Sneak Peek: Read Chapter One
Mr. and Mrs. Cop: What Makes Us Different?
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.
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.
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.
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.