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I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about the essential elements of a military marriage the other day, and it got me thinking. What are the essential elements of a successful law enforcement marriage? This is an important topic because the divorce rate for those in law enforcement hovers at around 60-75% (source).
That means that of the LEO wives reading this, only a quarter of you will have a successful marriage. Yikes. That’s not something we can ignore. A strong, thriving, healthy marriage is even more important once kids are involved. It means there are more people than just you and your spouse to think about. Protecting your marriage means providing stability and a sense of security for your children.
Here are 5 essential elements to nurture in your marriage so that it can withstand anything that comes your way.
Communication is the key to any successful relationship, but when you go days on end without seeing each other – way more important. Finding ways to maintain open and honest communication is the trick to a better, longer-lasting marriage.
With less time together, the thing you’ll want to focus on is communicating efficiently. The best way to do this is to learn to understand one another’s love language. I know this is kind of a self-help buzzword right now, but there’s a reason for it. It works.
Knowing that we all send and receive love in certain ways helps us understand our spouses better. There’s a free test online to help you determine your primary one, but the 5 love languages are:
Everyone is different. Take me, for instance. My love language is quality time. That means that in order for me to feel loved, I need my husband to prioritize time alone with me when possible, including limiting how distracted he is by his phone. Sometimes it means something as simple as bringing the baby monitor outside and stargazing for 5 minutes before bed. These things help me feel loved, appreciated, and secure in my marriage.
Does your husband thrive on words of affirmation? Leave notes in his lunch or in his car. Go out of your way to say what you love and appreciate about him. Text him randomly during the day to tell him how proud you are of him. The important thing is to find out what it is that makes him feel loved and appreciated, and to do those things. Little acts of love will go a long way toward building up your marriage for times that are crazy: when shifts run long, when spouses are overworked, and you’re overwhelmed from managing things at home.
If you want to learn more about the 5 love languages, the book is available on Amazon 🙂
My favorite metaphor about relationships (in a marriage or otherwise) is that they’re like bank accounts. On good days, you make deposits, and on bad days, you make withdrawals. You need to be sure you’re making lots of deposits on good days, because when it starts running low is when you’ll start having problems. Figure out ways to make deposits whenever possible! Make the good times the time for rebuilding, and the bad times the time to use what you’ve saved in your bank accounts to carry you through.
You also need to be sure to tell your partner when their “bank account” is starting to run low. I know I’m guilty of expecting my husband to read my mind at times. I let things fester and get frustrated when he doesn’t anticipate my needs correctly. It’s not fair to him, and nothing good comes of it. If I just tell him what I need, I receive it and feel fulfilled, and he doesn’t feel confused trying to figure me out why I’m upset.
Try to give your spouse actionable solutions when you’re not getting what you need. If you’re feeling unappreciated, ask him to tell you something he appreciates about you. Sure, spontaneity is romantic, but hey, life isn’t a movie. You have to ask for what you need. And when he asks for something, make sure to deliver on it, as well.
Along with communication is trust. Some days, your spouse will see things he doesn’t want to talk to you about. It has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally. Sometimes, you need to trust that whatever terrible thing he’s seen that day, it’s something that he not only doesn’t want to tell you, but it’s also something you really don’t want to know.
I’ve learned this the hard way at times. It’s not that he isn’t telling you because he wants to shut you out of his life: It’s that he wants to protect you from the hurt. He doesn’t want you to have to experience the bad things he’s experienced. And sometimes, he just wants to forget about them himself.
To bridge this gap in communication, I’ll ask him what’s wrong when he feels distant after work. All he has to tell me is that something bad happened at work, and I’ll back off. If I know the nature of what’s upsetting him, it’s enough communication to help me feel close to him, even if I don’t know exactly what’s eating at him. I know when he’s ready to talk about it, he will. If he doesn’t, it’s okay. It’s just something that comes with the territory.
Another thing is to trust that your husband wants to be there. He wants to be able to attend family events. He wants to spend time with the kids. He wants to take you out on dates. Make sure you’re reinforcing this knowledge by telling yourself good things about your husband and not feeding negative thoughts. If you’re feeling doubtful, communicate and ask for the reassurance you need.
He also needs to be able to trust you. Do what you say you’ll do. If you can’t, let him know. Try not to complain about him or spill his secrets to your friends or family. Be a wife he can rely on. When something’s wrong and he asks about it, don’t lie and say you’re fine. Be someone he can trust to be honest with him, even when it’s hard.
A career in law enforcement is unpredictable by nature. Sometimes your husband’s shift will go hours beyond when you expected him home. Sometimes you’ll have dinner plans that end up having to be rescheduled. Law enforcement officers essentially on-call 24/7, even when they’re not “officially” on-call. I know I’m not the only LEO wife who’s referred to her husband’s department as his second wife. Being flexible and able to go with the flow is a big part of a successful law enforcement marriage.
If I’m being honest, this is something I struggle with big time. I’m not naturally a “go-with-the-flow” type of person. I get really frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. It doesn’t matter if it’s something little: I hate when things are out of my control. It’s something I’ve really had to learn to deal with.
Even when it’s beneficial to you long-term, it can be tough. There were times when my husband was in corrections that we would have a whole day planned, and just when we were about to leave, he’d get called in to help with a prisoner transport. Since we can always use the extra money, he’d usually take it. It was a bummer, but at times like this, I needed to remind myself of our long-term plans. If we wanted to be able to sock money away into savings, he had to work this extra shift. Knowing the reward of the sacrifice was definitely what it took to keep me happy.
The unpredictable nature of law enforcement is another reason it’s so important to make the good times really count. Be building up that bank account so you have a cushion when your plans go sideways! And when plans get derailed, do your best to look on the bright side. Find something good about the change in plans, even if it’s something little, and hold on to that. Attitude truly is everything.
Being married to a man in law enforcement often means nights alone, wrangling kids at church without assistance from your husband, and going to family functions without him, so figuring out how to do your own thing (and be happy doing so) is important. But, not gonna lie, it’s hard to get used to. When non-LEO friends complain about their husband’s business trip and how they “just don’t know” how they’re going to handle the kids by themselves, you’re going to feel a twinge of annoyance.
It’s okay. It’s normal. Just try not to dwell on it 🙂
Make sure to plan fun activities, even if he won’t be able to join you. Take the kids to the park or the zoo. Attend family functions. Make sure you’re not waiting around for him to be home before your life begins. As hard as it is sometimes, try to embrace the time that you have on your own.
Be sure to take care of yourself, as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s nothing wrong with getting a babysitter for a few hours to go out to eat by yourself or with a friend, or even just be out of the house alone. Enjoy those late nights alone when you can watch the shows you’d like to watch without judgment. Enjoy the time when your kids go to bed to read alone or take a bubble bath.
As far as the day-to-day tasks you face, don’t try to be Super Mom. Make dinner easy on yourself. Give freezer cooking a try so you’re not scrambling during the week. Don’t hold yourself to a standard of perfection when it comes to the house and chores. Don’t over-schedule activities for your kids. Realize you’re just one person and you can’t do everything.
Most of all, show yourself grace. There are times this life is going to suck. There are no two ways about it. You’re not going to be perfectly understanding or flexible all the time. Sometimes you’ll get impatient with your husband and the demands of his job, and you’ll occasionally resent him or the department that steals him away from you all the time. Making the effort to become more self-reliant will help your marriage thrive.
Because you’re human, you and your husband will both come up short… A lot. There are times you’ll have had a rough day at home and be short-tempered. Likewise, there are days he’s going to take his bad day out on you and do things that hurt your feelings. Both of you will do it. It’s inevitable, even in a non-LEO marriage. What matters is how you choose to respond.
It’s important for the strength of your marriage that you learn to forgive each other and show each other grace. Holding grudges does nothing but undermine the foundation of your marriage. When the cracks start appearing and you continue to pour frustrations into them, they’ll only spread and the foundation will begin to crumble. Communicate your frustrations, come up with solutions as a team, and do your best to forgive and let them go.
Have patience with his shortcomings. Before shooting off an angry text in the heat of the moment, give yourself a second to cool off. Pray and give your frustrations to God. When you communicate your frustrations to your spouse, try to word them in a non-inflammatory, non-accusatory way. Assume your husband has the best of intentions, even if he’s falling short.
Marriage is tough, but a good marriage is ultimately worth the struggle. If you’re currently having trouble in your marriage, remember why you married your husband in the first place. Think of all the times he’s been there for you. Most importantly, pray. Give your frustrations to God and let him help you make a way. If you’re not currently struggling, be sure to be actively building and solidifying the foundation of your marriage for when the storms inevitably come.
What are some ways you’ve learned to thrive in your law enforcement marriage?
I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.
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