10 tips for a police spouse
Being married to a police officer is totally different from being married to an average Joe
By Lisa Wilson
I’ve had the experience of being married to a “regular” hubby and we went about our daily business as two individuals who did their own thing, loved each other and co-habited. Until we didn’t. I am grateful every day that we didn’t make it because I adore being married to my Boy in Blue.
Being married to a police officer is different from being married to an average Joe. It is a responsibility, a burden, an honor and a blessing. It is often thankless and throws up many challenges. But it also has its rewards. I often think that it is we who are in the police force, not just him. We signed up; we joined back in January 2007.
I wear his badge with honor too.
Here are my 10 tips on how to handle life as a police spouse:
1. Learn how to be resilient
Especially if you have kids. A LOT of the time you will be solo parenting, and frequently it will be unplanned. The dinner/bath/bed routine that you were counting on him helping you with will have to be done alone. AGAIN. Try not to be resentful. It's hard, but the call-outs outside of scheduled hours are part of the job and you need to expect them and get used to parenting alone. His job involves putting others’ needs ahead of yours. You will most likely be the parent to attend school concerts, sports matches and school assemblies sans spouse, so make sure you explain to the kids about daddy’s job so they understand. Believe me, he would rather be at these events than where he is, too!
2. Be adaptable
Trust me, that planned weekend sleep-in that you had marked on the calendar for the past month will ALWAYS come after a 2 am call-out and your spouse won’t even be HOME to get up with the kids. The Mother’s Day picnic you had planned will fall on his day off. He will get a call-out to your neighboring town just minutes before you head out the door as a family. Christmas is a tough one. Usually, they are scheduled for at least a few hours during the day, and your day can be planned and executed successfully and call-outs are rare. However, our last Christmas, Mr. Point Five worked and was away unexpectedly from 8 am Christmas Eve until 5:30 pm Christmas night; the kids and I were devastated and it was not my finest moment as a police wife as tears were shed. Again, shelve the resentment, smile and re-plan for the next day or weekend. The last thing our spouses need after an unexpected call-out on what should be a joyous day for them also is to come home to a resentful spouse. Remember, they are disappointed too.
3. Concerning point 1 and 2, I highly recommend having a ROUTINE
I am up at seven each morning with the kids and I am responsible for getting them ready for school while I leave hubby to his own devices for work. Regardless of his schedule, I prepare dinner for the entire family at 5 pm every night. If he isn’t home then, his gets wrapped. The boys go to bed at 7:30 pm every night. We do this because even if your police spouse SAYS they will be home, you cannot rely on it. Often I get a text when he is already late saying he will be home in 30 minutes and 3 hours later we still haven’t seen him. Have a routine and stick to it because his job is anything but routine. Don’t be tempted to stretch out dinner or the kids’ bedtime on a say-so text.
4. Resign yourself to the fact that you will not be vacationing when other families do
It is really hard to handle the resentfulness as you see pictures flooding your Facebook newsfeed of family camping trips and backyard games. Suck it up and make the most it with the kids or go away yourself with the kids and create your fun with another family. New Year’s Eve is another time you will be spending sans spouse. The only New Year’s I’ve spent with hubby is when he has been on paternity leave after our son was born. Oh, and the last New Year’s he was on day shift so that was good, but we were in bed by 10:30 pm as he was scheduled to work at 8 am New Year’s Day.
5. Try to wrap your head around the fact that even when your spouse is not on duty, they are always mentally on duty.
Being a police officer is not a job; it’s a lifestyle choice. They are not the general public any longer. They must carry their police ID at all times and be expected to respond to public situations as a police officer – not stand by and watch with no obligation. This results in a general enhanced awareness of their situation at all times. We try and get to the pub on a Friday night to give me a break from cooking and socialize with the town folk a little. I see Mr. Point Five constantly monitoring his surroundings, watching who comes in the pub door, assessing the risks and weighing up various options, all subconsciously. The books call it hyper-vigilance – officers are so used to having to be mentally and physically prepared for every possible scenario during their work hours to possibly preserve the lives of the public and their own, that it is impossible to switch off. It becomes part of their psyche. Watch for it, know why they may be distracted, and accommodate it.
6. Know that being hyper-vigilant 24/7 takes its toll.
Even when it is subconscious, the constant mental and physical state of flight or fight is exhausting for them. Try to create a peaceful home for them to unwind in. I find that if I pepper hubby the minute he walks in the door with my day's questions and happenings, he gets very frustrated as he needs time to try and stop “thinking” for a while and adapt to being a husband and father where he is safe and not at risk. It is really hard to go straight from being a police officer to being fun daddy, but if we give him some space when he gets home, it happens.
7. Accept that your spouse may come across unsavory characters that he may have arrested/had dealings with when you are out in public
This happens frequently if you live in a small town. There have been a few times where Mr. Point Five has suddenly ditched us at the shops and we find him a few stores down, or when we were having a family day at our town swimming pool and he suddenly leaves. These things happen and it is for the safety of his family that he does it. He doesn’t want the scumbags knowing who his family is and then possibly targeting us when we are without his protection. Maybe have a chat about the possibility of this happening and have a back-up plan such as a place to meet while shopping or calling each other’s phones.
8. Realize that your actions and opinions all affect your spouse by connection now
I try very hard to monitor what I say in public and on social media concerning any polarizing opinions I may have, as people may assume my opinion as his. Police officers must be impartial in their dealings with the public and I would hate for anything I say on social media to come back and haunt us. My private social media is my own space to be me, but even then I try to be cautious.
9. Accept that the job is dangerous
Try not to worry. I know it’s hard when the only words you manage to overhear on that 2 am call is, “Shots fired,” but worrying robs you of happiness and is a futile emotion. Officers have the training and the tools to come home alive. When they get called out to god-awful jobs, they need to know that they can rely on you to hold the fort and that you aren’t at home worried sick and falling apart. You need to have their back, be their rock. A depressing fact is you are more likely to lose your police spouse to suicide than anything dangerous that they may encounter in their line of work. Something to think about. When they come home from a tough job, offer your support and a listening ear should they need it. Perhaps not to tell you all the ins and outs of the job, but how they are feeling and how they are coping. Encourage them to debrief their emotions and be a safe harbor to do so. They may not be able to tell you many details, but they will appreciate the emotional support.
10. Embrace your new Blue Family
The camaraderie among the officers and their families is amazing. Soak it in and enjoy. It’s like making friends in most places; some you will click with better than others, but the underlying unity is there. I am willing to bet that in 10 years your best friend will be a police spouse. It’s a really nice way to live. I am glad our boys will grow up to respect and love the boys and girls in blue and know that they are to be trusted and can be counted on in times of need.
This article, originally published 08/23/2016, has been updated.