Processing trauma appropriately is an important part of being a LEO. Here’s how you can help your officer when he needs you most.
One of the tricky situations you face in police wife life is that moment where your officer comes home from his shift, and is inexplicably snippy with you.
Or maybe he’s just quieter than usual.
Maybe he’s at that point where he straight-up falls apart in front of you, and you just hold him.
In any case, you know he’s seen something awful. You know he’s struggling to cope with it.
Heck, you of all people know when he’s struggling, even if he puts on a brave face for the rest of the world.
That means that, in the world of processing trauma, you are kind of a first responder to your hubby. Since you know him most intimately, you’re most sensitive to what’s bugging him, and you’re the person who cares most about his well-being.
But… that doesn’t mean the job is easy. You want so desperately to help take the weight off his shoulders, to help him feel better, but how?
Here are a few tips for just these occasions:
How To Help Your Officer Process Trauma After a Hard Shift
The first and most important step is just to show up.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about my husband, it’s not to pry too much, but there’s nothing wrong with asking questions.
Ask if there’s anything he needs from you. Sometimes specifics help, since he might be too emotionally overwhelmed to think. Sometimes I just ask if I can grab my hubby a snack from the fridge.
Even if the answer is no, it reminds him you’re there for him.
You can also say things, neutrally, without judgment. For instance, “You seem sad. Can I help?”
Again, the answer might be no. No sweat.
If he needs space, give him a hug and remind him you’re there.
Being “there”, without smothering, lets him know you’re there to support him and puts him more at ease. That way, when/if the time comes that he wants to talk, he’ll be more likely to come to you rather than shut you out.
It’s not a guarantee (because if he’s anything like my hubby, he probably tends to hold it in!) but makes it more likely.
Don’t force him to talk.
Seriously, when it comes to trauma processing, follow his lead.
Forcing him to talk about his crappy day can be the worst thing to do – for both of you. Him because he’ll have to relive something he didn’t want to, you because you didn’t actually need/want to know.
Or, him because he snaps at you, then feels guilty – and you feel lousy because he snapped at you and you were just trying to help.
Either way, it’s a no-win situation.
I know you really, really want to help. And you really, really want to know what’s on his mind so that you can more precisely say something comforting – but resist the urge.
Ask if he wants to talk, and if he says no, seriously, repeat after me: “If you change your mind, I’m here to talk – just know I’m always here for you.”
Go easy on him.
I’m not advocating letting people walk all over you – not at all. But I DO know that sometimes people act the worst when they need the most love. Thank you, Mister Rogers.
If you ask him a question and he bites your head off, try to let it roll off your back for the moment, realizing he’s not in the best state of mind. Try to recognize the pain that’s behind the nasty response, rather than just the hurt it causes you.
I mean, it’s not the worst advice regardless, because responding in kind usually just makes things worse for everyone! Responding gracefully never hurts.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with calmly stating, “I don’t like being talked to like that; if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”
The trick is saying it without a trace of snark – which can sometimes be tough if you yourself have had a crappy day. Speaking from personal experience!
But as much grace as you can muster, provide it – because it’s so important to him.
Pray with (and for) him.
Some of the best moments I’ve had with my husband in this situation is when I asked if I could say a prayer, and he’d reluctantly say “sure”. I knew he wasn’t in the mood, but I also know when you’re not in the mood to pray it’s even more powerful. By me saying it, he got the benefit of participating in the prayer without having to expend extra emotional energy – win/win.
The best prayers are the ones in which I pray for him by name and specifically ask for him to be comforted, for direction, or for whatever else he needed.
After these prayers, we would both inevitably feel better.
This is especially useful when you’re not personally sure how to help, because you’re putting it in the hands of a power greater than yourself. You’re calling to mind the fact that it’s not up to you to fix everything, but that God is with you in the chaos.
Afterward, feel free to continue to pray for him (and yourself!) on your own whenever it comes to mind. You can never pray too much.
Recognize when he needs outside help.
While you are an amazing resource for your husband to lean on when times get tough, you can’t fulfill his every need.
There’s a reason departments usually provide therapy for their officers: processing trauma is hard work. There’s a good chance every officer will need help with it at some point.
If you’re not sure when it’s time to encourage your husband to seek out professional help, this list of signs and symptoms of PTSD in law enforcement officers is a great resource.
These hard times are tough on everyone – but you’ve got this, and you’re not alone!
You may also be interested in my newest book, Refuge: A Spiritual Guide for Police Wives. It’s all about making your home a safe haven for your officer – and your entire family. Be sure to check it out!
- How To Help When Your Husband Doesn’t Want To Talk About It
- “I wish my head could forget the things my eyes have seen …”: PTSD In First Responders
- 3 Ways To Find Peace As A Police Wife
- 6 Most Important Ways To Pray for Police Officers