Surviving the Professional/Personal Identity Rollercoaster in Law Enforcement
Guest Blogger: Detective Sergeant Jennifer Pintar, Michigan State Police
Many law enforcement officers are in a great space when coming out of the academy. They have a new job, are sometimes engaged/newly married, some have babies. A lot of good things are happening all at once. However, once they have been in the field for a few years, it is easy for their identity as a law enforcement officer to become all-consuming. For some it becomes harder to manage the rollercoaster of obstacles presented each day both at work and home.
Throughout my 25 years of law enforcement in Michigan, my husband, currently a lieutenant, and I, currently a detective sergeant, have been looked to as role models for many couples in law enforcement. While it is an honor to be a source of such optimism, our years together took much commitment and many hard, honest conversations about the struggles of the job and its effects on our relationship and family.
I have found that one key aide to maintaining a healthy relationship in law enforcement is understanding how the job can deeply, negatively affect relationships, which unfortunately can often lead to divorce. In the moment, it may seem your relationship ‘lows’ can never be resolved. It is common for officers to feel misunderstood in their own homes, while in contrast at work, many officers find comfort in the consensus of opinions that surround them. This leaves room for officers to find more comfort and solace at work than at home. I urge you to not allow yourself or your officer to hide behind the badge when times get difficult. Instead use the discomfort as a foundation for communication. It may be easy for officers to feign strength to save face and shield family members from the reality of the job stressors. However, creating a safe space for an officer to honestly discuss the impact of the job on their emotional or physical health is an important component of a lasting relationship.
Some issues are beyond the help of a spouse, and that is okay. Seek the help you need. Even if your significant other hesitates to seek outside help, take care of yourself by seeking the help you need. Think of the oxygen mask instructions on any commercial flight: place your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. In this case as a spouse, you must take care of yourself before you can help your significant other. Addressing the issues before they get severe can allow for honest conversation and hopefully repair your relationship.
Finding healthy coping strategies can help combat those low moments in relationships. Along with increased communication, I found that physical fitness can break the cycle of communication shut down much quicker, particularly after a long day at work. Releasing endorphins has been one of my keys to survival. I also found that healthy eating helps immensely to help me feel my best. Coupling physical fitness with nutrition I find I am the best version of myself for my family and spouse.
There are also psychological services offered to spouses at some agencies. Taking advantage of services offered and doing my part has allowed my marriage to be successful in the face of challenges.
It is important to remember that our identities are not solely defined as cops or as spouses of law enforcement officers. Spouses and officers must find ways to live outside of work. While at home, put work away and make time for yourself and your family.
For more information:
For more family support resources from the IACP please visit the Law Enforcement Family Resources webpage.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting the importance of including families and companions into officer safety and wellness. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.