His Coping Mechanisms
Your cop will have his ways to deal with stress. You may not be crazy about some of them, but, if it’s working, you need to let it go. A couple of years ago, Brent had a chief who dealt with stress by having an occasional outdoor cigar-smoking session with a few guys in the office. My daughters hated this. They always knew when Daddy smoked a cigar that day. But I knew that a few cigars over a several month period were unlikely to do any damage. In fact, it did him some good to take an occasional timeout in the middle of a hard work day.
Debriefing with their friends seems to help them deal with stuff a bit easier. Suggest he play racquetball or golf with some buddies. Maybe a yearly hunting trip is in order, or have him spend a morning fishing with a friend. During these times, it’ll also help your attitude if you schedule something for yourself.
Cop humor, silence, Monday-night football, motorcycle riding, exercise… our guys need outlets. There has to be some way for them to fill up. He’s putting out a lot of himself to be an officer. You can help too by listening, taking care of your portion of the marriage partnership, initiating sex, and creating a safe home. But as awesome as you are, you are not the only place he can be filled. Support an outlet or two that build him up.
Understanding our men—who they are, what they do, how they deal with it—helps us to know better how to support them. But this is only half of it. How we respond is the other half.
Erica, whom I referred to earlier in this chapter, says that she doesn’t think about this stuff each and every day he walks out the door. I don’t either. But I suggest thinking through it ahead of time when all is well, letting these thoughts digest so that day to day and year to year we grow and learn together instead of moving apart. In some ways, it’s putting on our own mind armor to keep us in the marriage game as well.
We have a choice here. We can begrudge the way they are and build a wall to protect our sense of who we think they should be. We could, over time, harden our hearts toward parts of them and complain behind their backs to our friends. We could demand that they change, and they might even try out of love for us. But, in the end, they will not be able to trust us completely.
Or we can accept them for who and what they are, respecting their processes. We can love them unconditionally for what they are and be forgiving for what they aren’t. This acceptance gives them the freedom to be real. And in the security that this provides, they might even just mellow out over time. I’ve witnessed this in many marriages. We might say, “She’s been good for him.” At the very least they will appreciate the safe place that our love creates and trust us with depths of themselves we will treasure. Sex may be better, too, as the walls of mistrust disappear and we grow in intimacy.
On its surface, it seems like an easy choice. But it isn’t. Marriage is hard. Marriage to a cop is even harder. How can we get the courage necessary to thrive amidst all of this?
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" April 8th, 2013
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The Hero at Home
Because this book covers different aspects of law enforcement marriage, it probably seems like my entire existence revolves around the fact that he is a cop. It doesn’t. There are areas of our lives that have nothing whatsoever to do with law enforcement. This is a big question for new officers’ wives. “I have my own job; do I have to drop everything for this to work?” The answer is no. Life is life. Kids. Careers. Hobbies. Church. Clubs. Sports. There is more to life than law enforcement.
Erica doesn’t view her husband as a hero when he walks in the door. He’s Marlo, the father of her children, the man she married, and the one who takes out the trash. So when he comes home, she expects him to jump into their lives. I love this. Erica has two boys and a job. She basically runs the home and likens it to a revolving machine. When Marlo comes home from his shift, she expects him to join their lives that are already in motion. Because she has communicated this, it works!
What you don’t know about Erica is she had to face that horrible moment that we all fear: “Honey, I need you to come the hospital. I’ve just been shot!” Marlo called her from his stretcher on the side of the freeway. After this critical incident, she had to make things click in her mind. This was when she adopted this attitude: Marlo is the man she married. He’s not Marlo the hero; he’s Marlo the husband. He’s Marlo the dad. In fact, she’s only seen Officer Marlo a few times.
This mindset may be more difficult for other men. When they are on duty, they have to take control in the midst of chaos. Your man has been trained to be in control of situations and will be direct and to the point. He doesn’t do multiple choice on duty. What happens when he comes home, still in this attitude of control?
My guess is it doesn’t go over well. I know this might be pretty tempting for cops to do, but it doesn’t exactly pan out at home. We’ve been running things all day, and it’s a little difficult to relinquish that position. We’ve got our tried and true ways of making it work, and then he comes in and does it differently! Again, this is where respectful communication comes in. He needs to be a part of the home too, so don’t hold on so tightly to your methods. On the other hand, you are not one of his customers, and he doesn’t want you to be.
The other side of the spectrum is that they are tired of making decisions and/or babysitting crooks all day, and they don’t want to take the reins at home at all. Recall the down stage of the hypervigilance roller coaster. It takes some good talks and patience to work through this.
The Long-term Perspective
I’ve mentioned several things that you see on a day to day basis—the short term. But there is a long-term perspective as well. In a career that spans twenty to thirty years, these issues will ebb and flow with the seasons. Supervisors and commanders come and go, and, depending on their leadership skills or lack thereof, your husband’s career will benefit or suffer.
There have been seasons that Brent couldn’t wait to get to work. And there were times when his stress was so elevated his blood pressure would reflect it. The point here is that seasons come and go. Enjoy the good times and embrace the rough spots for the character building they can instill. Either way, sometimes it just helps to know that it won’t be forever.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" April 1st, 2013
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