m sure it was very difficult for his wife to endure the loneliness, the risks, and other things that make marriage to a soldier/cop challenging. Being the wife of a policeman, agent, deputy, or soldier is tough, and there are those who don’t make it. I’d like to tell you it’s not that difficult, but the facts speak for themselves. Divorce is a very real problem for law enforcement. But it isn’t inevitable. Ellen Kirschman, PhD, a clinical psychologist who works with law enforcement and author of I Love a Cop, says this: “Several police-specific studies suggest that the first three years of marriage are the most precarious and that if a male officer stays married beyond those three years, his marriage is, in fact, more stable than one in the general population.”1
Sherry agrees with this. The third year of her marriage to her police officer was very difficult. Her husband couldn’t juggle the new demands of his job, and they had been struggling for a couple of years. Both sides of their extended family were not familiar with the difficulties facing them as a new law enforcement couple and therefore didn’t understand. Finally Sherry moved out. It got everyone’s attention. Their relatives rallied around them, and after six months of processing and healing, they reunited. They are now enjoying a thriving marriage of eleven years.
Making the choice to stay or leave starts in the mind. When things are tough, there is a natural tendency to run. When hard times stay for a particularly long season, some women reach their breaking point. They need relief. And there are those who seek relief in leaving. But in many circumstances, divorce is the beginning of a whole new set of problems. I’ve had my own mind battles. There are times in my marriage that the vow I pledged back in 1988 was the only thing holding me in place. I will go into this later on. But first let’s take a look at the foundation of marriage: commitment.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 29th, 2012
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Yesterday I was taken aback by a beautiful gal who asked me to sign her book. She had her soon-to-be officer with her, and her 7-year-old son. I asked her a couple of questions and soon she was dabbing the edges of her eyes, careful not to mess up her mascara.
“I was doing fine until I heard what the wives said in the panel,” she confessed. “I’m just so overwhelmed…”
Her husband had a look. His deep eyes showed several guarded emotions. I imagined his thoughts. “I just went through six months of hell. I’m graduating tomorrow, and now she’s crying… what is the deal here? What’d you say to her?”
My hug was better than my stupid words. Fact is, the look in his eyes drew me a blank in the what to say category. I mumbled some worthless chatter, and hugged her again.
Since then, this little family has come back to my thoughts again and again. What do you say to someone who is just starting this journey we’ve been skipping and trudging through? We have to be realistic. She’s got to know what she’s getting into. But we also have to move forward. We know it’s tough – we just don’t know how tough. And unknowns are shadows in the distance.
How will this change my life? Change my man? Change me?
Our lives as peacekeeper families are a balance between white picket fences and cold, steel bars. Somewhere between happily ever after and death row. When a person steps up and pledges to give themselves to public service, he/she makes a decision – a promise – that drastically affects the lives of his/her family. This is true for all relationships, but not to the degree of the effects for warrior families. This is one reason why the CHP holds a four-hour training for it’s new officer families.
But it isn’t all bad, it isn’t all sacrifice, it isn’t all serious drudgery. Otherwise no one would take it on.
We do what we do because we are motivated by fierce love.
We do what we do because we dare to live with hope.
We do what we do because we have courage to live a life with risks.
Some days are easy, uneventful.
Some days pass by, slowed by loneliness.
Some days are filled with laughter, intimacy – the goodness that closeness brings.
Some days are filled with moodiness.
Some days are filled with confusion and conflict.
Some days are just, well, awesome.
It’s all how you choose to look at it.
The passing of days – ups and downs, circles and lines, outgrown shoes and fond memories, losses and benefits – develop into years of seasons between white paint and prison cells.
It is our adventure to live.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 26th, 2012
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Perhaps the biggest impact on your marriage will be the stress of your hubby’s job. There are so many pressures on policemen. There’s the hatred from criminals, office politics, accusations from the media, a lack of justice in the court systems, armchair second guessing, the heartbreaking injuries and deaths of innocent people, and even uneasiness of law-abiding citizens. It will, at times, affect him in his off time.
Your husband also undergoes physical stress. Not only does he need to rely on his training to get him out of some tight spots, but he also is required to work different shifts that aren’t conducive to good sleep. On top of that, he may have trouble eating well, as many times they buy fat-laden fast food to sustain them during long hours (we’ve heard the donut jokes ad nauseum). Our guys can also be susceptible to injuries or illnesses related to the job, and, of course, this will affect you.
Lastly, there are strong emotions that come with his job. He’s been trained to be in control, to bring calm to stormy situations. Most will obey his orders, and the ones who don’t may only respond to force. Sometimes it’s hard to turn that off when he gets home. What if you and the kids don’t adhere to something he wants or asks you to do? When your cop has strong emotions, both in control and out of control, that can affect your relationship and home.
Perhaps one of the most obvious things that set us apart from other marriages is the hours our guys work. Their jobs are driven by emergencies, and we never know what will happen and when. No matter what agency he works for, the hours can be long and unpredictable.
Crime and accidents happen twenty-four-seven. Brenna’s husband, Scott, is on the SWAT team for the sheriff ’s department. He constantly gets calls to report for potential situations. At the onset of one recent incident, he kissed his family goodbye, saying he’d probably be home within the hour. It became a three-day hostage showdown. Scott came home a couple times to get some sleep and then returned. For Brenna and her children, it was the most difficult ordeal they’d experienced thus far. Their lives revolved around the situation. Family and friends called constantly for updates, Scott was in high gear the entire time, and it was covered in full-color detail on television.
In addition to long hours, in recent history we have endured something else – deployment. Natural disasters, 9/11, riots, and fires have taken our men to other places to help out local law enforcement in crisis situations. Many policemen are former military, so some cop wives have experience with this. It doesn’t make it any easier – and we’re left to hold down the fort.
I remember the news footage from September 11, 2001. There were people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors fleeing a wall of dusty debris, leaving shoes, purses, and hats behind. My stomach curdled when I realized what happened. I thought about all the emergency personnel who were in the thick of where that debris was coming from. We lost many good men and women that day. September 11 serves as a vivid reminder that what our husbands do is dangerous. When everyone else is running from danger, they run to it. And we know full well the risk that they may not be the same when they return, if they return.
Over the years I’ve been to my share of law enforcement funerals. I’ve had widows and family members cry on my shoulder. We have a fallen officer who is buried within a mile of our home, and we visit his grave every year around Thanksgiving, the time of year he died. The risks are real. And the fear that this could happen to us can wreak havoc if not dealt with. If you’ve been married to a cop for very long, I’m not telling you anything new. You’ve already come up with coping mechanisms and solutions to all of these issues. Sometimes all we need is to know that there are others who are experiencing the same thing, and we are bonded through the experience. But whatever stage you are in, dealing with these obstacles begins and ends in your mind.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 22nd, 2012
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Protection of Privacy
When Brent and I moved to Los Angeles, we began to pay a small fee every month to keep our names out of the phonebook. Because I grew up in a small town, this was very foreign to me! But it was for our protection. My husband dealt with questionable characters on duty; therefore, revenge was a possibility. One of the protections we put in place was controlling what information was available to the public. This was before the dawn of the Internet.
There are other things we do as well. We don’t shout to the world what his occupation is. When we are out and about, we blend in. We keep to ourselves, but Brent is always watching. He sits in strategic spots with his back against a wall, in view of the exits. He will zero in on suspicious behavior and be ready to jump in (or leave), should something go awry. Most of the time, the kids and I aren’t even aware of his vigilance. We choose our friends wisely. Most cops end up hanging out with other cops, mainly because they understand and trust each other. Brent and I have maintained friendships with both cops and non-cops; it seems to keep our lives in balance. We haven’t had any issues with this—most of the time. At times his cop mentality has offended others, but, for the most part, non-cop people are fascinated by the stories and ask lots of questions.
Neighbors are a different thing. We can’t dictate who lives next door. Depending on the neighborhood, we’ve both kept quiet, and informed our neighbors that he was law enforcement. At times it has helped others to know who he is, but not everyone is happy about it. One December night Brent was on the roof, putting up Christmas lights. Suddenly our neighbor pulled up and said that there was a young man dressed in dark clothing on the side of a single lady’s home down the street. Brent jumped in the car and went to investigate, finding him hiding in a ravine. He instantly slipped into cop mode, interrogating the kid as to what he was doing. After an hour or so of following the kid home, calling the sheriff, and calming the neighbors’ nerves, we went to bed. The next morning we awoke to vandalized Christmas decorations. Of course, we knew exactly who did it. The kid lived in a rental the next street over, so we held a neighborhood watch meeting, contacted the owner, and by Christmas they were gone. Wouldn’t you know? A string of petty thefts in the area ended at the exact same time.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 15th, 2012
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
“I actually am careful about what I wear to bed when he’s on duty. Because I never know when another uniform will knock on my door…” Fran, CHP wife, thirteen years
“How many normal people use words like trained observer and incident in their conversations?” Rhonda, CHP wife, eleven years
I didn’t sign up for this when I fell in love with my man. Brent was in that place of college indecision when we met. He had just realized that his first choice, the Air Force Academy, was not to be. There was a whole world of opportunity just waiting to be explored! So he looked into medicine and law, and he even considered becoming a pastor. Another choice was the California Highway Patrol. His dad was on the patrol and encouraged him to throw in an application. While we spent time getting to know each other, he was also following up on each step of the hiring process.
Then we got engaged. The first decision we made as a couple was to say yes to the patrol. We set our wedding date five weeks before he was to report to the California Highway Patrol Academy. I had no idea what I was in for. But I had my guy, and that was all that mattered. In our minds, we committed to the patrol for five years. It was a way for us to grow up, get some life experience for medicine or ministry. But somewhere along the way, we let go of other opportunities. His career had become a calling.
He became a cop.
If you knew your husband before he became a lawman, you probably witnessed a change in him. Maybe you met your man afterward and you knew what you were in for from the beginning. But, either way, we became cop wives and entered into a life that is different than non-cop wives. Because he is in law enforcement, your marriage is different from others. But why?
Who He Is
Every society needs individuals who will step in and uphold the laws that the collective people agreed were necessary for peace. There will always be those who don’t want to follow these rules. Some will, at times, go to significant effort to make sure they get their way and then get away with it. Our husbands devote themselves to restoring and keeping the peace these people disrupt. Some call it the thin blue line—the force that stands between order and chaos. It’s a tough position. Because our husbands are protectors of the peace, they have to be on guard at all times in, and sometimes out, of uniform. Their safety is of utmost importance, as is the safety of their loved ones. As a precaution, protections can be put in place to minimize access to themselves and their families.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 8th, 2012
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
“Marriage is hard,” he warned. “Marriage to a cop is even harder. You need to think through if you truly want to do this. Do you think you have what it takes to be the few who make it? Most cops are divorced…”
The background investigator could tell I wasn’t fazed. Which is why he repeated it. I thought, How hard could it be? I love him, he loves me. Of course we would make it work. I didn’t really listen because my thoughts were on flowers and white lacy dresses and invitations to our wedding. I thought he was being overly dramatic. I thought he was unnecessarily negative. I wasn’t ready to hear how difficult it would be as we embarked on this journey. So months later, when I found myself in the heart of Los Angeles traffic, scared to death to make a lane change, I remembered his words. I recounted them again when I heard the first heartbreaking stories of people who had taken or ruined lives. They echoed with the sound of a brush hitting the wall during an argument before Brent reported for duty on our first Christmas together. And I remembered his words as I sat on the bed, watching him prepare to enter the LA riots war zone. Slowly but surely, I got an inkling of what Officer Negative was talking about.
I’ve had a CHiP on my shoulder for over two decades now. We’ve had a wild and crazy adventure with twists and turns and some seasons I don’t care to repeat. Twelve moves, four promotions, and four kids later, I love him more now than in those early days. But that love didn’t grow without choosing my attitudes carefully. I’d say this is the key to the success of our marriage and the heart of this book. I consciously made the effort to deal honestly with problems, adopt attitudes that didn’t come naturally, and learn to set realistic expectations. It was tough, but I learned to be stronger. So can you.
Along our journey we’ve been involved in the lives of other policemen and their families. I’ve interviewed many of them for this book and incorporated their stories, quotes, ideas, and attitudes. In these cases I have changed their names to protect their privacy. It takes a strong woman to be a cop’s wife. We come in all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, and experiences, but we have a common strength. And that strength is determined by our minds. These pages relate to all of us and can be applied to individual marriages in unique and creative ways. My hope is that these pages will enrich your marriage, helping it to thrive for years to come.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 1st, 2012
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder