Members of Law Enforcement know the unique challenges the job poses, including erratic schedules, being called in on days off, missing holidays and family events due to work.
These challenges often result in anxiety, disconnected relationships, and poor communication at home. Officers, who feel “whole” at work, can feel isolated at home because they are reluctant to discuss the dysfunction and evil they face at work. A wedge is driven into relationships.
It’s important for officers to acknowledge the challenges they face because it affects their families too. We must recognize this dynamic and pro-actively address it or risk hurting the ones we love.
Do you take your wife for granted? When is the last time you took your wife out to dinner? How often do you take your kids for an ice cream? Start using that “comp time” to nurture those relationships.
Being a member of the law enforcement community is a source of pride and worry for an officer’s wife and their family. Ask any law enforcement wife; they all have one thing in common: The constant worry.
Have you ever talked to your wife about hearing on the news that an officer has been shot?
Have they expressed the fear of not knowing if it is you? I recently came across an article by Erin Prater from Focus on the Family.
Below are some tips for easing the sometimes-challenging paths for those in law enforcement:
- Give him space when he needs it. Though it seems so counterintuitive to many women, men often need time to decompress after a long day at work – no less a long day of dealing with a largely unappreciative public. Greet him when he returns home. Let him know you are available if he would like someone to talk to or sit with. Then, give him some space. When the time is right, ease into communication through nonverbal interaction (perhaps flirting, giving a reassuring touch or goofing around) and lighthearted conversation. If there’s an important, stressful topic that needs to be addressed that evening, make him aware of it and leave the ball in his court.
- Send him off with cookies. It’s easy to do when he’s headed off to shoot pool with the guys; tough to do when he’s headed to the station during an extreme fire-danger day or when a known cop-killer is on the loose. Show him you care about his safety and welfare and appreciate his service by sending him to work with some treats.
- Find a support group. The purpose of a support group isn’t to fix the problems you’re facing. Although your fellow members may be able to give you handy tips and sage advice. Rather, support groups provide friendship, fellowship, prayer and a sense of belonging.Perhaps most importantly, listening to the stories of others normalizes what you’re going through. You will realize you are not the only one facing fears, concerns and marital spats. When you realize you are not alone, you are less likely to feel something is extraordinarily wrong with you or your marriage. You will learn your problems are surmountable.
- Be flexible. You might have a girl’s night out or relaxing bubble bath planned. But if your cop arrives home earlier than expected, be willing to drop your plans to spend time with him. As you well know, they’ll be plenty of other lonely late-nights during which you can have “me” time.
- Read up on terminology. First responders use a lot of medical and psychological terminology, as well as codes, while on the job. When your cop shares stories with you, he’s likely to use the lingo that is natural to him.The more you know what he is talking about, the less explaining he will have to do. He will be less frustrated and apt to share more.
- Remind him you need him, not his life insurance policy. Many men in high-risk jobs ensure their family will be covered with a generous life insurance policy in case of their death. Since men are natural providers, it’s something they often brag about to their friends and use to reassure their family. Express your appreciation for his forethought and provision, but let him know you really need him – not his generous life insurance policy. Let him know in what ways you need him.
- Thank him for providing. Thank your husband for putting his life on the line each day to serve others and put a roof over your family’s heads. Cops often feel unappreciated; do what you can to counteract this trend in his personal life.
TIPS FOR THE OFFICER
- Realize your career affects the family. Even if she “knew what she was getting into” when she married you or “gave the OK” for you to become a cop, she needs your support as much as you need hers. Ask your wife what aspects of your career stress her most. If there’s nothing you can do to ease the pain or stress, seek help through the Chaplain’s Unit or the E.A.P.
- Check your priorities. The nature of the cop career often serves as a catalyst for fast, intense friendships. The men and women you work with spend a considerable amount of time with you, and you often place your life in their hands. As positive as strong friendships are, make sure your strongest friendship remains at home with your wife. Be especially weary of friendships with the opposite sex that may become too close.
- Thank her for standing behind you. Yes, she promised you “for better or for worse.” Yes, she “signed up for the deal.” But it’s likely your wife loves and serves you in ways that supersede her call of duty. Just as you sacrifice sleep, safety, comfort and family time to protect the public and provide for your family, she has undoubtedly spent sleepless nights worrying about you and wishing you were by her side. She’s sacrificed emotional comfort as well as her own personal safety.
Let her know how much she means to you. A little appreciation on both ends goes a long way in keeping your marriage happy and fulfilling.
TIPS FOR THEM
- Budget wisely. With long shifts and odd hours, it’s easy for both a cop and his wife to feel as if a “small” treat is justified. Create a budget in which every dollar earned is assigned to a category, including debt and savings. Plan for occasional splurges, but also creatively look for savings when you can.
- Communicate. While under pressure at work, cops typically use a communication style which is direct, abrupt, succinct and can be considered gruff. In the heat of the moment, there’s no time to convey emotions and extraneous information. Many take this style of communication home. If it doesn’t bode well with their family, they “clam-up” and stop talking all together. Assess your marriage for poor and/or absent communication.
- Find a hobby just for the two of you. Forge a bond you share only with your wife by developing a shared hobby. It may be it fishing, model-car assembly, woodworking or just going for a walk. It could be something you do behind closed doors, in private. Whatever hobby you choose, make sure it’s enjoyable for both of you. Research the hobby when you are apart; new information can make a great conversation starter.
- Pray together. A strong faith can balance the enormous amount of evil an officer sees daily.
Too often we forget about those we love the most. We need to be reminded often NOT to take them for granted.
Give them the attention they deserve today. Buy that “I Love You” card, along with the flowers and chocolates.
Take your wife out to her favorite restaurant. Take your kids out for ice cream. You will make their day and YOU will feel better as your home becomes more cheerful!
Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about saving just ONE life — or maybe just ONE family.
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