8 tips for being a successful police family

As high as the divorce rate may be in law enforcement, there are many families who do just fine by prioritizing communication

The wife of a recently appointed police officer turned to Quora for advice on what to expect now that her husband has joined the law enforcement world. The forum flooded with credited responses and advice from current and former police officers of varying ranks. Below is a selection of the best pieces of advice given by Quora members.

1. Talk about how much you want to share about the job

You'll have to decide, and relate, how much you're comfortable with knowing and not knowing. Are you going to expect a digest of every shift no matter how mundane, or do you only want a heads up if your spouse is going to be on the news? If they have a close call with something that ends up okay, do you want to know or not want to know? There are defensible arguments for either side, but they won't know if you don't tell them. This will save them a lot of guilt and second-guessing when you ask, "How was your day?" – Justin Freeman, former patrol officer

You have a right to demand that your family/marriage come first, but know that sometimes your spouse's hands will be tied.
You have a right to demand that your family/marriage come first, but know that sometimes your spouse's hands will be tied. (Photo/Pixabay)

2. Have an off-duty carry plan

Some cops carry their guns 24/7, others leave them in their work lockers. If your spouse is one of those who prepare for the worst when off duty, encourage them to include you in their tactical planning. If, God forbid, they were to engage someone in a public place, what will you and the kids be doing? Will you know to take cover, or stay behind your spouse, or leave by the most direct exit? Are you supposed to call 9-1-1 on their behalf? Do you know what to tell them if you do (including the off-duty cop's physical description, clothing and department affiliation can make the difference between a coordinated apprehension and a blue-on-blue tragedy)? The critical thing is that you will have discussed this in advance, and your spouse will know what you are or should be doing while they are otherwise occupied.  – Tim Dees, Retired cop and Police1 columnist

3. Discuss with whom you will share the knowledge of his/her police status

Philosophies run the gamut here – some officers don't seem to care if the entire galaxy knows what they do, while others zealously guard the fact they're a cop and don't willingly disclose this fact to anyone. Your decision is yours, but I erred toward being a bit guarded – I didn't advertise my occupation on Facebook, tried to make sure photographs there had limited distribution, and tried to think twice before bringing my job up in conversation. If you decide to be guarded, answering a question about employment with "he works for the [city, county, etc.]" is a truthful out. The goal is to make sure one of you isn't obtuse with the same person the other's open with.  – Justin Freeman, former patrol officer

4. Get used to unusual hours/going to events on your own

You have a right to demand that your family/marriage come first, but know that sometimes your spouse's hands will be tied. They will get called into work unexpectedly, or have to stay longer than expected. There will be last-minute arrests, accidents, reports and interviews. Learn to go to birthday parties, holiday parties or weddings alone. It is part of the job of being an officer's partner. – Rick Bruno, Former police commander

5. Embrace other police families

Attend department functions like Christmas parties or picnics. Get to know the families of the other officers your spouse is working with. They can be a big resource for you and you for them. – Rick Bruno, Former police commander

6. Decide how much off-duty work is permissible. 

Depending on where your spouse works, there may be opportunities for them to work off duty or overtime gigs. Some of them can be fairly lucrative, so you need to establish early what the balance will be here – how many hours a month is acceptable? What's the cut off where the time away isn't worth it, no matter the pay? Obviously, you needn't be constrained by your own parameters if you discuss a specific situation later, but it would help if you both had a general idea of what your needs and desires are here. Bonus Tip: Don't formulate budgets or develop spending habits that require overtime work – if your spouse works overtime, every dime should be butter, totally discretionary. – Justin Freeman, former patrol officer

7. Don't be afraid to ask for help

There is no shame in crying. There is no shame in counseling with someone. It takes a very strong person to be honest with himself and know what your partner's limitations are. It is often the weak and fearful who put up a strong front and deny their hurt. – William Bolt, Police Sergeant

8. Be confident in the strength of your relationship

It is not all doom and gloom. As high as the divorce rate may be in law enforcement there are also many families who do just fine. The unique nature of the job and its inherent stresses may make things a little tougher but a good relationship will cruise right by these hardships and endure. – Roger Curtiss, Retired Detective

This article, original published 10/10/2013, has been updated

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