Being married to a law enforcement officer (LEO) has its challenges. Officers tend to work long hours, work rotating shifts, have part-time jobs (moonlight), and be required to attend court on their days off. All these factors contribute to officers’ constantly missing family events and delaying holidays or other celebrations because of their work schedules.
Then, of course, there is the inherent fear and worry about an officer’s safety while on the job. Law enforcement families live in constant fear that a supervisor will knock on their door in the middle of a shift to bring devastating and life-changing news.
These factors can cause an enormous amount of stress for officers as well as for their spouses and family members. Officers have a tendency to want to protect their spouse from the reality of their job so they choose not to talk about their work or the dangerous situations they find themselves in. But, instead of coming across as protective, this tactic can seem secretive to a spouse, who may feel abandoned by an officer’s limited communication.
Such situations can create isolation and turn emotions into anger and resentment, which can push a couple further apart. Couples who fail to communicate often drift apart and seek an emotional connection elsewhere that can lead to infidelity and ultimately divorce.
Law Enforcement Job Stress That Affects the Marriage
Some studies indicate that as much as 13% of LEOs suffer from different stages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Matthews, 2011). PTSD can lead to eating disorders, irritability, flashbacks, and nightmares. When a spouse witnesses an emotional episode of PTSD it can be a very frightening experience. Often times the fear is escalated by the fact that a spouse may be in the dark about what is causing their partner’s episode, because the officer never talked with them about it.
The research conducted on law enforcement marriage rates has mixed conclusions. Matthews (2011) indicates that some studies have law enforcement divorce rates as high as 75% while other studies indicate law enforcement divorce rates to be lower than the national average.
The differences in the research conclusions can be attributed to different research methodologies used in each study to collect different types of data. Studies were conducted using different size departments, in different parts of the country. The only common theme between the studies is that law enforcement job stress does cause marital issues (Matthews, 2011).
Tips for Strengthening a Law Enforcement Marriage:
- Leave the stress of the job, at the job. Learn to switch gears and pay attention to your spouse when you walk in the front door at home.
- Become an active listener to your spouse’s needs.
- Avoid the law enforcement culture and do not accept that the workaholic lifestyle is acceptable to your spouse. It is not healthy for a marriage to spend limited time together.
- Emotional detachment is needed for the job, but learn to turn it off at home.
- Make a Planned Date Night around your work schedule… and do it often!
- Do not allow “Partner Envy” or a feeling of competition for your time to enter your home.
- Be spontaneous, let your spouse know you care and think about him/her often.
- Keep your civilian friends (not everything needs to be cop, cop, and cop).
- Share the workload around the house and partner with your partner (hint-hint)
- Seek the help of a marriage counselor or help with PTSD if needed.
About the Author: Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at MBond(at)apus.edu.
Matthews, R. (2011). Law enforcement stress and marriage. The effects of job stress on law enforcement marriages and methods of combating the job stress. Unpublished manuscript from Liberty University.