When I first met my husband, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. The work ethic, the strong morals – it was written all over him. Before he officially became a cop, I saw him as one, because I just knew that’s who he was. (For friends and family that may be reading this, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about). It’s something that I explained to one of the officers who interviewed me as part of his interview process. This quality isn’t something you can see in many people, and the fact I saw it in him made me admire him, despite the challenges I knew I would face because of it.
Being the spouse of a police officer is not for the weak, self-centered, insecure, or high-maintenance type of person. You would think the longer you have been married to a police officer, the easier it gets. For me at least, it seems to get more difficult in certain ways. The longer I am with him, the more I see, the more I know, and the more I realize how real the dangers can be and the toll it can take physically, mentally, emotionally, and most importantly, biologically.
Here are 10 things I have learned since my husband attained his ultimate goal of becoming a police officer:
1. The hypervigilance rollercoaster
The hypervigilance rollercoaster, also referred to as the “pendulum swing,” is the most important thing I have learned (and most recently, too). When an officer is on-duty, the level of awareness and vigilance is heightened on a level beyond what any other profession requires. Compare this state to when an officer is off-duty and experiences the “emotional drop.” The officer has not only come down from being up so high, but they have now come down far below what would be considered “normal” for everyone else.
The pendulum swing back and forth between hypervigilance and emotional drop is what comprises the hypervigilance rollercoaster – an entirely biological process. This means there is absolutely nothing that can change it, as it is what being an effective police officer on-duty innately requires. But having the knowledge of what is happening is extremely important in order to understand, prevent, and cope with any hardships that may surface.
“Don’t let the assholes live in your head off-duty rent-free.”
– Sgt. James Case
2. Selfishness is not an option
As a police wife you must be as dedicated to his love of the job as he is. Even when you are having a really bad day and you just need his shoulder to lean on, you may have to wait. Things that are a huge deal to most wives such as holiday traditions or the perfect birthday party are just not realistic options in a police family.
Learning to understand that being frustrated is normal but being resentful and angry is not an option. Any time I need to phone my husband while he is on shift, I will be interrupted by the squawking of the radio or a monotone dispatcher, perhaps dispatching my husband right then: “Sorry babe, gotta go, there’s a naked idiot in a snow cone hut. Hey, did you know they have coconut now?” *click*
3. The media doesn’t know half of it
The media truly skews and misreport things. As a police wife, it irks me to no end when people attack police officers simply based on the news they watched that morning. It bothers me so much that I had to distinctly address this issue in my post here.
I remember the beginning of my husband’s career and realizing how the public and media viewed and portrayed our police officers – scrutinized more than perhaps any other profession. It stings particularly because those with an officer in the family know how difficult it is to become a cop and how hard they must work on and off duty. I don’t want to discuss the “bad apples” out there that damage the reputation because they already receive more attention than the much larger proportion of those who are good.
4. It’s best to stay out of the comments section
I eventually had to be instructed by my husband to refrain from reading all the wild and hateful comments that circulate social media. I just feel in my heart the need to defend. After several years now, I consider myself “seasoned” in being exposed to all of this hate and negativity, and while it still upsets me, I have learned it is best not to engage or expose myself to it if I don’t have to.
5. Quality time both apart and together is essential
It is so important for officers to define themselves in ways outside of their profession. In regards to the hypervigilant rollercoaster, within 16-24 hours the officer’s state will slowly rise back to the normal range. Unfortunately, during this phase is when officers are back to work, and that is why when they are finally finished their block, they must fill their time in ways that don’t revolve around policing: playing hockey, mountain biking, visiting family and friends, exercising, etc. A much more helpful approach for the officer leaving work is to have the goal of not so much turning off police work as turning on something different.
I’ve declared I’m his backup at home – and the biological effects of hypervigilance take place at home. So, as his backup at home:
I can cook healthy meals to help my officer fight against the affects on his weight.
I can exercise with my officer so that he swings back into a normal level.
I can make sure he gets the sleep he needs.
I can live and operate with the realization that my officer is a cop, but that is not the only thing he is. He is a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, an outdoorsman, with much to offer our family and community.
6. Learning to be alone is also essential
Learning to be alone is also very important. The other week, my alarm went off at 7 am right as my husband came home and went to sleep. I couldn’t remember the last time we were both home and awake at the same time. Luckily for me, I have my dog, and I am never really alone when I have him around :)
7. The emotional repercussions are real
The darkness is ever near, as our officers are the first to respond to the most horrifying of calls. But they will still put on their uniforms every day, face what the rest of us fear, and hope they can do more good than deviants can do bad. To do this takes immense emotional fortitude. When you are dealing with the darkest aspects of society, obviously you will be exposed to very powerful human emotions. In addition to training and working to survive the streets, learning how to become an emotional survivor is just as important.
8. A table where he can face the door is ideal
Classic! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve switched seats with my husband as per his request so he can have a clear view of the door.
9. No more rose-coloured glasses
Being a police officer is accurately summed up as “having a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth.” Police officers will change in a lot of ways others will never truly get: they walk differently, look at things differently, view people differently, even look differently themselves.
This way of thinking translates onto me in many ways by association, anything and everything between learning to laugh at things I never imagined to being skeptical of everyone’s true intentions to holding high standards and expectations of respect to referring to places by the intersection at which it’s located. Phew. And so much more. Finding bullets in the washing machine sure is a switch as well.
10. It’s not all bad
Don’t let this list scare you. After all, becoming a police officer is largely about sacrifice. Police officers live each day fully prepared to lay down their lives for any given stranger at any given moment. They spend countless hours away from their family to help protect yours. They will face those with nothing to gain when they themselves have everything to lose. We police spouses are so proud of them, and you should be, too.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s something about a man in uniform.” I am one of those police wives who literally beams with pride when I see him in that uniform. As hard as it is, we manage to make it work. He is my best friend and I cannot imagine a day without him in my life.