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January 20, 2004

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Dawn-Elise Snipes (Always) Thinking About Wellness
with Dawn-Elise Snipes

Relationship Issues in Law Enforcement

The divorce rate for law enforcement officers in the United States is estimated to be as high as 68%. Let's take a look at the most frequent problems I often hear from officers and their families. . .


Danger

Many people fear flying because it is so dangerous, but when you compare statistics, flying is safer than driving. This belief is so rampant is because airplane crashes get a lot more press than the average motor vehicle fatality, so memories of airplane tragedies are more available in our memory.

According to the US Department of Labor, in 1999, the following occupations had more deaths per 100,000 workers than law enforcement: commercial fishermen, timber cutters, pilots, construction laborers, garbage collectors, truck drivers and electricians. In 2000, 135 officers were killed in the line of duty out of 663,535 sworn state and local law enforcement officers, which averages to about 19 officers per 100,000 http://www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel01/leoka112601.htm. There were 1176 car accidents involving injury or death per 100,000 drivers in the year 2000 http://www.car-accidents.com/pages/stats/2000_killed.html. Therefore, it is 62 times more dangerous to drive a civilian vehicle than to be a cop.

There is no doubt that an officer's job is dangerous, but unlike the average unaware civilian, officers approach all situations with vigilance and caution. They are trained and prepared to handle dangerous situations. How much danger is there in the chronic stress that builds up when this same person is faced with a job s/he hates and is stuck going to each day. More than 80% of illnesses and injuries are stress related. Everything is dangerous, is it worth being unhappy to boot?


Erratic work schedule

Mandatory transfers and overtime are a part of the officer's job. Next to the complaint of "I don't know if s/he is alive or dead" is the mantra "I never get to see him/her. I am more lonely than before we got married"

There are a few things that can be done to ease this complaint. First, communicate. Acknowledge your partner's fears and feelings. Even if nothing can be done to change the situation, if your partner feels heard and understood you will notice a big change. Brainstorm solutions. I have noticed that a lot of officers tend to hoard their comp-time. Granted, it is nice to save some for an emergency, but it will not do you much good if you lose your family in the process. Take a long weekend periodically. Set aside an hour every day that you can spend time with your family, even if it is just a mealtime. Call home just to say "hi."


Low Pay

"We cannot afford the things we want." "My wife makes more than I do." "We never see each other because I am always working overtime."

Financial problems are one of the biggest causes of arguments and divorce. Hopefully, you went into your career and your spouse went into the marriage with a clear understanding of what the financial picture would be. If these arguments are frequent, look to see if there are underlying issues. Are you trying to buy happiness? Is your self-worth based on being the primary breadwinner? Are you working overtime because you have to, because you are trying to get out of the house, or because you hope if you make enough extra money your spouse will finally be happy?

Again, considering what the real issues are and communicating openly will go a long way toward improving your relationship.


Infidelity

There is no doubt that a uniform is a magnet for groupies, but infidelity is not always on the part of the officer, and usually is a symptom of a much deeper problem either in the person or in the relationship. Some people have fears of commitment (being trapped, making the wrong decision etc.) and/or low self-esteem, so they do everything they can to sabotage relationships. Other times, infidelity is the result of people's needs not being met in a relationship. Ask yourself what you, as a person, need and how you are getting those needs met. What needs are not getting met? How could you better meet those needs in your current relationship?


Jealousy

Spouses tend to be jealous of your job, your partners and fear that you are being unfaithful. Jealousy is anger at you for "making" them fear rejection, isolation, loss of control, failure and the unknown. Do to the nature of the job and the overtime, you spend more time at work than at home. Spouses often feel left out and have a hard time understanding the paramilitary structure, which dictates that your commander overrides your spouse. Many spouses try to understand what would make you want to spend so much time at work and end up rationalizing that you must be being unfaithful, because no job is worth being at that much. Again---communication of empathy will go a long way towards de-escalating your spouse's fears and anger.


Kids act out

The old saying negative attention is better than no attention. Holds very true for kids of cops. They are often caught in a double-bind. First, they want your attention because you are their parent, but you are often unavailable emotionally and/or physically. On the other hand, they get chastised for being the cop's kid and do everything they can to live down the reputation and/or "win" friends. Kids are very sensitive and have a hard time taking other people's perspectives. Therefore, when you come home grumbling and go to bed without paying them much attention, they often take it personally. Make sure to talk to your kids and show interest in what they are doing. Set clear, firm limits on acting out behaviors and remind them that you approve of them, just not of their behaviors. Finally, put yourself in their shoes. Would you want your mom or dad picking you up from school in their squad car? Adolescents are all about appearances and reputation.

The more stress there is in your relationship because of your kids, the more stress there is in your relationship, period.

There is not a magic formula for staying married, but open, honest, constructive communication will go a long way to preventing unnecessary stress.


Please visit the Wellness Discussion Forum to contribute your suggestions for other ways to "sneak in" exercise or improve nutrition.

About the author


Add your comments to the discussion on Dawn Elise Snipes' column in the Wellness Issues forum.

Contact Dawn-Elise: wellness@policeone.com







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