Are You a Strong LEO Couple? The fact that LEO relationships are stressful is not new information. Nor is the idea of criticism and controversy surrounding police action or intervention. Add this on top of effects of the job such as chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress, and hypervigilance and you can understand why many LEO couples struggle and divorce. The stress, criticism, and effects do not lead to divorce. It is the choices of what to do with it all that leads to couples disconnecting and separating emotionally.
To be a successful LEO couple, many times we need to be strong. The job itself inherently promotes the idea of being strong. We are strong for each other. We are strong in our support for the profession. We are strong through the public criticism and the rants on Facebook. We are strong through our sacrifice of sleep, connection, support, vacation, holidays, and for our kids. But what is strong? Most of the time it is putting our feelings aside and moving through something. Disappointment of not going on vacation gets put away because of the need to be on-call or short staffed. It’s what has to be done. But, in being strong, we deny ourselves the ability to feel, fall apart, have a temper tantrum, and cry. Disappointment comes out in other ways that hurts the relationship such as disconnection, irritation, resentment, or contempt. Couples either fall apart silently on the inside and disconnect or fall apart on the outside through arguing and contempt.
Being strong is also what makes a great LEO couple if you change the definition of strong to being resolved and immovable rather than stoic and one that disregards their own emotion. Being strong needs to mean standing together and supporting each other. It needs to mean opening up and sharing. It needs to mean being VULNERABLE. Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability simply as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. I often bring up the word “vulnerability” to my couples and it is always a cringe worthy moment. I laugh when my LEOs start calling it “the V-word” and roll their eyes. Vulnerability is NOT the opposite of strong. It is a part of it. It does not mean being weak. It is counterintuitive to the job, as vulnerability will surely equal injury or death. Vulnerability is the ultimate way to build connection. The willingness to be vulnerable with your partner moves you to a place of connection rather than disconnection.
Finding a Balance
Successful couples find a balance between putting their feelings aside and having moments of vulnerability and sharing. When we are strong in a stoic way, we hurt our relationship more than we help it. We don’t allow our partner to support, connect, and love nor do we allow ourselves to experience the same. Imagine how unbalanced a relationship would become if you constantly gave but didn’t allow your partner to give to you. It goes BOTH ways! Supporting each other emotionally allows you to build connection and intimacy. One of the greatest gifts you can give your partner is the ability to give you support and their ability to say “me too.”
Stress Reducing Conversations
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman has found successful couples that have a high degree of trust share their stress with each other and that view the stress as a time to increase intimacy and understanding (Gottman, 259). He suggests that stress-reducing conversations can take as little as 15 minutes. This might seem easy for most folks but as an LEO couple that doesn’t see each other for days at a time due to shifts and sleep schedules, 15 minutes can feel overwhelming. I get it. It’s important though, so make it happen as often as possible. Pick a time when the two of you can focus on each other with no distractions. The conversation needs to be about stressors in your day and how you are feeling. It is not a time to talk about your relationship! If you are doing the talking, be kind, honest, open, and vulnerable. If you are listening, try to stand in the other person’s shoes, identify their feelings, and have empathy for their experiences. You want your partner to feel like you are on their team and that you have their back in whatever they are experiencing. As a listener, get curious and asking open-ended questions for deeper understanding. These conversations are not a time to criticize, judge, or be defensive. They are a time for both of you to feel heard by your spouse and hopefully one of your best friends.
There will always be stress for LEO couples. Choose to be strong together, for each other, in a way that will bond you as an unbreakable force and not in a way that will break you.
Gottman, J. M. (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. New York: W.W. Norton.
– Cyndi Doyle has been a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas for 19 years and a LEO Wife for 17. She has a Master’s degree in Counseling, advanced training in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, and is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator for Brené Brown. She currently co-owns Pecan Branch Counseling, a private practice in Denton, Texas, where she helps individuals and couples to move through what holds them back and gain deeply fulfilling lives and relationships through courage and authenticity. Because of her understanding of the uniqueness of LEO relationships, both on a personal and professional level, Cyndi offers support and resources to LEO Couples through her website www.code4couples.com. You can contact her at [email protected]