Editors Note: This article was originally published in the ILEETA Journal Fall Edition Volume 6 Edition 3 2016. Reprinted as a submission with permission from the author.
“Please don’t tell my spouse/family/friends I have shared this with you, but it may help you understand us better.” – The Price They Pay
It’s often said that being married to a police officer is more difficult than other marriages, that it takes a special person to remain married to an officer. I often struggle with that statement because I’m not sure if I truly believe it. Marriage is about communication, trust and understanding; marriage to a police officer simply requires a different type of communication, trust and understanding.
There is often a belief within LE families that the officer cannot trust their family to understand them if they communicate what they have seen and felt. That somehow, they become the monster rather than a witness to the monstrosities. For the last two years, I have listened to officers, families and friends tell me their stories with an indescribable depth of emotion. I’ve been shocked, amazed, scared and sad; but the most profound statement that I continue to hear is the one quoted above. The statement has come from both the officer and their families. Ironically, they are both saying the same thing to me but afraid to say it to each other. They don’t realize that they are completely in sync.
Although an officer desperately wants to be seen for who they have become, they are afraid to be seen. In their minds, they have changed too much; they are afraid that their loved ones will no longer love the person they have become. They can’t always be the eager rookie wanting to change the world. They become profoundly affected by politics, loss of their brothers and the situations they witness. Internally they struggle with remaining strong and being constant.
For many of them, the change has happened so subtly over the years that their families have seamlessly adapted to the changes and continue to love them. For some, the change happens dramatically and the families are caught off guard struggling to understand it themselves. In both cases, the home becomes divided into two different but similar camps. On one side is an individual who is afraid to talk about what they have seen, how they feel about it and are concerned they will lose the love and respect of their family. On the other side is an individual who is afraid to talk about what they are seeing, how they feel about it and are concerned they will provoke anger or frustration and be pushed away by their family.
One party needs to be brave and step forward, they must admit that the short term risk to the relationship is worth the long term health of the family. Whether you are the family member or the officer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I have a better relationship and be a better person if I could openly discuss how I am feeling?
- If I carry this burden alone, will it destroy me or my relationships?
- Do I want to be healthy in this relationship?
If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s time to truly take off the uniform.
- Make time to open the dialogue, once it starts, it will flow naturally
- Make notes in advance if it helps keep you focused
- Remind yourself not to get frustrated, judgmental or angry
- Decide if you need outside help; there are incredible spiritual, emotional and financial resources available to you
- Don’t be ashamed be honest and be brave
Your relationship did not happen overnight, understanding the effects of a law enforcement career won’t either. If you are an eager rookie, start now. Let your family grow with your career, help them understand it early on and continue to talk about it, no matter how hard it seems. If you’ve been around the station house a few times and feel you’ve missed your chance at understanding, take a good look at the person standing opposite you, they are waiting for you to trust them.