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How To Love Your Cop
How To Love Your Cop

Chp 9: Silver Bullets-Money & Your Marriage-Ideas and Hope

Keep Your Money Life Intact

  • Spend less than you earn. This should be a no-brainer, but most people just don’t adhere to this idea. When I was a newlywed, my boss told me, “You should live on Brent’s salary and save yours.” I thought he was nuts. But I will tell you it was the best advice we never followed. Had we taken his advice, we would’ve been in much better shape early on.
  • Debt is a four-letter word. When we don’t save and pay cash for items other than a mortgage, we will pay much more for what we buy. Sales prices will quickly be added to in a hurry. Why do you think we get discounts for using credit at department stores? The odds are in their favor that we won’t be able to pay it off before we incur interest.
  •  Budget, budget, budget! This is the only way we can live within our means. We have found that the best way to do this is through a software program. There are many programs from which to choose. Do a Google search and you’ll have more information than you ever dreamed. We have successfully used Quicken for years, but there are other programs that may offer options that are better suited to your situation. We can pay bills, budget, keep track of what we spend, and even download our spending into TurboTax, making tax time just a little easier.
  • The 10-10-80 spending plan. Ten percent goes to savings. Ten percent goes toward giving to charity. Budget and spend the rest. My daughter is excellent at this plan. When she started babysitting at twelve years of age, she put together a spreadsheet on the computer that charted her progress. She’s been faithful to it ever since. She gave 10 percent to our church and other needy causes, then put 60 percent into her savings, and spent 30 percent on fun stuff. She was able to do this because we were taking care of her needs. Once she became an adult and is now taking on more financial responsibility, she has new percentages that include her car and school expenses, but even now she still gives 10 percent to charity and 20 percent to savings.
  • Don’t spend; invest. Typically we look at money as something we spend rather than a tool used to invest in our futures. When we have this slightly different perspective, we tend to be more proactive in proceeding wisely with our money. When we have goals and dreams for our futures and then view our money as the means to meet them, we are much less likely to let our money slip through our fingers.


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!

September 23rd, 2013

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Chp 8: Stuff Happens. When Hard Times Come

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.

July 8th, 2013

Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder

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Chp 5: Game Face, His Coping Mechanisms

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.

Our Response

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?

April 8th, 2013

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Chp 5: Game Face-Understanding his moods before and after shifts

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.

March 26th, 2013

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Chp 5: Game Face, Understanding his moods

In his book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement Officers, Dr. Kevin Gilmartin describes the highs and lows of what he calls the hypervigilance rollercoaster. To be vigilant is to stay watchful and alert to danger or trouble. But because our men never know what will come at them on any given call, they maintain a state of hypervigilance throughout their shift. They are programmed for survival to overcome whatever they deal with while on duty, and that requires much more than just a pep talk to themselves as they go out the door.

Their bodies and minds sustain this level of hypervigilance throughout the shift. But what goes up must come down, even physiologically. After his shift is over, he retreats home to you and your family, but his mind and body are exhausted from maintaining a high level of watchful intensity. Rather than returning to a normal level, his mind and body go to a place below normal to recuperate. The next day it’s repeated. And the next. Eventually, this wears him (and you!) down. If you ignore this rollercoaster, it can lead to a breakdown in his emotional health, which will have a huge impact on you and your marriage.

If you have an understanding of what is going on inside his body and mind, the good news is you are a big component of helping him through it. Dr. Gilmartin says,

…[T]he rollercoaster sets up officers to think, act, and live like victims, to not invest their energy, emotions, and sense of self in the phase of the rollercoaster that they do in fact control, the bottom or off-duty phase. It’s a clear catch-22: Officers must maintain hypervigilance to perform and survive on the streets and practice good officer safety, yet it is this same hypervigilance that can cause officers to relinquish control of their personal lives. They cannot lower the upper phase of the rollercoaster. They must maintain the elevated physical state of heightened awareness of potential risk while functioning as officers. Without training and awareness of the rollercoaster, officers return home and experience the pendulum effect… Ironically, it is the nonpolice support systems that, when they remain intact, determine if the officers remain good cops for the duration of the entire police career… (emphasis mine)[i]

You are the first and foremost non-police support system. Understanding this process gives you a chance to deal with it. You can help him maintain balance by creating balance. Things like exercise, vacations, hobbies, and activities will pull him out of that below normal level his body wants to retreat to. Take time to rejuvenate as a couple and as a family during his off-duty time, keeping this phenomenon in mind.

[i]     Kevin Gilmartin, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, (Tuscon, Arizona: E-S Press, 2002) pages 89-90.

March 18th, 2013

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Ch. 4: Code Four Communication-Selfishness v. Listening to Understand

Selfishness vs. Listen with the Desire To Understand

This last communication killer is so common it’s actually part of our culture.  We’re encouraged to look out for ourselves, to be self-focused. We’re also naturally inclined to respond to our own desires, feelings, and whims. We’ve been doing it since we could breathe. Maturity comes when you can keep your selfish tendencies in check, thinking and acting as if others are important too.

In a way your husband has sworn to the department that he will set selfishness aside, that he would lay down his life to save another. This is unselfishness at its best, real hero quality. You, as his wife, have agreed to share him for the greater good, another unselfish quality.

But in the day to day, we each have needs and wants that call to be met. We have dreams to pursue and goals to accomplish. So it’s a dichotomy, making sure that we take care of ourselves but also tending to the needs of our husbands, kids, work, etc.

If we really want an outstanding relationship, we will make a choice to listen with a desire to understand each other. But it requires character—humility, even—to set yourself aside for a time to listen.

Roger Williams, Director of the Mount Hermon Conference Center once said, “Selfish people will never live in unity.” In marriage, everything needs to be filtered through us. Not “me,” but “we.” And the “we” includes you both—sometimes him, sometimes you, and sometimes both. There’s a give and take here. And it takes practice.

Power Trip

This is a difficult chapter. Good communication requires responses that don’t always come naturally. It takes courage and inner strength to speak the truth in a way that doesn’t leave our partners wounded. But understand something, ladies: you have power. You have the power to crush your husband, to let your frustration fly in his face, or slowly, methodically undermine him. Either way, it could reduce him to shreds. The closer you grow, the more dangerous you become. You and I both know some women who are very good at this.

But you also have an opportunity to use your power to do something incredible. You have a choice to build him up into the man he deserves to be. Your love and respect can build strength and confidence in him. You can strengthen that thin blue line, indirectly, through careful, proactive words and actions—words that encourage, even heal; actions that respect who he is.

February 25th, 2013

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Chapter 2: All Roads, All Codes, All In!

Get in, Sit down, Shut Up and Hang On!

License plate frame, California

It was Christmas Day when I realized our honeymoon was over. I hated our new apartment, I didn’t know a soul, and I commuted to work an hour and a half each way through Los Angeles traffic. This place was very different from the small town of Chico where I grew up. On top of that, we had no money, a Charlie Brown Christmas tree we bought for eight bucks at a hardware store, and one gift from my grandparents. Brent was learning his new job in a difficult part of LA, and he worked swing shift on Christmas Eve. Me? Except for the manager’s kids who came by to sing carols at my door, I spent it alone. Earlier in December Brent graduated from the California Highway Patrol Academy, which was then and remains a residential training academy. We were given a week to move downstate and get settled before he reported for duty as a rookie officer in LA. Our six month marriage was already experiencing a tough season.

We went from five months of weekend-only bliss to shift work and mandatory overtime. We left a small town of supportive family and friends to join a sea of unfamiliar faces and places. Our rent went up significantly, gas became a greater burden, and I had to work full time to make ends meet. We didn’t know anyone except other new officers in the same boat. This was hard to handle all at once. But something else bothered me: Brent seemed to be changing, and not for the better. Working on the streets of LA was affecting him.

Brent had been a pre-med student and a church intern when I met him. He was tender and idealistic, but after he became a cop, he turned tough and painfully realistic. He saw some really disturbing things and couldn’t share everything with me. His sweet demeanor was disappearing, and I didn’t know what to do. Suspecting I wasn’t alone, I gingerly approached another newlywed wife whose husband graduated with Brent.

“Have you noticed a change in Bill lately?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Well, it’s hard to explain. Brent has kind of an edginess now that I haven’t seen before. Some language too. He seems frustrated and angry. Has Bill acted like this?”

She looked at me like I was purple and promptly shook her head. I walked away, sorry I ever mentioned it. Well, that was helpful, I thought to myself, embarrassed I’d made something out of nothing. Three weeks later I was stunned to learn this same gal returned to her mother’s home and filed for divorce. Obviously something was wrong, and she chose to shut up and get out. I wasn’t giving in so easily. I decided at that moment that I would hold on tight to my man and find help.

But help was hard to find. It seemed everyone was tight-lipped about their relationships. And many of Brent’s friends on the patrol were single. So I had to figure it out for myself. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Suddenly I was married to someone different, and it wasn’t what I had envisioned. But the one thing that carried me through this early season was the fact that I’d made a promise to Brent in front of God and everyone that I’d stay with him until “death do us part.” I had to make it work.

November 5th, 2012

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A Little Reminder

I had myself a little reminder to slow down my driving a few months ago. Wrote the officer a poem to let him know that I learned my lesson. And yes, I’ve slowed down!

While on my way to Chico, passed a trucker doin’ 50
Radio on, singing loud, was a feelin’ jus’ nifty,
When all of sudden I see a red light
He made a quick U-turn, and my joy turned to fright!

To the shoulder I went, my hands started shaking,
Pass me by, I had hoped, but no, he was braking.
To my wallet I went, opened it up with a clatter,
He slowly strode up, to find out what was the matter.

“Do you know the limit?” he did ask me quite stern,
I guessed wrongly, sadly, and so it was my turn
To find my registration, license and insurance proof,
And boy, I was nervous, to tell you the truth!

I’m married to an officer, a warrior in blue,
And then he realized, “Oh, could it be true?
That the car he had clocked at a strong 74
Could be the wife of one he’d worked with before?”

And I, all embarrassed, and shaky and flustered,
Laughed nervously and then I sort of mustered,
“Please don’t mention this to a CHP crowd
I set the example, for cryin’ out loud!”

He told me to get on about my day,
And suggested that I slow down along the way,
He flashed me a grin, that dear man in blue,
And to him my pocketbook says a big thank you.

I give no excuses, a ticket I deserved,
But for me it was grace that he had reserved,
And a reminder to me as a police wife
55 is the rule – it could save my life.

March 23rd, 2012

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Checking What We’re Expecting

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.

February 8th, 2012

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