Our three boys grew up knowing the risks. We never lied to them about it, but it wasn’t what we talked about at the dinner table either. But what they also knew was that if Mom or Dad died doing the job, we’d go out with a sense of pride, purpose, and loving what it was we were doing.
Jeri, former CHP and wife of CHP[i]
I felt a little left out when my son became a patrolman. Suddenly he and my husband had their own little language and a camaraderie. When your kids go into law enforcement, it’s a whole different ball game.
Cassandra, wife and mother of CHP officers
It was a beautiful day at the park. The Easter egg hunt was over, but not all the eggs were found, so the older kids were searching the deep grass. Hot dogs sizzled on the grill. A couple of the dads were marveling together at how well the day was going.
“The kids are so well-behaved. I think it’s because we don’t let them get out of hand. They know if they misbehave, we’ll clobber them!” said one officer, laughing.
Heads nodded in agreement because we understood; most cops’ kids are held to a pretty high standard. Their dads have seen what happens out there on the street, and they don’t want their kids to become customers. Chances are that if someone else heard this conversation, they might get the wrong idea. With all of the confusion about parenting these days, there are mixed messages about what is acceptable and not acceptable. But law enforcement parents tend to lean toward a stricter standard.
What’s It Like To Be a Cop’s Kid?
Cops’ kids generally don’t get away with much. Police officers are trained to be able to tell when someone’s lying and their kids all the more. There’s also a network of information that gets around as well, especially in rural areas. If an officer’s kid gets into trouble, there’s a good chance he’ll find out about it.
One tendency for law enforcement parents is the need to protect. Recently we had a situation with our nineteen-year-old daughter in that she and her girlfriends befriended a boy who was very handsome and likable. Because they met him at a church youth group, the assumption was made that he was a great guy, and one of the girls developed a dating relationship with him. Then Brent found out that the boy was going to court for stealing a car and had a prior for marijuana possession. Oh, the tearful conversations we had to have with that one! We talked about boundaries with a person who engages in criminal activity even though likable and that it was a bad idea that he come to our home. She was convinced that he had changed his ways, yet Brent could tell from his excuses that he hadn’t yet experienced a turnaround. Out of respect for Brent, our daughter made a choice to distance herself from him in their group and set boundaries like not driving him places. A couple of months later, he abruptly left the group to live on the streets in another state. Hurt that he left without a word, her friends suddenly realized that hanging out with this guy wasn’t the smartest idea.
We can trust our husbands to protect our kids. But sometimes it can go too far. I had a conversation recently with an officer who’d seen a lot of death on duty. I asked him how he dealt with it. He told me that it manifested itself in being overprotective of his wife and kids. He has forbid them to go anywhere at times and won’t allow people to drive them anywhere unless he first okays it. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone over well. Arguments ensued, and his wife thought he was being jealous. But that’s not what it was. It was his inward responses to watching people die in his arms, guarding a little girl’s dead body for hours to comfort a friend, and wiping another officer’s blood off his uniform. It was these horrible images that manifested themselves into fear for his family.
These situations are so tricky because his fear is valid. The need to control is very real and possibly the only thing he can do to ensure the safety of his loved ones. But it’s also problematic. The answer here is to recognize the reasons for the behavior and work from there to communicate. Your officer needs to be validated and respected in the process, and together you can move toward a workable solution.
Appearance may be a big deal to a police parent as well. Earrings, tattoos, baggy pants, and hairstyles matter to police officers. I’ve listened to several of our non-law enforcement friends talk about not making a big deal out of phases their kids go through. But police officers make judgments every shift about people they deal with on the street. Their lives can depend on it. They are looking for signs of criminal behavior and if the individual has a weapon. There are clues they look for in clothing and behavior, and some of these same clues may appeal to our own kids at some point. But law enforcement parents just don’t want their kids even remotely resembling the people they put in jail.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 6th, 2013
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Once our oldest daughter was born, I quit work and stayed home with our children. It was reducing to one income that forced us to pinch pennies. We had mouths to feed and only so much money to buy that food. I’ve listed some ways that we have implemented to bring down our costs.
These are some of the savings I have found when trying to balance the budget. They are tried and true.
Money is a huge issue for marriages, and the financial times we are currently enduring have taken their toll on many families. But we can take control of this area of our marriages and make it what it needs to be. When we make the choice to keep spending under control, everyone benefits, including our children.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" September 30th, 2013
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Keep Your Money Life Intact
It Can Be Better
Are we destined to always struggle with our money? How much is enough? Will there ever be enough? Like Ted, does your husband feel the pressure of providing for the family yet feel as if the debt gets bigger as the hopes grow smaller to ever reach your goals? If so you’re not alone. Unlike most relational things, there actually is a formula to solve our financial woes.
I recently heard two cop wives talking about their finances. They were both on the same money plan and were comparing notes.
“Where are you in the process?” asked Barbara.
“We are now debt-free, except for the mortgage,” Eve said with a smile.
“Wow! That was quick!”
“We had a lot of things to sell,” explained Eve, “Then we took the money and paid off debt. We found a renter for our big house, and now we have a down payment on a smaller home in a better community. It’s all been working out very well. We don’t have to count on Ben’s overtime anymore. How about you?”
“We have about a year and a half, and we’ll be debt free. We’ve whittled our expenses down to the point that we have extra money each month that goes toward paying off our credit cards. It is so freeing!”
The plan that Barbara and Eve were speaking of is Dave Ramsay’s “Total Money Makeover.” His book of the same name shares a simple yet smart plan to get out of debt as soon as possible and then use your money to build wealth in smart ways. Brent and I took a money class shortly after we were married. The class was called Master Your Money, by Ron Blue. We learned some great principles for managing our finances. More recently we read Ramsay’s book together. His ideas and principles were very timely.
Whether you choose Dave Ramsay, Ron Blue, or something else, the point is to have an agreed upon plan. If you are currently in a difficult place financially, there is hope. Get creative. It’s amazing to watch your money make the shift from burden to delight as you get spending under control and see it grow. It’ll be one more thing under control in your law enforcement life. And that makes a huge difference!
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" September 23rd, 2013
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Ted and Sarah have difficulty talking about money, as it is a constant source of conflict. Ted gets frustrated that he works hard to bring in the money and they never seem to get ahead. Sarah naturally avoids conflict, so she inadvertently sabotages their efforts by not communicating with Ted about upcoming bills. This of course angers Ted and adds late charges to an already tight budget.
Even though money seems like it should be handled without emotion, it isn’t. So much of who we are is wrapped up in our money! For men the traditional role as provider says a lot about who they are as a man. The expectations have been built up into status. If you make a lot of money, you are a success. If you don’t, not so much!
For women, we tend to view money as security. If we have money, we don’t have to worry about where to live, what we wear, and what we eat. If we are short on money, we tend to worry.
Rich and Anna didn’t have a large income, but they made it work. However, Rich felt that because he worked hard he deserved a nice truck. He spent a lot of money on his trucks while Anna scrimped and saved and did odd jobs to feed and clothe the kids. Over the years Anna and Rich had many arguments, and eventually Anna took over the management of the money. She didn’t give Rich much to spend, so when Rich got an overtime check, he’d cash it and spend it without telling her.
How you handle money can build trust or be a source of mistrust. Typically, every couple has a spender and a saver. And unless the two have agreed upon goals and budgets, the constant push and pull of the money can be destructive to a marriage. The solution lies in acknowledging our shortcomings and for both to be involved in money management. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions and then answer honestly:
• Are we both committed to improving this area?
• Who is the saver, who is the spender?
• What are our individual responsibilities?
• What do we both want from our money?
• Where can we cut our spending to invest in our future?
• When do we waver in our control of spending?
• How did we get ourselves into the debt we have? How will we get out?
• Are we a slave to our home, striving to make the payments?
• Is our money working for us, or against us?
• How deep are we willing to cut luxuries to ease financial stress?
Have a regular business meeting with your husband to get on top of things. When we are proactive about communicating, especially when it comes to money, it will have an accumulating effect much like the emotional bank account. For the one who does most of the money business, it’ll really help him/you feel a lighter burden.
To keep our money life intact, we need some guiding principles. Then we need a plan based on those principles. I’ve included some financial guidelines that Brent and I have learned and tried to practice over the years.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" September 16th, 2013
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“Don’t even consider keeping up with the Joneses. THEY’RE BROKE!”
“The number one cause of divorce in North America is stress due to money problems.” Dave Ramsey, financial advisor
It’s no secret. Across the country and beyond, we’re vulnerable to economic trends. Why? Because, for most of us, we are dependent upon other people’s money. We have become increasingly dependent on Wall Street, banks, and the government. We work hard, and then everyone takes a cut. Then we get to choose how to spend the leftovers. If we decide that the leftovers aren’t enough, we borrow. Pretty soon our choices are made for us; we no longer have enough left over from the leftovers to live. It’s a vicious cycle, and we’ve seen the consequences of this in the last few years. People are losing their homes, jobs, and more. Cop families are no different.
Carl and Tina declared bankruptcy and lost their gorgeous house because they bought whatever they wanted on credit and then couldn’t pay the mortgage.
Quinn and Saul both work just to make ends meet because half of Saul’s salary goes to alimony payments.
Brian and Marcy depended on his overtime to make their house payment. It severely cut back Brian’s opportunities to expand professionally, and he was hardly home with his family.
Carrie and Andy bought an expensive house on the outreaches of what they could afford. Then the police department implemented a pay cut. She ended up having to teach school when she desperately wanted to be home with her little girls.
All of these families are law enforcement. Good careers. Excellent benefits. Decent salaries. But no matter how much money is made, failure to plan is a plan for failure.
The Role of Hypervigilance
There are law enforcement-related issues that affect our money. Hypervigilance and critical incident stress have their effects. Dr. Gilmartin says,
The behavioral and marketing researchers on Madison Avenue have… clearly established that certain individuals, when feeling mildly depressed or unfocused, can find themselves feeling more energetic if they purchase something. This form of “retail therapy” does have distinct gender differences. Women tend to make small ticket purchases… Males do not appear to like to go shopping, but they do enjoy “buying stuff”… big-ticket items like boats, cars, pickup trucks, motor homes, campers, and maybe some power tools.
What happens is that retail therapy can turn into debt. And debt becomes a huge burden that results in extra jobs and overtime. The catch phrase he who has the most toys wins turns into he who has the most toys whines.
This spending pattern affects our marriages. More and more debt is added to our limited resources and can rob us of financial security. We are constantly behind, working harder and harder to catch up. Dr. Gilmartin adds,
This cycle robs the officer of any sense of financial security across the span of the occupational career. Many officers, without having a sense of proactive control of their finances, experience significant distress economically, in spite of enjoying an occupational career that is generally free of lay-offs and downsizing, with excellent retirement and medical benefits.
One of the benefits of police work is the financial security it brings to the family. Most sworn police officers are in it for the long haul; a twenty-to-thirty year career in law enforcement is the goal. There are exceptions, but depending on what your department offers in pay and benefits, chances are good that you’ll belong to the middle class. Also, law enforcement is a reasonably secure profession. There will always be crime; therefore, we will always need police officers.
But if we allow ourselves to get into debt to the point that we are strapped financially, that feeling of security begins to wane. When our officers are working day in and day out but money is constantly coming up short, a sense of frustration can develop. These feelings will heap on top of regular pressures of the job, and can lead to a feeling of desperation. At this point, talking about money will become very difficult.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" September 8th, 2013
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It isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Stress can create police marriage problems but you can be prepared.
Because my husband has PTSD from his deployment to Iraq, the Fourth of July is now about renting loud movies, closing all the windows and blinds or praying that he gets called into work so he can be barricaded behind the prison walls where the outside can’t come in. I don’t fully understand it all, but that’s what we have to do now to make him feel better. We help relieve some of his anxieties and reassure him that while he will never forget what he went through,. God is still taking the time to heal his heart and mind. We do it one day, one step, and one prayer at a time.
Renee, wife of former National Guardsman and current sheriff’s deputy
You may have heard the tongue-in-cheek phrase about motorcycle cops: “They say there are two kinds of motors: those who’ve gone down and those who will go down.” It’s a little along the lines of a law enforcement career in general: those who have had some kind of difficulty on the job and those who will. In a twenty-to-thirty-year career, your man will suffer something. Injuries, long-term effects of hypervigilance, supervisors who don’t get it, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), grief over fallen comrades and other difficulties will at some point take a toll. How will you maneuver through these challenges together?
There are three kinds of stress that law enforcement officers experience. The first is general stress, the day-to-day things that life hands us. There are varying levels depending on the seasons that we go through—illness, death of a loved one, financial pressures, and so on.
The second kind of stress that your spouse may go through is cumulative stress. Dr. Ellen Kirschman describes cumulative stress as “prolonged, unrelieved wear and tear that results from having more demands than a person can respond to.”[i] This is also called burnout.
The third kind of stress is critical incident stress. This develops when a specific event happens that overwhelms the officer’s ability to cope effectively. Examples would include accidents that have multiple fatalities or that involve children, a mass casualty incident (like 9/11), a shooting, a suicide of a co-worker, and other disturbing incidents.
Some of the symptoms of critical incident stress are physical. These include chest pain, trouble breathing, trembling, high blood pressure, stomach issues, headaches, fatigue, and poor sleep. Emotional symptoms include denial, fear, depression, feelings of helplessness or feeling overwhelmed, anger, and excessive dwelling on the event. Other symptoms of critical incident stress are cognitive. These include disorientation, hyper-alertness, issues with concentration and memory, nightmares and flashbacks, and assigning blame to others. There are other responses reflected in behavior. [No comma needed in previous sentence.] In addition to some that I go into a bit more below, you may see changes in eating habits, crying spells, and unusual spending.
As wives, we need to be aware of the ways our men respond to stress and learn to recognize problems. It’s not an if; it’s when. Life happens. I’ve provided information on some responses to job stress. It is not an exhaustive list. If you suspect that any of these areas are affecting your guy, I would suggest you do a little extra research of your own so that you can support him in an educated manner.
[i] Ellen Kirschman, I Love a Cop (New York: The Guilford Press, 2007) page 89.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" July 8th, 2013
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When I Moved In, I Brought My Baggage
Jim and Angie sat across from us, their meals barely touched. They recounted an issue that they couldn’t get past in their marriage, and it was huge. They were so concerned that they brought it to Brent and I, their mentors, to help them sort it out. About that time Brent asked, “Is this something that you struggled with in your home life growing up?” Jim’s face froze, and I could almost see the light bulb brighten above his head. He then recalled a story that had paralleled their issue to the tee. The core issue was apparent to each one of us, and they came up with a simple way to deal with it.
In this life journey you’ve been on, chances are you have picked up things along the way that aren’t so good. Someone hurt you. You have adopted others’ destructive messages about yourself. Perhaps you made poor choices in your past, and you are reaping the consequences now. Whatever the reason for the hurts in your life, if not dealt with, they can adversely affect your marriage.
Dr. Gil Stieglitz, in his book entitled Marital Intelligence – A Foolproof Guide to Saving and Strengthening Marriage, says that past baggage is one of five problems we face in marriage. He writes,
“We carry with us wounds and destructive internalized programming as well as guilt and consequences from our past actions. There is no way to seal off the past and have its unresolved issues stay away. At times the impact of unresolved past baggage is so strong that it must be dealt with before progress in marriage can be attempted… It will continue as is unless those wounds are exposed, grieved, and processed… People need to process their pain from the past.”[i]
Many are the hurts of those we know. Some heal, some don’t. Some make peace with their pain; others live in the past. If baggage is affecting your relationship, there are healthy ways to deal with it. Check your support system (see next chapter). Some things can be talked out with a wise friend. I also recommend going to an older, wiser couple with your husband. When Brent and I went through a tough time with one of our teenagers, we sought out the help of a couple we respected who’d gone through similar things with their son.
Counseling is also a great tool. I once heard a police officer say that when she needed help with plumbing she called a plumber. When she needed help with electrical, she called an electrician. So it only made sense when she needed help with some emotional issues she was facing, she called a counselor.
[i] Gil Stieglitz, Marital Intelligence, (Winona Lake, IN: BMH books, 2010) page 184.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" May 27th, 2013
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Proactive Steps To Deal with Fear
We can know the odds and be prepared for the worst. But there are always those close calls and creepy little feelings that come up from time to time as we face the danger of what our spouse does for a living. How do we disarm them?
1. Face the worst case scenario. Much of what we fear is unknown, and fear breeds worry. Think through your greatest fear and play it out in your mind as to how you will deal with it. Come up with an emergency response to the “what if.”
2. Demystify the experience. Familiarize yourself with your agency’s death benefits and protocol. Talk to your spouse about who you would want to deliver the news should something happen. Security is very important to us as women, and not knowing what will happen if can be a catalyst for worry. Brent’s agency encourages officers to designate who will notify next of kin in case. You can be a part of that decision or work to initiate such a protocol in your husband’s agency.
3. Resist the temptation to listen to scanners or dispatch applications on the Internet. This is not an emergency response to facing the worst case scenario. This is a distracting illusion of control. “If I just know what’s going on, I can handle it…” Risky approach. This could perpetuate fear, not dispel it.
4. Talk out your fears. I talked with Brent in his down time once or twice and found it helpful. I’ve also talked with other seasoned wives, and this helps too. You may even consider talking with a survivor if you have the opportunity. If you are a person of faith, prayer is an excellent way to talk out your fears. Personally, this is where I found much comfort when I have dealt with occasional fear.
5. Let it go. This is one area you can’t control, and if you try you’ll drive yourself and others crazy. Go back to your foundation. What or who is it that you trust?
My friend Michelle Walker lost her husband in the line of duty New Year’s Eve of 2005. I asked her how she dealt with fear before he was killed. I learned that her father was with LAPD and had suffered a shooting but recovered. Incredibly, she never feared that her husband would be killed. She answered, “Fear drains your energy, puts stress on your marriage and family, and ultimately won’t change a thing. I’m so glad that I didn’t waste the time I had with Mike worrying.”
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" May 20th, 2013
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I don’t wear the badge on a uniform. But when you’re married to an officer, you wear the shadow of their badge on your heart.
Pat, wife of a CHP officer who was injured on-duty
Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust survivor
In 2006, one of our officers responded to an accident that involved a disturbed young man. One thing led to another, and a fight ensued as the man tried to steal the officer’s gun. A sheriff’s deputy joined in, as did a paramedic who was on the scene. The subject was overpowered, and he went to jail. This kind of thing happens often, but this time a reporter with a camera just happened to stop and snap several pictures of the entire incident. The photos made their way to a variety of places, and Code 3 Magazine picked them up and published them.
In response, they received an emotional letter from a wife of a police officer with three small children. She wrote that she was shocked to see such graphic pictures and didn’t wish to receive the magazine anymore. In the next issue, there were several responses to her letter. Here are two excerpts:
…[B]elieve in your husband… and support him with all your heart. It is for you, your children and the world they live in that he serves as a peace officer. You are and need to be a part of that. A loved one’s support and faith is often the secret weapon that a peace officer will use to survive a critical incident. Hiding from reality will not work.
Deputy sheriff married to a highway patrolman[i]
Being an officer’s spouse is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength, will and an understanding for the love of the job that officers feel and commit themselves to… I hope she can come to terms with that which she is now married to. If not, her constant fear will destroy both her and her marriage…
Former officer and wife of police officer
Fear had taken its toll on this young mother, and it seemed that she responded with avoidance and anger. It’s a natural instinct but one that could be destructive to her and her family. So, what’s a girl to do?
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Worry and fear are chronic when the ground you stand on isn’t firm enough to steady you. Every house is built upon a foundation, and the house will only be as sound as the materials it’s built upon. If your personal foundation is built upon things like truth, morality, goodness, and a love for others, chances are you’re standing on something solid that will withstand the storms life brings you. But if you are standing on ignorance, selfishness, fear of what could happen at any moment, or are led primarily by your senses (touch, sight, taste, etc.), your life will eventually falter on these shifting sands.
What is it that you stand on as an individual? What are your goals for your life? What drives you? When you are eighty years old, what do you want your life to look like as you take inventory of the years you invested? The answers to these questions will determine your success in life as a person, a wife, and a mother and levels of satisfaction or regret at the end of your life. It will also determine your emotional stability in the face of what your husband’s career hands you.
Most women that I talk to want to be happy. That’s what life is all about, right? We don’t want trouble, we don’t want pain. We want to feel good inside and out, have fun, live positive lives with positive thinking. It’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Unfortunately, if we are actively pursuing happiness, we are headed for disappointment, maybe even sorrow. Let me tell you why. Happiness is subjective. Happiness is elusive. And the definition of happiness is ever changing, depending on what it is that we chase to fill that happy place.
My youngest son recently wanted a Wii so bad he could taste it. He researched it on the web. He saved his money for months. Whenever we went shopping, he asked to swing by the electronics section just to see if they had them in stock. His pursuit of happiness was wrapped up in buying that Wii. Finally the day came when he received his Wii in the mail. For the next few weeks, he played Wii for hours. And, yes, he was so happy! But after a couple months, I noticed he was researching something else on the computer—catcher’s gear. Here we go again!
Happiness is short lived. There will be times in your marriage that you will not be happy. There will be seasons that will take you down some dark paths. If your underlying pursuit is to be happy, you may want out in these seasons. Why? Because chasing a feeling that comes and goes will be a constant source of disappointment. And in that emotional instability, you will inadvertently undermine your own marriage.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" May 2nd, 2013
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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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