As a police spouse, our lives can look very different from those wives or husbands whose spouses hold down the standard 9-5’s. It is likely the vast majority of us are not unfamiliar with holding down the fort on any number of holidays, while our spouses are out on overtime protecting their communities. My family is chock-full of first responders, so we’ve gotten quite comfortable with Thanksgiving on a Wednesday, or Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant around the corner from the Air Support hangar.
We are often tasked with other responsibilities as well. Managing household chores that might be better suited to the other spouse, the lion’s share of discipline when it comes to our children, and if our spouse is on special assignment, often having to come up with creative solutions when life gets interrupted by (I was literally about to type pager, which demonstrates how long ago my husband was on SWAT) a call out.
It can get overwhelming, and if we’re honest about it, sometimes resentment can creep in. Communication is key when it comes to juggling a police family. But WHEN to communicate can be an even bigger piece to the puzzle.
Now, full disclosure. I lost my husband Tim in the line of duty just a month after our wedding. My sons (from my first marriage) were eight and eleven at the time he was killed. I’d been a single Mom for several years and was pretty accustomed to managing things on my own, so not much of what I’m about to discuss had time to become an issue between Tim and I. However, I am remarried (that’s three wedding dresses, for those of you keeping score…ugh) to another LEO, who brought his son into the mix as well. We just celebrated our 10thanniversary, and he’s looking to retire in about five years, hallelujah!
So, there I was, merely three years out from a devastating loss, a newlywed in a brand new home, stay at home Mom for the first time in my life and with three children, all of whom had suffered some recent trauma. It was utter chaos. I was a wreck. And every time I got overwhelmed. I picked up the phone and word-vomited my anxiety all over my husband, bless his heart. It makes me cringe to think about it now, but I did that to him constantly. And if I didn’t call him at work, I ambushed him the second he walked through the door.
My husband allowed my behavior slide for about 18 months. The man is saint, did I mention that? So, the day arrived, after another one of my epic meltdowns, that he sat me down and had the gentlest, calmest conversation with me about how these calls and ambushes were affecting his ability to do his job. How he would become so distracted after one of my calls that he could think of little else because of his concern over what was going on at home. Oh my gosh you guys, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. When I’d recovered a little from flogging myself over being the “worst wife ever” we were able to have a really productive conversation about how to better manage my emotional responses when I got overwhelmed, how to gauge what was emergent and what could be handled at a later time, but mostly, I realized that so much of what I was doing to him was caused by my anxiety that something was going to happen to him. There may or may not have been a therapist involved in that last ‘aha’ moment.
All that being said, it took a while and I slipped countless times, but after some trial and error, I gained more confidence in myself when it came to managing the household without having to pick up the phone just because I was unsure of how to handle a situation. I learned to identify the times that were appropriate to bring up issues where I needed some input. The big payoff however, was that I had a significantly less stressed out spouse, our relationship improved immensely and the kids all learned to (mostly) respect my authority when Chris wasn’t home, and it made for a much more peaceful household altogether.
It’s so easy to fall into these patterns. And in no way am I writing this to lecture or demean any spouse. What we are tasked with managing can be overwhelming for the most competent of people. But if you recognize yourself in any of this, I urge you, talk to your spouse. Open up the lines of communication and listen to what they have to say. And to the LEO reading this. If you realize this is a conversation that you need to have, consider your timing, consider your tone and consider that this topic can be very emotional. So, have some solutions ready, and if you need outside help, get it. Trust me, only positives can result from this, if you approach the topic thoughtfully.