Married to the Badge: Stress in the Law Enforcement Marriage

Being married to a law enforcement officer (LEO) has its challenges. The long hours of work, rotating shifts, attending court on days off, fear and danger of the job, and all the different part-time work (moonlighting) does not leave a lot of time to devote to spouse and family.

Law enforcement is not just a career but truly is a way of life and commitment of service to others before your needs or wants.

This time apart is also difficult on the spouses. Law enforcement is certainly not the only profession to face a busy work schedule that leaves less time to spend with spouses and children. However, the constant fear of having law enforcement supervisors knocking on the door in the middle of the shift to bring devastating, life-changing news is a real concern and fear to law enforcement families.

The constantly missed family events and delayed holiday celebrations can get tiring and create isolation that can turn emotions into anger and resentment, pushing a couple further apart. Couples that fail to communicate drift apart and often seek an emotional connection elsewhere that can lead to infidelity and ultimately a divorce.

LEOs have a tendency to protect their spouses from the reality of the job by not communicating about stress on the job, dangerous situations or stressful department politics. This can have the opposite effect on spouses as it seems secretive, and they can shut down emotionally from feeling abandoned by LEOs’ not communicating openly.

Some studies indicate that as much as 13 percent of LEOs suffer from different stages of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can lead to eating disorders, irritability, flashbacks and even nightmares.

For the spouse who witnesses an emotional episode from PTSD, this can be frightening experience — let alone trying to process what is occurring with limited information that has been purposely kept from them by their LEO spouse.

The research conducted on law enforcement marriage rates has mixed conclusions. Some studies have law enforcement divorce rates as high as 75 percent, while other studies indicate law enforcement divorce rates to be lower than the national average.

The differences in the research conclusions can be contributed to different research methodologies used in each study that collected different types of data and the studies being conducted on different size departments in different parts of the country. The only common theme between the studies is that law enforcement job stress brought into the marriage does cause material issues.

10 tips for strengthening a law enforcement marriage

1. Leave the stress of the job at the job. Learn to switch gears and pay attention to your spouse when you walk through the front door.

2. Become an active listener to your spouse’s needs

3. Avoid the law enforcement culture and accepting that the workaholic lifestyle is acceptable to your spouse. It is not healthy on a marriage to spend limited time together.

4. Emotional detachment is needed for the job, but learn to turn it off at home.

5. Plan a date night around your work schedule — and do it often.

6. Do not allow “partner envy” or a feeling of competition for your time to enter your home.

7. Be spontaneous, let your spouse know you care and are thinking about her/him.

8. Keep your civilian friends (not everything needs to be cop, cop and cop).

9. Share the workload around the house and partner with your partner (hint-hint).

10. Seek the help of a marriage counselor or help with PTSD if needed.


About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor 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 college teaching and learning.  Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.

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