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
Posted In: Uncategorized
Short-Term vs. Long-Term Thinking
Pursuing happiness is short-term thinking. It concentrates on right now. Right now I’d be very happy if I had a big piece of German chocolate cake. And then after I eat that very large piece of German chocolate cake, I’d be happy if I had just a little more. So I’ll eat another half piece. Fifteen minutes later, I’ll be miserable because my stomach hurts. And then in the morning when my jeans are too tight, the guilt sets in. Long-term thinking is different. This mindset understands that passing on that dessert means better-fitting jeans, and that is the avenue to self-respect and good health. It is making a decision to pass on something that will make me happy temporarily to obtain something much more satisfying in the long run. Long-term thinking is realizing that when I am happy, I celebrate it because there will be seasons that I will not be happy. And yet I’m okay with it.
Long-term thinking in our marriages requires looking at the goal: to still have a thriving marriage at the end of our lives. Actively pursuing a satisfying, contented marriage means investing in your relationship over the years in happy and not-so-happy times.
Long-term thinking doesn’t blow things out of proportion when you have a spat this week after connecting on a deep level last week. Relationships ebb and flow, and short-term thinking will create drama. “You never…” is the accusation when, in actuality, he does at times just not enough for you or not enough at the moment. Drama gets tiresome when it pops up again and again. It takes out large withdrawals from your marital bank account. In contrast, long-term thinking relaxes a bit and doesn’t panic. Long-term thinking stops taking cues from whatever doesn’t feel right at the moment and tries to understand the big picture.
Put Fear in Its Place
The most common thing cops’ wives hear from non-cops are questions about how we deal with fear. It’s the first thing thought about once a loved one decides law enforcement is the career they want to do, and it’s the most obvious. Those on the outside looking in assume that we worry all the time and the circumstances dictate to what degree. When Brent promoted to lieutenant and was relegated to a desk, our non-cop friends figured that I wouldn’t worry as much because he was out of the danger zone. They were surprised to hear that I didn’t worry as a lifestyle, that I had dealt with my fear long ago.
The first time I felt fear about my husband’s job was about nine months in. He came home one morning and told me how he and his partner came upon a gang fight in a bad part of Los Angeles. Being the eager rookies they were, they stopped, called for back up, pulled their guns, and yelled freeze. And those who were fighting did freeze, unbelievably enough. All except for one, who took off running. At that point Brent’s partner gave chase, leaving Brent alone with twenty armed gang members, having only a six-bullet revolver and a shotgun. It was at that point he realized that the situation could go really bad. He was outnumbered in people and in weapons. They could’ve turned on him in a heartbeat, … but they didn’t.
It seemed like forever, but soon he heard the cavalry coming; others arrived, black and whites screeching in from all directions. Gang members were sorted out, handcuffed, and taken to jail. Brent’s partner came back too with the fleeing suspect in custody. Turns out one of the bad guys was wanted for rape. It all turned out well, but the fear factor was definitely there.
Brent laughed about it—and at first, so did I. But it scared me. I started counting down the “what ifs,” and fear crept in with them. Honey, we’re not in Chico anymore! He’s fighting real gangs with real guns. The danger was near, and it was very real.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" May 6th, 2013
Posted In: Uncategorized
Before and after Shifts
Many times this hypervigilance rollercoaster will begin just before he leaves for work. He’s putting on his game face. For Brent and I, the time before his shift wasn’t pretty for years. Sometimes I’d be upset half the shift after he’d leave. He was intensely focused. There were a few hurt feelings here and there. I finally learned he needed his space to gear up for the day. It wasn’t directed at me. He was inwardly focused to be on his game.
I also needed to be careful about the demands I placed on him right before work. A half hour before he was to leave was not a good time to talk about bills or problems with the kids or scheduling conflicts. I learned to make a list for later. A little patience and everyone benefits.
For many officers, coming home is a lot of the same. In addition to that coming down from hypervigilance, a bad accident, a supervisor’s comment, or an incident involving children will sometimes bother your officer, and he needs down time to think it through. Your questions or requests may conflict with his thinking time and his comfort in bringing up something so raw. You never know what he’s dealt with that day. How do we handle their responses like strong, mature women?
Faye has implemented the pause moment. She’ll ask her husband how his day was and pause for the signs she’s come to recognize after thirteen years on the force. Sometimes he’ll be fine. Other times she’ll hear a heavy sigh, and so she’ll remain silent. She knows that if he needs to call one of two fellow officers that something is bugging him and that he’ll let her know in his time. She then adjusts to his response as appropriate.
Communication comes first—verbal and non-verbal. If he’s bothered about something, maybe he needs a trip to the gym. Maybe he just needs to hold his baby daughter for a while in silence or wrestle loudly with his boys. Maybe he needs to watch TV for a couple of hours and relax. The rub comes when you have plans for the evening. Or it’s tag-team time and it’s your turn to go to work. This happens over and over through the year and beyond. It’s learning to ebb and flow with the moment and having the awareness and self-control to deal with this process positively.
I want him to be on his game when he needs to be and, if he isn’t to let me know so I can deal with it and move on. But nine times out of ten, it’s difficult to do. He doesn’t know what’s on his mind; he’s just irritable. Or he doesn’t have the energy to articulate his needs. Sometimes he just lies on the bed and falls asleep. So much for dinner!
Brent has learned to be good about telling me when he is so spent he can’t meet my expectations (at least the majority of the time). I have had to learn to be patient, and that right there is tough. Sometimes it just stinks! And I’ve decided that it’s okay. When we understand that it isn’t us, fight the temptation to panic or worry, and communicate like mature people, that’s when it gets better. We develop thick skin. But it’s keeping our hearts soft and bitterness-free over time that takes a bit more energy and focus.
I’ve been talking a lot about flexibility and allowing your man to decompress from his job. But by no means am I suggesting you take a doormat mentality. You are an equal part of your marriage and have equal value. As cop wives, we tend to be strong and sometimes outspoken, but not all of us. I’m suggesting ways to come alongside and support, but in the context of mutual love and respect for one another. There is a difference between being interdependent (the goal) and co-dependent.
In the long term, we need to find ways to achieve balance. When Brent took over command of the CHP Academy, we were mentally prepared that it would take a lot of out of us. He worked long hours and maneuvered a large staff through some seemingly impossible demands. At times it was downright overwhelming. During these times he’d come home, share a bit with me, and we’d sit together, shaking our heads.
I wish I could share that we took advantage of his vacation time and gave him the down time he needed. But that wasn’t the case. He actually built so much time up that he exceeded his vacation time limits. And we suffered as a couple and as a family. It has been the hardest season to go through in his career.
After two years of long days and many weekends, he wanted to umpire baseball games. I reluctantly agreed. It seemed at first like it was just more time away from our family. But when I saw the camaraderie he built with other guys and how happy he was when he returned, I didn’t mind that he was gone the extra hours. I finally saw him relax. It became a replenishment, something he desperately needed.
During this time at the academy, my life was busy as well. He was busy with his job, and I was busy with my own pursuits. But one thing I did during this time was be available to listen when he came home. For much of our marriage, my guy didn’t talk much about work. He usually had a lengthy commute to calm down. But as the academy commander, he entered the house, still talking on his phone. Because he couldn’t talk with others about his frustrations, he vented to me. I was safe, I listened. I didn’t say much, didn’t need to. Sometimes I offered my female intuition, and he was pleasantly surprised that I could be so business smart. I liked that. It brought a new level of trust and respect to our relationship. All I had to do was be ready to close my mouth and open my ears.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" March 26th, 2013
Posted In: Uncategorized
Sunday was the BIG game. We walked across the street to our neighbor’s home, where the food is ample and amazing. I brought sun-dried tomato pesto appetizers – and they were gone in ten minutes. I brought wedges of brownie pizza – and they were gone in four. I didn’t expect that.
We rooted for the Patriots. It was the Year of Revenge – where they would beat every team that denied them Super Bowl victories of the past. We wanted them to win, but the Giants took that away. We didn’t expect that either.
In the last couple weeks several people I know have had things happen they didn’t expect:
A young couple gave birth to their daughter – they didn’t expect her to need open heart surgery immediately afterward.
My son’s dream was to be a Marine – we didn’t expect that he would be medically discharged.
A friend expected that her son would make a certain baseball team – he didn’t.
A friend’s father was finally healing after a difficult illness – they didn’t expect his sudden death.
A police officer didn’t expect that a foot pursuit would end in a need for shoulder surgery.
A group of five people driving home from the Super Bowl didn’t expect that three of them would never make it – after they were hit by a drunk driver.
On the other hand, sometimes we expect things not to happen, and we are surprised and pleased. A check arrives in the mail. A new job offer. Flowers on the doorstep (hint, hint!).
Our lives are constantly changing, twisting and turning, bringing pain and bringing joy. We never know what to expect. Especially as spouses of those with crisis-driven careers. And newsflash: there’s not a darn thing we can do about it. So much of life is out of our control.
What we can control is our expectations of loved ones. If there is discord, misunderstanding or conflict, often it is because others failed to meet our expectations. They didn’t make it on time, they didn’t have the right response, they were insensitive, they didn’t do what was asked. We are disappointed, we are angry, we want to lash out, and sometimes we even want to give up. So much of conflict is based on assumptions.
What am I expecting of my spouse? My kids?
People at work, school?
What am I expecting of friends, family?
What am I expecting of God?
What do others expect of me?
Are these expectations fair? If not, we adjust.
Have I communicated them clearly? If not, then I can start today.
I think these questions are worth asking and answering. We can’t control the unexpected happenings of life, and obviously we won’t always get what we expect. But we can take honest inventory of what we expect from those we love, and communicate clearly, improving our relationships, and making life just a little bit better.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 8th, 2012
Posted In: Uncategorized