By nature, working in law enforcement is a highly stressful profession. The stressors for police officers range from experiencing traumatic events and seeing unpleasant crime scenes to risking personal safety and feeling stress from shift work and a police department’s administration.
Some officers compartmentalize their feelings and manage their stress well, while others do not. Some police officers may become substance abusers or experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can also have other problems with their physical or mental health, which includes cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and burnout.
If police officers do not manage their stress properly, it can impact police officer marriages. Although there has been some debate about the divorce rates among the police population, the FBI published a report saying that “some statistics show the rate of divorce in law enforcement, whether one or both members are officers, can be as high as 70 percent.” Other studies cite lower divorce rates in law enforcement families, according to Psychology Today.
Related link: Why 2021 Was the Deadliest Year Yet for Police Officers
Factors That Influence Police Officer Marriages
From my own career in law enforcement, I have seen a significant number of divorces in police families. Some of the challenges that affect police officer marriages include working long hours for low pay, missing birthdays and other special events, and a police officer’s change in temperament due to stress.
According to National Police, additional stressors include “the physical toll of being on constant alert, the learned behavior of being suspicious and distrustful, and the strong professional bonds that can alienate” spouses.
Communication in Police Officer Marriages Is Essential
As in any marriage, communication in police officer marriages is essential. Communicating well presents a challenge for police officers because marriage requires a different communication style than they depend upon in police work.
According to National Police, on-duty officers typically use a one-way style of communication. This communication style involves receiving orders, policies, and tasks as well as giving orders with little room for negotiation or feedback. This communication style works particularly well in emergency situations.
But for police officers, being questioned – even by a cop’s wife – is frustrating. Police officers should recognize that the communication style they use in the field may not be perceived well at home; instead, they should use more of a negotiable communication style.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, healthy police officer marriages provide officers with a great deal of support. They also reduce stress and distractions that may impact an officer’s judgement.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police also says that officers in healthy police marriages are more likely to have strong immune systems. As a result, they can have a reduced risk of illness.
Dealing with Stress in Law Enforcement Marriages
Successful police marriages are very possible. For those married to a law enforcement officer, they must be willing to talk with their spouses about the unique stressors of the job, display empathy, and show support even when birthdays and holiday events are missed.
Also, participating in non-police activities that both spouses enjoy – such as movies, traveling, sports events and other activities – is very helpful. Making friends with other couples who are not in law enforcement is also useful; it can lead to discussions about topics not related to police work.
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