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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Dealing with Divorce on the Home Front

Consider carefully if you're ready to end your marriage to a law enforcement officer.

January 28, 2014  |  by Erica Dreadfulwater

So far in my blog posts I have covered stress and shift work, two of the biggest issues in the LEO marriage. Hopefully you and your spouse have navigated these mine fields with grace and poise. But what if your ship has taken too much damage and it is sinking like a rock? What if someone has uttered the dreaded "D" word? No, I don't mean doughnuts; I'm talking about divorce.

The divorce rate among LEOs is around 70% to 80%, so don't feel bad; you are not alone. Some agencies offer help for divorcing or near-divorcing couples. It would be worth it just to ask.

One such program is called "The Marriage and Family Project," which was developed in 2005 especially for law enforcement agencies. Their primary goal has been to provide general marriage education for law enforcement officers and their spouses, enhance marital satisfaction, and increase marriage skills. A secondary goal is to reduce the number of divorces among law enforcement officers and other first responders. By using training programs, seminars, and retreats in close proximity to the participants' places of residence the program makes marriage education more accessible.

If your agency does not offer any of these types of support, there may be groups that can help you build a support system. If you happen to be a religious family many churches offer classes, counseling, or seminars on the subject of divorce. It would be a good place to start. Many ministers are trained as marriage and crisis counselors as well, or can give you the name of a trained colleague.

I know that by the time you get to the point of considering divorce you just want the fighting, the pain, and the emotional tug-of-war to stop and separation seems like the only way to do so. However, you need to stop and ask yourself, and maybe your spouse, is this what you really, truly want? There is no going back from the big D. It should be a last resort. Unless there is abuse, try other steps first.

No marriage can last if it isn't tended to, much in the same way as a garden. If your marriage were a garden and had been tended the way you and your spouse have tended your marriage would there be luscious juicy fruit and vegetables or would they have withered on the vine? Divorce doesn't happen overnight. It took time for the plants to wither.

You, or your spouse, may have woken up one day to the words, "I love you but I'm not in love with you." But it took time for you or your spouse to get to that point. If you've reached this point, it might be time to order the flowers and sign the card because it's time to mourn the death of a marriage, which almost feels like the death of a person. But assuming there is still some flexibility on the subject of divorce you could try a few things.

I can't overstress the benefits of counseling. It will help you learn to communicate and weather the storm together. But I'll share with you one good tool that I've found helpful.

The next time you start to argue don't use the word "you." It sounds odd, but go with me on this. It works. Instead of "you never listen to me," try "I feel like my voice and ideas are being lost in translation." Try not to blame your spouse because that just escalates things. Try to aim the conversation at yourself instead. That way your spouse won't feel like he or she is being attacked and are will be more willing to talk things out calmly.

Instead of saying, "Your mother hates me!" try, "I feel like I'm not communicating well with your mom. I'd like to work on that." The second sentence is much more inviting and friendly than the first. This is something I use every day, at home, at church, in the world, and it works. People are much more willing to help you with an issue if they don't feel attacked.

Why did you fall in love with this person to begin with? Making lists of the reasons you were married in the first place can help you mentally and emotionally come back to center. Something I have actually done is to start dating all over again. It's actually a lot of fun, even if your marriage isn't in a crisis state.

In the end you have a choice. You can either stay or you can leave. If you stay and live through your unhappiness and work on your marriage, congratulations. You're my hero. It's easy to run, abandon ship, pull anchor, and set sail. In fact, it's human nature to want to avoid pain and stress, so when you see a better road for yourself it's difficult to not venture toward it.

But before you up and go, consider that leaving can be very messy. If there are children involved, it's messy multiplied. No one really knows for sure what effect divorce has on them in the long run but realistically, we're all mostly children of divorce as well and we turned out all right... right?

It's a huge dilemma, and unfortunately one that no one can tell you how to handle. It's your marriage, and only you know what is best for your family. Whatever you decide, don't forget to ask for help when you need it. Remember, you (unfortunately) can't change your partner, but you can change your attitude toward your partner and your relationship. Hopefully, you won't be in this alone. But if your partner isn't yet on board, continue in good faith and with any luck your partner will follow your lead. You are not truly alone. The life of a LEO wife is not easy, but it usually makes for good stories.

Erica Dreadfulwater, a former dispatcher, is married to a police officer and lives in Muskogee, Okla. She is pursuing a forensic psychology degree.    

Tags: Families of Officers, divorce

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

Missouri (Original) Husba @ 1/28/2014 7:47 PM

We have somehow made it almost 17 years being married to each other (20 years as LEO), and although there's no 'magic universal formula' for making things last, there is a lot of wisdom and truth to be found in this article. For the old timers who remember anything from Dr. George Thompson's verbal judo principles, it's not all that different from what this article discusses. Your words, and inflection, carry more power than many folks realize and can help us stay afloat or make us sink like a rock. Thanks for a great article.

Capt. Crunch @ 1/28/2014 9:59 PM

Good article but protect yourself get a prenup.

Mike @ 1/29/2014 12:47 AM

Some spouses will never change despite years and years of your best efforts of working at it, asking, listening, giving in, compromising, being unhappy, sacrificing, being understanding, working at it more, and allowing them to use every excuse and lie to manipulate you. Your happiness is not worth someone killing it everyday for years and years. Their greed and selfishness must have a limit. Walk away without any regrets or guilt. Otherwise they will destroy you and your hard earned career. 16 years was my limit. It was at least 8 years later than I should have left and ended it.

Capt. Crunch @ 1/29/2014 9:19 AM

Good comment Mike, sounds like we were married to the same woman.

David @ 1/29/2014 10:02 AM

The one issue that I have with this article is in the begin when you stated "so don't feel bad; you are not alone." Yes you should feel bad. Two peoples lives are torn apart and possibly more, if children are involved. Somewhere along the way both partners made choices they led you to the point of Divorce.

Pup @ 1/29/2014 11:46 AM

Speaking from my past experiences, I recommend men & women in law enforcement should not get married. If they do get married, they should have a certified agreement to retain their own funds. To many women seek men in uniform for security and financial needs. In CA, many women want a divorce knowing what they are entitled too. The majority of men in LE lose their retirement and savings. Even if the woman may not want the money. It's when the lawyers and courts get involved and order the funds for the wife. I was married over 27 years ago. In CA, the B...h will get a percentage of what I make when I retire, and not what I made when I filed for divorce.
FYI... young guys, please listen and take advise from the guys who have experienced divorce(s). The info may save you from stress, taking your own life, enjoying years to come and save you from losing funds from your retirement. The only thing you should do is love and support your kids. Attorneys are SCUMS.

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/30/2014 3:52 AM

More often than not there is already a problem before the marriage happens but since we are only human it's easy to cascade down until it festers and the marriage falters. Also Police Agencies tend to hire the wrong kind of personality for Law Enforcement work. Agencies have a "thing" for former military and they are the wrong kind of personality for this job. It takes someone well rounded in a lot of various areas. The cops of today are part social worker, public relations experts, a jack of all trades and should be good listeners. Former military tend to be ridged and see the world as black and white when in reality Law Enforcement is almost all gray area. There are some good former military working as cops but as a whole they are not the ideal officer of the 21st century. If you can't get a long with your spouse I would be willing to bet you are lousy with the general public as well.

Capt. Crunch @ 1/30/2014 2:43 PM

@ Ima Leprechaun(I/L), I read your comment and it is so wrong that I have to respond to it. First off if a person is in the law enforcement or the military he/she are considered the best people in the world because they give their lives for us. Their spouses should consider themselves lucky to be married to one of us. Also it takes two people to make a marriage work. If a spouse cannot see this then there are other fish in the sea. (I/L), I feel sorry for you because the way you write you appear to be a bitter person and this is not healty for anyone especially you. I am rid of my ex-wife and happy with my new wife of 20 years and I wish you the best of luck because the way you write you will need a lot of luck.

Nicholas Purcell @ 2/3/2014 12:32 AM

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Nicholas Purcell @ 3/25/2014 3:41 AM

Be interested in to get cheap Florida Online Divorce! It is really cheap divorce. We are here to help you through this difficult time in your life. While we do not provide legal advice we can guide you through the process and ease your pain.

Dave.C @ 6/14/2014 10:08 AM

I’m starting my twenty fifth year in Law Enforcement and have been married for all of them. Considering the divorce rate in the U.S. is a good 50%, and higher for 2ND and 3 RD marriages, I think it's only fair to say being a LE Officer working different hrs, Holidays and missing family events just add to the stress of a normal relationship. Working with younger men and possibly hanging out after hrs can lead to additional issues. I think divorce isn't frowned upon like in the past, so it’s a lot easier to walk away. And YES, it can be financially rewarding for woman in some states. But a prenup doesn't usually go over to well with the ladies. Marriage is like gambling, it can be either very rewarding or costly. God luck out there.

Charlotte @ 9/16/2014 6:56 AM

Just a small comment on bringing up the idea of a prenup - while it is a sensitive topic to approach, as a woman, I hope and nearly expect my partner to want this agreement. (Once the topic is broached you may hear "I want one too!") Like Dave C. mentioned, divorce isn't a taboo topic anymore and isn't frowned upon. As adults, we are exposed to the odds/statistics and hopefully, we can form realistic expectations and make responsible arrangements. I just wanted to chime in another perspective.

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