Police Interview Newsletter - Marital Distress

Volume 2, Issue 3
March, 2003

Law enforcement careers are hard on marriage! Divorce rates among police officers are much higher than among the general population. Police Officers, deputy sheriffs, and law enforcement personnel of all types struggle to balance work responsibilities with their personal and family lives.

Long hours, demanding duties, rotating shifts, and stress-filled contacts with the public take their toll. Holidays and family time are often compromised. Weekend time with spouse and children is difficult to secure. Court appearances and getting called in to work on one's “day off” are sometimes mandatory. Off-duty jobs, necessary to make ends meet, further detract from an officer's time with loved ones.

Whether you are a law enforcement applicant, a police rookie, or a veteran officer with a number of years under your belt, make it your business to recognize and address marital relationship problems early. You really can not afford to be preoccupied, stressed-out, and angry when you're working the streets and need to be at the top of your game mentally, emotionally, and physically. The Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides confidential help to police officers experiencing stress-related difficulties. Their 24- Hour Hot Line (1-407-428-1800) is staffed by trained peer-support volunteers.

At their excellent web site at http://www.policestress.org, the following observations are offered:

“It would be a mistake to conclude that police officers have more frequent or more severe marriage problems than persons in other professions. Because of the nature of police work, however, the amount of unresolved stress, from whatever source, is a critical matter. Unrelenting, excessive stress has deteriorating effect upon judgment, emotional control, logical thinking ability, and accuracy of perception.” “The stress generated by unresolved marital problems is a daily corrosive element which drains an officer's ability to function effectively.”


Possible Early Signs of Marital Problems

Please read the following list. Which, if any, of these feelings, behaviors, and attitudes are you currently experiencing? This list of problematic behaviors is not comprehensive, nor does it offer an objective measure of marital dysfunction. The purpose of offering these warning signs is simply (1) to get you thinking about the quality of your marital relationship and (2) to encourage you to start addressing areas of your marital relationship that may need attention.

• The officer would rather be at work than at home
• Many complaints about spouse (spoken or unspoken)
• Officer or spouse is feeling alone with his/her struggles
• Long periods of silence or poor communication at home
• Decreased interest in sharing feelings and thoughts with spouse
• Not feeling special or cared about by your partner
• Increasingly tense and uptight in partner's presence
• Long talks with an opposite-sex confidante who seems to understand you
• Significant sexual frustrations and tensions in the marriage
• Mood is depressed, irritable, and angry
• Radical change in spouse's behavior patterns (dress, grooming, schedule)
• Differences lead quickly to conflict rather than discussion
• Officer or spouse feels desperately needy for positive attention
• Alcohol or drug use to escape reality or painful feelings
• Serious thoughts and day dreams about being single again
• Feeling trapped and unhappy in your own home

If a number of these items describe you or your situation, please think seriously about talking to your mate about your concerns. You may also want to consider marital counseling to help get things back on track. Keep the process constructive by trying to “own” your faults and contributions to the problem.


Indicators of Serious Marital Problems

Please read the following list. Which, if any of these behaviors or elements are present in your marriage? These are danger signs! If any of these factors characterize your marriage, please understand that very serious relationship difficulties already exist. To effectively address this level of dysfunction, I strongly recommend that you seek professional help from a mental health specialist, a clergyman, or your family physician.

• Persistent lying
• Infidelity
• Verbal abuse (raging and name-calling, threats, foul language, etc.)
• Physical threats or abuse (pushing, hitting, choking, blocking exit)
• Threats of punishment for telling friends, family members, or authorities about the abusive behavior
• Alcohol or Drug Abuse
• Gambling that causes financial hardship or family problems
• Serious inadequacy in marital responsibilities (abuse or neglect of children, gross financial irresponsibility, etc.)
• Psychotic or grossly irrational behavior (paranoid beliefs, hearing voices, etc)
• Extreme jealousy, control, or possessiveness (following or constantly checking up on the spouse, restricting who he or she can talk with , false accusations, etc.)

The next several issues of Police Interview Newsletter will focus on teaching skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can strengthen your marital relationship, improve problem solving, and help you to manage conflicts more constuctively.



In this regularly appearing column, Dr. Hart and local law enforcement officers will respond to frequently asked questions.

Police Officer: Most guys I know struggle in their marriages from time to time, you know, have some rough spots. What can I do to make things better between my wife and me?

Dr. Hart: I really appreciate the way you asked that question. If you are serious when you say, “What can I do?”, that's half the battle. You see, when couples are fighting and feeling misunderstood, each partner tends to focus on the spouse's behavior rather than on what his/her own contribution might be. In her very popular book, “Divorce Busting”, marital therapist Michelle Weiner- Davis challenges each of us to recognize how much power and impact we have on our spouses' behavior.

This is challenging! It's radically different from our bad habit of focusing on what our partners are doing or not doing that so strongly impacts us. So, rather than waiting for our wives (or husbands) to change, the commitment is to decide to focus on what we can do better or differently. To get the creative juices flowing, Weiner-Davis suggests asking ourselves these kinds of questions: “What would I need to do to make my spouse sit up and take notice?”,“What did I do differently when my partner and I weren't fighting”, or perhaps “What is different about the times when the problem is less intense, less frequent, or shorter in duration?”. You can change other people! You ignite this change process, however, by changing your own behavior.


Phone: 804-353-6700
Fax: 804-358-7867
Email: MacHart@PoliceInterview.com

Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
4807 Radford Avenue
Suite 103
Richmond, VA. 23230

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