"Why Did I Ever Marry a Cop?"
The Counselor's Turn
Liz and Nick's issues were not that different from those that all parents of young kids face. But when you factor in the extra burdens of a physically dangerous job and erratic work schedules, a marriage can easily collapse from the stress. Not surprisingly, studies suggest that the divorce rate for police officers is higher than average, and their wives often complain that 'the department' controls their lives.
"Although police officers may insist, as Nick did, that their work doesn't change them, they must rein in their emotions in order to deal with danger and violence on a daily basis. As a result they may have trouble talking about personal matters when they're off duty. From his first day on the force, Nick had begun to communicate less, believing that Liz couldn't possibly under stand what his days were like -- or simply because he wanted to leave work behind when he got home. He didn't understand why she interpreted his silence as a sign he didn't love her. Then, as her angry attacks escalated, he truly began to dislike her.
"Liz yearned not only for help with the house and kids but also for connection. Her husband's behavior left her feeling excluded and resentful. To compensate she unconsciously ratcheted up the drama -- like a child throwing a tantrum. She did get Nick's attention, but it was hardly the affection she craved. Hurt and bewildered, Liz and Nick fell into the habit of provoking each other with snide remarks. If they were going to save their marriage, I said, they had to break destructive habits and rethink their behavior.
"'Your aloofness may be normal for your profession, but it's hurting your relationship,' I told Nick. 'Instead of ignoring Liz when you get home, give her a kiss and say, "I love you but I could use an hour to unwind." ' Liz, in turn, needed to give Nick the benefit of the doubt. 'Both of you are waiting for the other to change, but if you each change, you'll see a difference in your partner.' Liz took the first step, meeting Nick at the door with a hug. 'I forced myself because it was the right thing to do,' she admitted. And the more affectionate she was with Nick, the more responsive he became. I also challenged them to give each other one genuine compliment a day, to reserve at least 15 minutes a day to catch up and to schedule a 'date' once a week during which they were forbidden to discuss their children or any problems. Simply having fun and relaxing in each other's company was hard at first, but as the tension abated, they began to rediscover the person each had fallen in love with in the first place. Liz let Nick know how proud she was of his accomplishments, and he surprised her with flowers. They also agreed to cut back on the kids' activities and schedule more family time, including nightly family dinners and weekly outings. And once a month they run a 'marital checkup' to address what's working for them and what isn't.
"Because she blamed so many of her marital problems on 'the department,' Liz was reluctant to join a spousal support group. When she finally did she discovered that talking with the wives of other cops helped her feel less isolated. 'The women are so friendly and accepting,' she said. 'They understand the madness that goes with being married to a cop.'
"Although the couple's sex life had been in deep freeze for more than a year, I didn't press them on it for several months. When I did broach the subject of making love again, Liz smiled at Nick and reached for his hand. 'We beat you to it,' he said, grinning back at her. At that moment, which was so loving and intimate, I realized that this couple would make it.
"'Our wedding anniversary is next week,' Liz added. 'This year, we have a lot to celebrate.'"
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2009.