As a new officer, my husband shared a lot about his shift. Every day was something new and it was exciting to him to be involved in situations at work. He would often come home and tell me what had happened. As time went on, he shared less and less. I would ask, “How was work” and responses I started to get were:
“Same shit different day”
“You know… the general public are morons”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m just glad to be home”
Maybe you can relate.
It wasn’t because nothing was happening. He was still dealing with abused children, being the first on scene to people that had shot themselves, doing building searches, responding to emergency situations of all kinds. He just stopped telling me about it. When this happens, you stop knowing and understanding each other’s world. Dr. John Gottman calls this understanding Love Maps. It is the foundation of The Sound Relationship House which Dr. Gottman’s model for successful relationships and the culmination of over 30 years of research. Without knowing each other’s world, as a couple you will disconnect and drift away thus increasing the potential for affairs and divorce. Do I have your attention?!?!
Here are some reasons why sharing stops and possible solutions!
Officers must disconnect and distance from things they see and experience on a daily basis. They do not have the luxury of being able to “feel” on scene. They cannot go to a suicide scene and think about what that person experienced or how it is going to impact their family. If any of that squeaks into their thought process they run the risk of compromising their ability to control the scene. So, instead, they numb from the emotional. In disconnecting from the scenes and situations, discussion does not happen. This does not mean that they are not impacted. Just that they are distancing in an effort to protect themselves.
Get specific in your questions. What were some of the calls you went on this week? What was the hardest one? Did any really make you angry? Was there a situation that ended better than they expected? What touched you in a positive way? Listen for an emotion. If he gets pissed off about someone committing suicide, say “that really pissed you off”. It opens up the conversation at times.
He was Trying to Protecting Me
I have often heard officers state that by not sharing the information with their spouse, that they are protecting them. The thought is that some of it is “too much to handle” and/or if you don’t know then you won’t worry as much. Kind of the philosophy of what you don’t know can’t hurt you. As an act of love, they don’t share.
Talk to you officer and let them know what it is like for you to not know what is going on in their world. In reality, this may tend to cause you more anxiety. It’s not uncommon to dream up what is happening on the job or play what I call the “what if” game. Often in knowing more detail you realize how your spouse’s training helps him to make critical decisions. It can increase you trust in their skills, abilities, critical thinking, and in the officers that surround him.
I tried to fix it and change his thinking
Instead of listening and really hearing what his experience was for the day or week (because there was no way to catch up daily most of the time), I would try to offer advice. I would hear the complaints or thoughts on the day and offer up a different way of looking at things or something he should say. One of my favorite sayings now is “Unsolicited advice is criticism”. Who would want to continue to share if that is what they were getting.
You want your officer to know that you are on their team! Your response needs to reflect that. Stay out of judgement or telling him what to do. It is also helpful to just ask, “Do you need me to listen or fix this”. Your role is then very clear. It might also offer the option to having both.
I allowed him to shut down
I have to take some ownership. At some point in time, I got tired of hearing the complaints about administration, the department, how people were “assholes”, and the “general public are just morons”. I listen to people and empathize all day for a living (which I love) and my energy to listen negativity and empathize was just gone.
There may be a time when you start to see a pattern of complaint and this may be a sign of burnout. Gently mention that you are noticing a regular pattern and open it up for conversation. Get curious! Don’t criticize. It might look something like, “Hey honey, I’ve noticed that over the last couple months you seem more negative than usual. What has changed? Do you think you are burning out? Can I help or do we need to do something different during your down time?”
This goes along with their desire to protect you. Here’s the situation. He starts to share a story or situation that happened at work and you tear up or say something like, “OMG that is so horrible. How can you stand doing that?!?!” OR “You could have been shot!”. Comments like these are not going to encourage your LEO to continue to share with you. Instead, they think that it is too much for you to handle and thus refer to “protecting you”.
When you are listening to your LEO, put your emotional response aside as much as you can. You are human so it may not be totally possible. Your stomach might flip while you are listening. You might get teary eyes listening to a story about a child’s situation. There is a difference between reacting and feeling. The goal is not to have a big emotional reaction. It is not to shut down your emotions. Stick with their story and emotions.
Hopefully in sharing how we fell down in connecting you can prevent yourself from doing the same. Watch for some of these same things in your relationship and let me know how the solutions help you!