The idea of being a law enforcement officer (LEO) sounds like a good career choice but there is a lot of stress that comes along with it.  There are numerous factors that contribute to the stress of being a LEO.  That stress will not only affect you, it will affect your family as well.  Wasilewski and Olson believe “A healthy, lasting marriage is possibly the hardest relationship to maintain”, (Wasilewski & Olson 2015).  Wasilewski is a police officer in the Chicago area, as Olson is a social worker for a private company.  These two, have been married since 1994.  Wasilewski and Olson have established specific traits that would make a successful marriage, but the way police officers are trained, contradicts those traits and natural human feeling.  This conflict of training and natural human feeling can put a barrier in one’s marriage.  With knowledge of the stress a police officer and his / her family could endure from the job, is that career choice that one would make?

Police officers are trained to not show their ‘personal face’.  Police officers will respond to call for services and no matter the circumstances they must keep their composure and not let their emotions show or act on them.  Police officers can and will build emotions from responding to calls for service, however, they tend to be boxed inside themselves, or simply they make themselves ‘numb’.  For example, an officer responding to a call for service reference a shooting where a child has been shot or killed, could be difficult to discuss with their spouse or anyone at all.  Police officers are supposed to be professional and calm at all times during high stress situations, it is expected of them and can put a twist on one’s normal emotional response.  This conflicts with the response needed in a relationship with one’s significant other, so one could understand the other.  With no emotional response from one side, could cause the other to believe they do not care.

In this report, approximately three separate studies have been compared.  These studies included 142 police couples (First Study), 177 police couples (Second Study), and an “analysis of census data or surveys”, (Mccoy & Aamodt 2, 2009) that compared divorce rates of police officers to other occupations in the United States.  From what I have gathered from these studies stress from the job itself plays a role in one’s relationship with their spouse, but how they react to the stress can determine the length or health of their marriage.  There are ways of handling stress caused from work in which it will less likely put a burden on your family and spouse.

According to Shawn P. Mccoy and Michael G. Aamodt, the common belief that police officer’s marriages result in divorce more than other occupations, is not generally accurate.  Mccoy and Aamodt have found that their “study demonstrates that the idea that divorce rates are unusually high for law enforcement workers is unfounded”, (Mccoy & Aamodt 5).  It was found through their study that dancers, choreographers, bartenders, massage therapists, gaming cage workers, and extruding machine operators were at the top of the list of occupations with the highest divorce rates.  Mccoy and Aamodt had found that a study conducted by Whitehouse in 1965 and based on information obtained from 1960, provided the actual percentage of divorced police officers, the result was that “the United States Bureau of Census revealed that policemen and detectives have 1.7 percent of their number listed as divorced” (Mccoy and Aamodt 2).  Prior to this finding, police officers were believed to have a higher divorce rate, when they actually have a lower percentage than most other occupations.

Now that we have gotten past the assumption that police officers are more prone to divorce, the studies including police officers and their spouses show the coping mechanisms of handling stress and effects.  Susan E. Jackson and Christina Maslach found that “Officers who were experiencing stress, as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, were more likely to display anger, spend time off away from the family, be uninvolved in family matters, and to have unsatisfactory marriages”, (Jackson & Maslach 1, 1982).  In this study, the behaviors to manage stress were based off of any occupation, however, police officers were found to “more frequently deal with stress by smoking, having a drink (alcoholic beverage), getting away from people, and finding activities to take their minds off of their problems” (Jackson & Maslach 6).  Though this study did not distinguish which form of coping with stress was used more often by police officers, I would think that getting away from people would also include one’s family.  Based off of personal experience, I have seen that the less time away from family will lower the quality of family life even during the times you are present in family events.

 

After reviewing the information from the study completed by Jackson and Maslach, I had noticed that if each spouse were to talk to one another about their stress, it could portray a positive reaction towards the satisfaction of the marriage.  “Men who reported withdrawing from people as a coping strategy perceived themselves as less involved with their families and wives”, (Jackson & Maslach 10).  This is one strategy that one who is a police officer, should not consider.  Removing one’s self emotionally and or physically from their spouse or family, would not be a good strategy to improve family or marriage life.

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From the information gathered thus far, would it be safe to say that stress is a factor in one’s marriage who is involved in law enforcement?  It shows that it can be a factor, however, every occupation has stress.  Police officers tend to spend a lot of time at work, and a lot of time after work coping with the emotions drawn from the job itself.  Michael Wasilewski and Althea Olson had mentioned approximately eight traits that can contribute to a successful marriage.  A few of these traits are “loving communication, willingness to get hurt emotionally, and being vulnerable and honest about our individual flaws”, (Wasilewski & Olson 1).  Some of these would conflict with a few of the coping mechanisms mentioned from the study conducted by Terry A. Beehr from the National Institute of Mental Health.  The coping mechanisms most found were “Emotion-focused”, (Beehr 17, 1991) by police officers.  These coping mechanisms are based off their personal emotions such as self-blame, avoidance, drinking alcohol, and depersonalization.  These coping mechanisms can be related to the findings by Jackson and Maslach during their study.  It is clear these coping mechanisms can be seen how they conflict with the specific traits to a successful marriage.  These findings, should be made known to those who are police officers or the spouse of one.  This way, they could combat these issues as they may arise and approach them in a manner in which issues are discussed and bad habits are not formed within the relationship.

A police officer who is looking to cope with their stress by avoiding people (Including their own family), drinking alcohol, or blaming themselves, will more likely not be the one to provide loving communication or be honest about their individual flaws to their significant other.  One who avoids their family and will blame themselves, is not one who will be open to their spouse or family and could be turned towards drinking alcohol as a stress relief as some might do.  The stress that comes along with becoming a police officer is an apparent factor to an unsuccessful marriage or unhappy home life when combined with poor coping mechanisms, specifically found from the data and opinions stated in this report.

If you are one to get away from the job, it would be useful to “keep your civilian friends to get away from the job” (Bond).  Mark Bond has found specifically from his own experience as a police officer, that officers’ stress from the job will actually affect their job performance too.  They will tend to make more mistakes, take more time off, be less prepared for daily duties, and be more prone to complaints.  This adds onto stress affecting your personal life.  It would be common sense to assume that if one is not happy at work, more than likely they will not be happy at home, and the other way around.  A police officer who is stressed about the job and puts himself around those who are as well, would not be a great choice of taking a break from the job.  Putting one’s self around co-workers who may and most likely share the same stress, 24/7, would not being a helpful tool.  Keeping your friends outside of work, could help take your mind away and relax.

Every occupation is going to have stress, however, the way that police officers are trained to handle their emotions and do so 24 hours a day; 7 days a week, makes it difficult for them to turn their emotions back on when they return home for the night.  I have come to my own conclusion after reviewing the research that has been conducted, that stress from the daily duties of being a police officer will not only affect your marriage, but your family as well if you allow it.  That might be easier said than done, but just like any marriage or family you have to be willing to speak to one another, spend time, and be honest.  Without being honest, speaking, or spending time, anyone would naturally drift away and one will spend more time with co-workers rather than their own family.  The myth that law enforcement careers having the highest divorce rate has been broken, however, it has a divorce rate just like any other occupation and if you allow stress from the job to fall onto your family and not handle it properly, divorce may become very real in the near future.

If there is someone in mind that is a police officer, or you yourself are considering becoming a police officer, let it be known that there will be stress from the job just as any other.  The stress may appear to be different or unusual than others, but just like any other way of dealing with it, you cannot let yourself sit on it and distance yourself from the one’s most important to you.

 

Works Cited

“The Impact of Stress and Fatigue on Law Enforcement Officers and Steps to Control It”. InPublicSaftey, 24 Feb. 2014, http://inpublicsafety.com/2014/02/the-impact-of-stress-and-fatigue-on-law-enforcement-officers-and-steps-to-control-it/.*

I located this article on a public safety website.  The author, Mark Bond, is a faculty member at American Military University.  Bond has been in the law enforcement field for approximately 29 years including military, state, local, and federal agencies.  I used Mark’s article to integrate the stress of the job in totality of affecting personal lives as well as the work environment as well.  Mark Bond is a tremendous reliable source given the fact that he has lived this life himself.  Bond has also obtained his Bachelors of Science and Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice.  Bond has been in a number of leadership roles in his career and has experienced life as the bottom feeder as well.  Bond shows perspectives on both views.

“After-effects of job-related stress: families as victims”. Journal of Occupational Behavior, Susan E. Jackson; Christina Maslach, 1982.

The two authors of this article, Susan E. Jackson and Christina Maslach, were published are their topic of choice in the Journal of Occupational Behavior.  Christina Maslach is a Professor for Emerita of Psychology at the University of California at Berkley.  Susan E. Jackson obtained her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkley and is in the Human Resource Management field.  Both of conducted research in various topics within psychology.  I have used their information for statistical findings of how stress is a factor in marriage and specific human reactions to stress.  Both authors are very well experienced in this area of expertise and have a long list of accomplishments within.

Occupational Stress: Coping of Police and Their Spouses. Terry A. Beehr; and others, 1991

The main author of this research was Terry A. Beehr, however, ‘others’ was mentioned but not specifically.  The sponsoring agency of this research was the National Institute of Mental Health.  I used this information for statistical findings to help support the other research and conclusions I have made in this report.  This study is highly reliable due to the fact the sponsoring agency is that of who was mentioned above as well as approved the research to be published.  Although this information was found in 1991, it is still accurate.

A Comparison of Law Enforcement Divorce Rates with Those of Other Occupations. Shawn P. McCoy & Michael G. Aamodt, 20 Oct. 2009.

Shawn P. McCoy and Michael G. Aamodt work for the Department of Psychology at Radford Univsersity.  I have used their information to dispute the fact that law enforcement in general, does not have higher divorce rates than other occupations.  They have used analysis of census data and / or surveys, as well as other resources for their own research to support this claim.

Law Enforcement & Marriage: An On-Going Challenge.  Michael Wasilewski and Althea Olson, 15 Jul. 2015, http://www.officer.com/article/12091534/law-enforcement-marriage-an-on-going-challenge

Michael Wasilewski and Althea Olson are popular contributors to this website above on law enforcement topics or current events.  I have used their information to show the positive and successful ways to a marriage and compare those to the normal emotional functions of a police officer.  Wasilewski and Althea have been married since 1994 as Wasilewski worked as a police officer in the Chicago area.

Photograph #1: https://goo.gl/images/pbf1Vn

Photograph #2: https://goo.gl/images/ATkj4J