A Regular Column
Alex M. Salazar
Former LAPD Undercover Officer
Stress On The Police Family
Alex M. Salazar
A police officer's mental health affects their marriage, home life, children and close relationships.
Your home environment has a critical effect on how you will perform your job. If there is stress in the home, it doesn't get left at home. You take it with you to work. Stress at home combined with stress at work can have dire consequences on the most emotionally stable person, causing anger and aggressiveness. Stress causes mistakes on the job where there is no room for mistakes. When you are dealing with life and death everyday, you cannot afford to be distracted by a tense family life.
Your job stress and home stress turn your spouse into a single parent. Because you aren't talking, or are too busy, or too aggravated, your spouse has to attend all the children's activities, family gatherings and other social events on their own, causing isolation and loneliness for the spouse.
Isolation and loneliness cut off communication, causing resentments, anger and sometimes physical violence by both parties. Often the officer ends up getting arrested for domestic abuse, no matter who started it, no matter who swung first. I know. I've been in that situation. I was arrested for domestic abuse. I acted stupidly and took out my stress and anger on my spouse.
Why does the officer usually get arrested? Because cops know better and are held to a higher standard. But people, especially those in Internal Affairs, forget that cops are human with real feelings that are sometimes hard to express after years of keeping them pent up inside while on the job. When they finally are expressed, they may explode in rage and fists.
When things get so bad that an officer is arrested for domestic abuse and lands in jail, too often this leads to separation or divorce.
According to mythology, cops have a higher divorce rate than the general public. That isn't always true. In some cities, the cop divorce rate runs as high as 75 percent compared to the national average of about 50 percent. In other cities, the cop divorce rate is below the national average. So you can't make generalizations. Nevertheless, when things are tough at home, it feels like the whole world is getting divorced or falling apart.
Being a cop is a difficult lifestyle, more difficult than I know I imagined when I entered police academy. Who would have thought becoming a police officer would turn into a country song where you lose your wife, your kids, your house, your dog and your car. But, you know, you can play a country song backwards and get all those things back. So be smart. Keep the things that matter the most in your heart and mind. Don't push them onto the back burner. The back burner sometimes catches fire and consumes you.
Here are a few ideas for keeping your family life stable. If I sound preachy, I apologize. I don't mean to be. It's just that I've been through all the problems I mention below, and have discovered the solutions through painful experience:
Make time for each other
Plan special evenings where it's just the two of you. Even though there are always circumstances you cannot control, try, really try not to break the date. Too many officers, guys and gals I know, make it a habit to either be late or not show up at all. How do you think that makes your spouse feel? Would you like that done to you? Show your loved ones that they matter and are a big priority in your life. Remember, your spouse spends many nights in bed alone with nobody to share their feelings, thoughts, insecurities, fears, anxieties, love and affection. Sometimes just holding your loved one through the night can make all the difference in the world.
This is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. You need to communicate. Tell your spouse how your day went. A lot of times you can't or are afraid to give specifics of what happened, but share what you can. You don't have to give the gruesome details, but you can say how you feel as a result. Get it off your chest. When you share, your spouse becomes more understanding of what turmoils you face everyday on the job. Not only does it help you emotionally, but it also reminds your spouses that they are important, that they have a part of you. I know it's a simple thing to say: Just TALK. But it's not so easy for a cop. Cops are taught to keep everything inside on the job, and when they go home they continue to be silent. Home is the place where you can open up and allow yourself to be human.
Make Time For The Children
I've emphasized how important it is for you to make time for your spouse or significant other. It's just as important to make time for your kids. Being the children of cops is rough. The kids get bullied at school or treated with suspicion. At least if they know you love them and want to do things with them, that makes up for a lot of abuse they put up with just because they are your kids, a cop's kids. When you are absent a lot, the kids look to your spouse for support and authority. After a while, they become resentful toward you. They believe that the only person who has a right to decide what they can or can't do is your spouse. You are just a visitor.
Your kids may rebel just to get your attention. Sometimes the children of cops will hang out with the wrong crowd, just to prove they are not a goody-two-shoes. To get accepted by their peers, they may turn to drugs or even run away. Our children need to know they are important. Yes, your job is important and demanding, and you may also be doing a lot of overtime to give your kids a better life. But that's not how they see it. They only see a parent who isn't there. A parent who doesn't value them.
Do not make your children believe that the job must come first. It lowers their self respect and belief in their own abilities. Take time for your children. You chose to become a parent. They did not choose a police officer as their parent. Ask any child what they would prefer, you or material things. Most would choose you. In other words, be present for your kids.
If Necessary, Seek Counseling
If problems are very serious, seek therapy with your spouse. Sometimes you should include the kids. Never be too proud to admit that you need help. If it means saving your marriage and your family, nothing is too much to ask or more important.
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