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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.

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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.    

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