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Tuesday, 14 December 2010
 The APSA is committed to building, among many other things, strong relationships between our officers and spouses, in the fullest support possible of our officers and spouses. What of our efforts as spouses can support our beloved in blue more than strong relationships they can depend upon on the home front (as certainly as they can depend on each other in the field)?  This is true so much that the entire second half of our APSA Mission Statement is geared to that effect:  "As Police Officer's Families, we experience emotions that other families do not. We have fears that others do not.  We deal with shift changes, periods of single parenting and cancelled vacations or postponed holiday celebrations.  Our spouses are often stressed and go through many changes stemming from their careers.  Although our officers receive multiple hours of training to do their jobs safely and effectively, very little time, if any, is spent educating their spouses and families for emotional survival." This article kicks off a five part series of articles on "relationship building". The five part series will explore issues ranging from aims at improving communication, through more in-depth analysis of the issues facing our officers (so we can better understand them, and them us), the History of the issues specifically in Austin, and how we can effectively understand our roles (relative to both Leadership and to the community).  This particular article, while exploring many issues we (and our officers) encounter, will nonetheless focus on those issues relative to improving communication. This article is by no means exhaustive, of neither the issues nor of skills for communication. Of Riverboat Captains, and Causes For Good Communication:  It used to be said of riverboat captains along the Mississippi that they were known for the particular mile or two stretch of the river with which they were most familiar. The river was always changing, and it took an intimate knowledge to navigate the constantly shifting eddies, shallows, and so forth the river threw at them. Cargo, crew, and vessel were always at stake, and the river could be cruel. Now, if I don't want to sleep on the couch I have to leave out the "cruel" part if I want to make this a metaphor of married life to an officer. But it is true, more or less, at least to say that it is tricky beyond compare to navigate the waters of married life to an officer, and that it requires an intimate knowledge of the life-course which is law enforcement.  Life is hard on our beloved in blue, and like the Mississippi, Life on The Job's difficulties can make for tenuous traversing (by ourselves) as spouses. For most of us, for all of us really, this goes without saying, and is almost so obvious as to sound trite. But to put the much needed point on it: The National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation suggests a figure of 300 officers per year committing suicide; a 2008 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) study by the F.B.I. reveals between 100 and 150 officers are killed by criminals every year. This says nothing of the number of critical incidents per year, nor any myriad of stressors. (One earlier 2004 article in the F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin, written by Dennis Lindsey, M.Ed. and Sean Kelly, suggested the suicide rate was three times that of the National Average.) There are startling rates of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Hypertension / Heart Attacks, Stomach Disorders (e.g. Ulcers), High Blood Pressure, and on and on among our officers, frequently as high or higher than in other high stress professions.  These facts underscore the very real pressures resting upon our officers, and serve to behoove us as spouses (and even behoove our officers) to do all we can, quite frankly, not to add to the stress.You don't have to have been married long to know how work stress can produce home-life stress and vice versa. It doesn't take an expert to tell us how much stress in relationships can effect performance "on the Job", or how much can be reduced just by good communication, and how much can come from bad communication. Any "ole-timer" and marriage-veteran will tell you that finances (first) and sex (second) are the two biggest sources of conflicts in new marriages. This may well then be followed by parenting issues. If "knowing is half the battle" then knowing we need to get on the same page and discuss our expectations and views with our spouses can cut conflict off at the pass. This means communication prior to conflict, and proper communication for conflict resolution if and when conflict arises. With this being the case, even a few simple steps can improve our communication and work through / resolve conflict quicker.  With this in mind this article hopes to "shot-gun blast" a few communication ideas to lay the groundwork for reducing that form of stress found at home. I surely do not purport to be any expert (nor even barely more than a novice) on this subject, but just another "brother-in-the-trenches". My hope is that this kicks off some ideas and discussions with which you can begin to get your own input, from smarter sources.  Like I said, I am no expert, but I have found some good teaching. My wife and I first came across the following steps in a group-based class, where the class leader had written the following steps down and laminated them upon a 4x4 inch tile. There were directions for the Listener on one side of the tile, and directions for the Speaker on the other, and as the conversation progressed, and the roles changed between Speaker and Listener the tile was passed back and forth as each person got the turn to speak. You can make your own tile, or just follow "the rules" below. (Since it was not printed on the tile, and since the instructor found it pertinent to highlight, I must reiterate his words: you are not ever to throw the tile at each other in the middle of a "discussion".) Having a symbolic item to pass back and forth is actually helpful for some while learning the method, teaching one to wait through role transitions.  Rules for Both Speaker and Listener (at top on both sides of the tile):           1) The Speaker has the floor; the Listener paraphrases          2) The Speaker shares the floor (both are speakers)          3) No Problem Solving, no premature solutions Rules for the Speaker (on Speaker side of tile)           1) Speak for Yourself - only express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns, NOT the listener's thoughts          2) Talk in Small Chunks - allow the Listener an opportunity to restate what you have said in 1 to 2 sentences          3) Stop and Let the Listener Paraphrase - if the paraphrase is inaccurate, politely restate the idea or point Rules for the Listener (on Listener side of tile)           1) Paraphrase What you Hear - repeat back what you heard in your own words; show your partner you are listening; no interruptions          2) Don't rebut - Focus on the speaker's message; offer no opinion; edit any upset response; speak only in the service of understanding your partner.          3) Speaker determines if the paraphrase is accurate.   Other basic conflict / communication hints: These are little nuggets, little bits of sage wisdom. Take them for what they are worth, chew the meat and spit the bone, as it were, but they have helped my wife and I. Keep short accounts - This was advice given to my wife and I by the pastor who married us. Many time it has born fruit, and many other times I wish I had followed it. Essentially it means being quick to forgive, and not hold onto anger.  Do not go to bed angry - This does not mean you to bed with things resolved, but it does mean you do not go to bed with anger on your heart. Common sense tells us you won't get a good nights sleep, and sleeplessness in and of itself is a recipe for (more) fighting, but on top of left-over anger it is nitroglycerin on a roller coaster.  Don't fight late - This is a corollary to the previous two points. It especially makes sense if one of you works the night shift, then they have the advantage. Seriously, however, keep in mind that "late" is relative, and while it may be your morning it may be the end of a long day on the night-shift for your officer spouse. Different Places - Perhaps the best insight I ever received, and this was from my father-in-law discussing his own marriage, was the idea that each of you are going to be in different (emotional) places often enough, and it is o.k. to be in different (emotional) places. Coupled with my father-in-law's wisdom is the idea that the best step in good communication (especially if you are in different places) is listening - active listening, not advice giving, but active and even inquisitive listening. If you are in your own place, sometimes you just want to be heard, listened to, sought to be understood even if understanding is not available or possible. No Sins for Breakfast - Since I am a guy I can speak for male officers, but this is really gender-neutral advice, and along the lines of keeping short accounts. This admonition actually came from a Reader's Digest cartoon I read years ago, I think, or something like it. The picture was of a breakfast table scene, and the caption read, "Once a woman has forgiven her husbands of his sins, she does not then serve them up to him for breakfast." The idea being, male or female, once you have forgiven your spouse, you do not throw that they have been forgiven (or what they have been forgiven for) back into their face. Understandably such a "reminder" inevitably sets off a new fight, frequently rehashing the old one. Perhaps a bit more nuanced is the interpretation that one is to keep each fight separate, and fight each separate fight fully then move on, keeping short accounts. Emotional Lexicons - I had parents old enough to have watched John Wayne in theaters, for "two bits" no less. Folks not just from that time but even well into mine (likely because of parents that old) had a certain mentality about sucking it up to get the job done. For whatever reason this "sucking it up" has since come to be confused with stuffing emotions. Coupled with the culturally characteristic lack of an emotional lexicon (i.e. a vocabulary identifying emotions, and used to properly communicate them) a lot of folks as old or older than myself lack the means to effectively communicate how we feel, and that is one mega-source of miscommunication, and strife. Being aware of it is a step, a good step. Efforts geared to expressing how one feels, without referencing the actions of the other person, are an even better step - to the actual work of curtailing conflict and miscommunication. For instance, I may say to my spouse, "I often feel unacknowledged, and I feel my efforts are sometimes undervalued." Notice I did not say, "I always feel you don't acknowledge me, you never value me". Simple as it sounds, not making "you" statements, and not using hyperbole (words like "always", "never") can cut down on a lot of conflict . One Thing A Year - Do one thing a year for your marriage, without the kids. This could be a vacation /  trip, a marriage conference, reading a marriage book together, any number of things oriented done together and oriented towards improving your marriage. Date Night - Carve out time every week or every other week to have a date night, without the kids. Get a sitter, watch a movie, go to dinner, do putt-putt, bowling, whatever. Be romantic.  (While not specifically Communication tips, the latter two suggestions go a far way to improving conflict, and this improves communication (a feed-back reciprocity, if you will). Remember, sometimes a field needs to lay fallow to be rich for the next years planting, so in these "times out" without the kids, keeping it light is o.k., even productive.) There are many general issues which officers and spouses face ( and are to be explored in more depth in upcoming articles), and which merely mentioning something about can help one to navigate through the otherwise "murky and ever shifting waters". Many times just expressing and putting voice to how (or what) one is feeling can go a long way to helping your spouse understand where you are at, and opens the door to communicating (before expectations or fights can evolve). Plus, honestly, it is up to us (not "the other person") to lead out and demonstrate this. A special note: Cop Humor,  its Significant Place, and Communication Difficulties Arising From It. Many non-officer spouses have experienced cop humor, and the longer we have been wed to one "on the job" the more accustomed to it we have become. For newly married spouses (and even for new officers) the humor often demonstrated can euphemistically be called "dark humor" at best. This humor can itself be a source of conflict, causing spouses confusion, or even concern about the presumably callous attitudes. "How could the person I love and married be so callous about 'x',?"  We might wonder such, and then proceed to find ourselves conflicting with them over it without ever realizing. In a Perspective for the February 2010 Issue of the F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin Joseph Pangaro, C.P.M. said,  " The key here is understanding that this dark humor is a coping mechanism, not a “dealing with it” mechanism. These two expressions are extremely different and so is the emotional truth of the situation. It is between these two phrases and the real-life places we live that can damage us, not as cops but as people." For us as spouses, ultimately removed from the actual experience but not divorced from its effects (especially effects upon our "other half"), developing a healthy thick skin, and an equally healthy ability to communicate through these "coping mechanisms" and "real-life places" (with all their emotional truth) may be of immense support to our officer. If not obvious already, let it not go unsaid then that we as spouses need to be purposeful and committed in developing our own forms of emotional processing and levels of emotional maturity / understanding, if we are to partner with our spouses. They see the crime scene, so it's incumbent upon us to accept that there is real life horror, even though we don't see it up close. It is true for our officers, but not seeing it should not make it less real for us, just not experienced by us. Admittedly, as many of our officer spouses will tell us (and as many more will not say but will think it), since we are not officers we should not expect we can "get in their skin" and comprehend what they are experiencing. This is true enough despite us maybe even being able to develop or (contribute to) determining methodologies which serve to help them process. It is the reason why many officers don't want to go to counseling with professionals who have not been officers themselves. This is an issue (for us spouses) that serves to highlight one facet of the experiential gulf between us, one which exhorts us to being circumspect of the pressures on our officers. This "Great Gulf," and the inability to communicate across it, is undoubtedly the source of numerous conflicts, and for which so many cop marriages have ended in failure or divorce. As shocking as the rate of suicide among officers is the rate of failed marriages within the profession. The PSU Training Institute, of the Central Florida Stress Unit, Inc., suggests that,  "The divorce rate among Law Enforcement Officers is as high as 75% on first marriages and even higher on second marriages."   A sobering, if not quickening statistic. There is a lot at stake, and it is not easy. A few nuggets of wisdom and a few book references and some resource listings are alone not going to rectify the situation, and especially not in the absence of a serious commitment to the project (of being an officer's spouse). The point is that our officer's deserve it, and even this little bit can help, but this little bit is not a stand alone, full solution. As spouses this is what we have elected to face, while our beloved in blue face the Job.  One really encouraging perspective, and echoed in all the writers / pieces referenced: with proper training, and enough training, this is all combat-able. So much so that countless resources and organizations and passionate folks (like the ones in the APSA) have arisen to help, to stem the tide. So I leave you on this note, and that is if such serious issues are thought to be combat-able, issues which so much ride upon, we can not but be expectant, hopeful, positive in our efforts.   Resources:             Departmental:                         1)              Print Media / Books :                         1) A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting For your Marriage, by Scott Stanley                   2) Covenant Marriage, by Gary Chapman                   3) National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/                   4) Center for Relational Leadership, http://www.crleadership.com/          Online:                   5) http://www.heavybadge.com/                   6) http://www.cophealth.com/index.html                        7) http://tearsofacop.com/police/police.html                        8) http://psf.org/                        9) http://www.policestress.org/psu/                       

 10)F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin 

http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/leb.htm  Footnotes for references above <to be formatted>The National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation, http://www.psf.org; and Tears of a Cop, http://www.tearsofacop.com.U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm#leoka.http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2004/july2004/july04leb.htmFrom A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting For your Marriage, by Scott Stanley, et al, Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Franscico, 2002, pgs. 59-69.http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2010/february2010/feb10leb.htmhttp://www.policestress.org/psu/

Posted by austinpolicespouse at 7:39 PM EST

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