The Law Enforcement Marriage: Knowing When It’s Time to Get Help

Guest Blogger: John Oldham, Assistant Chief, Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office

Healthy marriages and relationships have the potential to provide law enforcement officers a great degree of support. Officers tend to work long non-traditional hours and encounter many on the job stressors that some traditional jobs might not. Healthy marriages can contribute to minimizing stressors and distractions that may affect judgement and focus in both partners. Recent research has also shown that couples in healthy marriages are more likely to have improved immune systems and therefore have reduced rates of illnesses and are often more health-conscious. These couples may actually live longer than those in unhealthy or unhappy marriages.[1]

There are some factors of having a spouse working in law enforcement that might impact the harmony of a marriage. An officer’s non-traditional work hours or on-call duty can interfere with family life. Some officers can develop cumulative PTSD or other mental health conditions that can make building and nurturing interpersonal relationships difficult.  In many instances, couples are not prepared for, or educated on the psychological impact that the job could have.

It is critical for the couple to recognize when it is time to seek help and receive care. Frequent self- and partner inventories of the marriage can be helpful to resolve issues before they become large scale stressors. Below are some common signals couples should take note of and consider seeking professional help if they feel any of the below applies.

  1. If either spouse begins to prioritize a job above the marital relationship, miscommunications could arise.
  2. The officer starts having fewer non-law enforcement friends causing the non-law enforcement spouse to feel isolated as civilian friendships dissipate over time.
  3. Conflict, arguments, or disputes in the marriage are resolved less often and leave one or both spouses emotionally hurt. When conflict resolution skills no longer work like they did, the impact of the job can be a major cause.
  4. The officer feels his/her spouse doesn’t understand the officer or the job requirements. This often occurs because neither spouse acquired reliable and honest information on what the job entails and the challenges associated with a law enforcement career.  Because of this, both spouses are unable to identify the reason for the misunderstanding.
  5. One or both spouses begin to see more negatives than positives in the marriage. This applies to any marriage, but it is significantly important in the law enforcement marriage because officers may become more cynical the longer they are in the profession.

Officers and their spouse should heed these signs and seek confidential help to refocus  the marriage that can lead to healthier, safer, more balanced lives.

Having a healthy support system for both partners is an important aspect to a successful and fulfilling marriage and law enforcement career. Support systems aren’t created or broken overnight, through thoughtful, conscious, honest, and sometimes guided conversations, law enforcement marriages and families can build a solid foundation to support the relationship and each other throughout a person’s career.

Assistant Chief Oldham will be speaking at the 2018 IACP Annual Conference during the No More Victims: Critical Care of the ‘Flat Line’ Law Enforcement Marriage on Sunday, October 7, 2018, 8:00am-9:30am at the Orange County Convention Center West Building, room W305. This workshop is part of the Companion track and will discuss issues and tools to promote strong law enforcement marriages; additional family wellness resources will be available during this workshop.

For more information on Law Enforcement Family Resources:

[1]   John Gottman.  The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. (New York, NY:  Harmony Books, 2015)

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