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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.    

Comments (16)

Displaying 1 - 16 of 16

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

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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.

Hannah @ 10/9/2015 7:12 PM

Married for 14 years to LEO and now planning my escape carefully. Combine the long work hours with a huge controlling ego, then top it off with multiple infidelities and I'm done!!! No one should be expected to live with this. LEO are notorious for cheating. Good luck to the wives of LEO's.

Helen @ 11/20/2015 10:35 PM

Hannah, I like you was married to a PO for 16 years would like to speak to you if your looking for someone that had been there. Helen

Sarah @ 3/23/2016 2:02 PM

I am married to a lesser officer of two yrs but married for 8 I helped him study I made it so he didnt have anything to worry about at home while he did his schooling. I didn't notice from the start that he was a passive agressive narcissistic man but when he became a cop it got worse. He is mentally abusing us his family his discarded like yesterday's trash for his new woman I call and get one lt. Who says his behavior has consequences but since he's not his lt. He has to inform his lt and he will call me yup I got that call and he talked to me said he can sympathize with me but there is nothing he can do and he won't get into it and since I'm not a victim of abuse his hands are tied. I also informed him about things that would put me in a worse spot and danger because the department should know but no they just want to protect him. I was the only one who fought for my marriagr because I didn't know because I was conditioned to feed his ego and take care of him like his mother that he got to sleep around. When is law enforcement going to put a stop to the Cesspool of infidelity? Want moral people have moral people have consequences to their actions maybe it should be run more like the military where they cheat they go to jail. They mentally abuse you they are not protected and the abuser silenced the abused by their buddies. Maybe the divorce rate would be lower I mean how much do we have to have to take and have blamed on me. I didn't run off and cheat I didn't make your night hard I did everything you wanted and you abused me I call the people who are to provide protection and I'm told to grow up and that I'm not abused maybe they need a refresher in what abuse is. Hopefully when mine is done there will be consequences.

Someone @ 4/12/2016 12:29 AM

To the last few ladies... I fully feel your pain. And should any of you have children after divorce with this person, it's 1000x fold. Not all, may I mention, but this kind. The narcissistic one who seeks this line of work "to beat people up and get away with it ". Learning later, why would he feel bad about cheating or treating our children poorly. He would NEVER seek help as that would be a sign of weakness.
It's also very interesting the other commenters bring up money and pre ups. My ex was and still is to this day obsessed with his money, yet won't buy our kids shoes. It is sad because they are either on the article as being that type or they truly don't know one of their own is that way.
I honestly think the departments are split with the moral and immoral but bleed blue no matter what. But I have personally seen moral cops drop friendship with my ex for being immoral. News flash! Your job isn't your life ! And you will never be happy if you think that's what it is unless you listen to the poster who recommends non marriage of you are this type of person. (Again not all involved).
There are many good women willing to make the best of what they know they are getting themselves into, but here are also many women not willing to deal with what's involved ( plenty of fish in the sea/ uniform guy).
A uniform is the least attractive thing I think I could see now. And dealing with an emotionally abusive ex to my children has caused that.
How about you hold each other accountable to reduce the flaws.

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