What Is It Like to Be a Police Officer's Spouse?

Law Enforcement Spouses Make Sacrifices, Too.

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Police chiefs often wear stars or eagles to identify their rank. Ronald Bloom/Getty Images

I’ve worked in law enforcement since 2001, and I knew plenty of family and friends of police officers before that time. Through the years, it’s occurred to me that for all the focus placed upon the sacrifices, heartaches, and dangers our police officers face on a typical day on the job, we all too often fail to recognize what the folks at home are going through.

Having spent a great deal of time talking to people who are married to various law enforcement professionals, I thought it only fitting to give you an idea of what it’s like to be a police officer’s spouse.

The Waiting Game

Perhaps the most obvious, but no less significant, issue officer’s spouses have to deal with is the question of whether or not their husband or wife is going to come home each day.

While accidents and tragedies occur every day that affect people and families from all professions, law enforcement spouses are different in that they watch their loved one strap on a bullet-proof vest and knowingly and willingly walk into uncertain danger every work day.

For most, the news of an officer being injured or killed in the line of duty is another sad story in the paper; disturbing, yes, but something easily forgotten once the news cycle winds down. For officer’s families, it's yet another stark reminder that the last time they kissed their loved one goodbye may really have been the last time.

Holidays? Birthdays? Ball Games?

Crime doesn’t sleep, and so someone has to patrol the streets 24/7.

For most departments, this usually means alternating shifts and rotating days off. Depending on where an officer works, she may only get weekends off every 3 months or so. The same is true for day shift. And, for the families of new officers, you can forget about holidays. Even many veteran officers, needing to help their families make ends meet, choose to work holidays to take advantage of opportunities for holiday pay.

What that means for spouses is that they will spend a lot of birthdays, holidays and kids’ ball games alone. I’ve heard both police officers and their spouses tell me that, at times, the non-law enforcement partner felt like a single parent because even though most officers work a standard 40-hour work week like most everyone else, the odd hours often make it seem like they’re gone all the time, sleeping while everyone else is awake and working while everyone else in the house is asleep.

All Stress and No Decompress

Officers on duty experience a wide range of stressors throughout their day, and their hyper-vigilance during the shift can – and usually does – prove exhausting. When they get home from work, the officer may shut down completely, going from one extreme to another in a manner of minutes. This, in turn, can lead to less interaction with family members and stressful situations at home.

Numerous studies have shown that law enforcement careers can potentially lead to health risks, and there has been plenty of research detailing the dangers of law enforcement fatigue. Spouses of police officers, then, take on the added stress of worrying about their loved one’s health not only while they’re on the job, but even when they’re sitting in their recliner watching the tube.

Beaming with Pride

Despite the hardships, one thing I consistently hear is how proud spouses are of their law enforcement officers. They recognize that it takes a special person to put on the uniform and do the job they do, and they feel safe knowing that they live with someone who not only knows how to protect them but is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to keep them and others safe.

To Serve and to Protect

I know of an officer who, after getting ready to go to work for what was bound to be another long night shift, walked into his living room in uniform, ready to make his way out the door. When he moved in to give his son a kiss goodbye, the boy looked at him with awe and told him, “you look like a superhero!” The officer – and his wife, who overheard – knew then that whatever else came, the job and the sacrifice was all worth it.

In that brief moment, they both realized just how much the profession of law enforcement really means.