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Home  >  Topics  >  Off Duty

August 13, 2014
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Olivia Johnson Peer Support
with Olivia Johnson

7 critical communication errors (and solutions) cops make with their spouses

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place" — George Bernard Shaw

Census Bureau data indicated that 1.2 million couples in America got divorced last year. That’s 2.4 million newly single Americans for the third consecutive year. 

Why so many unhappy couples? 

According to Cathy Meyer — Certified Divorce Coach (CDC), Marriage Educator, and Legal Investigator — there are three main reasons people divorce: laziness, high expectations, and inadequate communication skills.

Active Listening
Taking a marriage for granted seems easy enough, and having “unrealistic” expectations of the union of marriage — or your partner — also seems understandable. But it really does boil down to how we interact and communicate with each other, and how well we listen to the needs of the other person. 

I’ve heard from hundreds of cops who say they don’t like sharing with loved ones what they do at work. Many are afraid that sharing too much will cause undue stress. I would never suggest sharing too much, or to share pictures and such. However, I always encourage officers to share something from their day with their significant other. 

This is a very special bond and it must — like any important relationship — be nurtured. If police officers would share more about their days, significant others would better understand actions, not jump to conclusions, and would often better understand the reasoning behind your actions or behaviors. 

However, communication is not just about talking. It is also about listening — active listening to be exact. In truth, sometimes when your loved ones want to “talk” they really just want to be heard. 

They want to feel validated and they don’t need a single thing from you except for you to listen. 

Here are seven tips you can start using today to help improve your off-duty communication: 

1.    Don’t treat loved ones like perpetrators. I’m a firm believer in the old adage “It’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it.” Be respectful!
2.    Share your day. You don’t have to provide all the gory details, but your family wants — and needs — to know about your day. When they can better understand what you do, they can better understand why you act like you do.
3.    Remember to listen. You are not the only one with something to share. Even though you may not see your spouses or child’s day as “exciting,” they really just want you to show an interest in them and what they see as important. Being involved will pay dividends in your relationships.  
4.    Leave the lingo at work. It is confusing and may impede the communication process.
5.    Be honest about how you are feeling and about what you are dealing with personally. Your family is your lifeline. They see you at your best and your worst, and they love you unconditionally. They want to be your support system and you need to let them. Never lie to your loved ones, especially when it concerns your health and wellness. Have the conversation now about what you need.
6.    Never go to bed mad. Of course, some things will just not be worked out completely before one must get some sleep, but don’t let things corrode your relationship.
7.    Remember, it is okay to be wrong. And if you are wrong — or someone was hurt by your words or actions — apologize. Also remember to accept apologies when given, and say “I love you” often. Do not live with regrets. 

As humans, we have a need to belong and to communicate and interact with others. We’re forthcoming and direct at work, but oftentimes, we have a discouraging track record when it comes to communicating with our loved ones. 

The good part here is that we communicate each and every day, in a multitude of ways, and if we have issues we can start making changes now. 

Prepare yourself for the transition of leaving work and getting home. Use your drive home to focus on what you want to talk about and start mentally preparing. 

Positive communication is the lifeline to any relationship and though it can easily be damaged, it can also be repaired with some dedication by all involved. 


About the author

Dr. Olivia Johnson holds a master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management from the University of Phoenix – School of Advanced Studies. Perseverance in raising awareness to officer wellness resulted in her being named the Illinois State Representative and Board Member for the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation. This role led to her being invited to speak at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit’s 2010 – Beyond Survival Toward Officer Wellness (BeSTOW) Symposium. 

Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former police officer. She collaborates with several law enforcement publications and is a columnist for PoliceOne.com. She was recently asked to lead the peer support section with Crisis Systems Management, where she trains Military and Law Enforcement personnel worldwide on Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS) and Law Enforcement Resiliency – Peer Support (LERPS). 

Dr. Johnson and the Blue Wall Institute have partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to bring The Balanced Warrior: Proactive Officer Wellness class online. Recent speaking engagements include: FBI National Academy Associates Conference 2013, International Association of Chiefs of Police [IACP] Conference 2013, National Interdiction Conference 2013, Midwest Security & Police Conference 2012, and the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association [ILEETA] 2012. 

For further information on the Blue Wall Institute and Dr. Olivia Johnson, visit  www.BW-Institute.com.

Contact Olivia Johnson





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