Before and after Shifts
Many times this hypervigilance rollercoaster will begin just before he leaves for work. He’s putting on his game face. For Brent and I, the time before his shift wasn’t pretty for years. Sometimes I’d be upset half the shift after he’d leave. He was intensely focused. There were a few hurt feelings here and there. I finally learned he needed his space to gear up for the day. It wasn’t directed at me. He was inwardly focused to be on his game.
I also needed to be careful about the demands I placed on him right before work. A half hour before he was to leave was not a good time to talk about bills or problems with the kids or scheduling conflicts. I learned to make a list for later. A little patience and everyone benefits.
For many officers, coming home is a lot of the same. In addition to that coming down from hypervigilance, a bad accident, a supervisor’s comment, or an incident involving children will sometimes bother your officer, and he needs down time to think it through. Your questions or requests may conflict with his thinking time and his comfort in bringing up something so raw. You never know what he’s dealt with that day. How do we handle their responses like strong, mature women?
Faye has implemented the pause moment. She’ll ask her husband how his day was and pause for the signs she’s come to recognize after thirteen years on the force. Sometimes he’ll be fine. Other times she’ll hear a heavy sigh, and so she’ll remain silent. She knows that if he needs to call one of two fellow officers that something is bugging him and that he’ll let her know in his time. She then adjusts to his response as appropriate.
Communication comes first—verbal and non-verbal. If he’s bothered about something, maybe he needs a trip to the gym. Maybe he just needs to hold his baby daughter for a while in silence or wrestle loudly with his boys. Maybe he needs to watch TV for a couple of hours and relax. The rub comes when you have plans for the evening. Or it’s tag-team time and it’s your turn to go to work. This happens over and over through the year and beyond. It’s learning to ebb and flow with the moment and having the awareness and self-control to deal with this process positively.
I want him to be on his game when he needs to be and, if he isn’t to let me know so I can deal with it and move on. But nine times out of ten, it’s difficult to do. He doesn’t know what’s on his mind; he’s just irritable. Or he doesn’t have the energy to articulate his needs. Sometimes he just lies on the bed and falls asleep. So much for dinner!
Brent has learned to be good about telling me when he is so spent he can’t meet my expectations (at least the majority of the time). I have had to learn to be patient, and that right there is tough. Sometimes it just stinks! And I’ve decided that it’s okay. When we understand that it isn’t us, fight the temptation to panic or worry, and communicate like mature people, that’s when it gets better. We develop thick skin. But it’s keeping our hearts soft and bitterness-free over time that takes a bit more energy and focus.
I’ve been talking a lot about flexibility and allowing your man to decompress from his job. But by no means am I suggesting you take a doormat mentality. You are an equal part of your marriage and have equal value. As cop wives, we tend to be strong and sometimes outspoken, but not all of us. I’m suggesting ways to come alongside and support, but in the context of mutual love and respect for one another. There is a difference between being interdependent (the goal) and co-dependent.
In the long term, we need to find ways to achieve balance. When Brent took over command of the CHP Academy, we were mentally prepared that it would take a lot of out of us. He worked long hours and maneuvered a large staff through some seemingly impossible demands. At times it was downright overwhelming. During these times he’d come home, share a bit with me, and we’d sit together, shaking our heads.
I wish I could share that we took advantage of his vacation time and gave him the down time he needed. But that wasn’t the case. He actually built so much time up that he exceeded his vacation time limits. And we suffered as a couple and as a family. It has been the hardest season to go through in his career.
After two years of long days and many weekends, he wanted to umpire baseball games. I reluctantly agreed. It seemed at first like it was just more time away from our family. But when I saw the camaraderie he built with other guys and how happy he was when he returned, I didn’t mind that he was gone the extra hours. I finally saw him relax. It became a replenishment, something he desperately needed.
During this time at the academy, my life was busy as well. He was busy with his job, and I was busy with my own pursuits. But one thing I did during this time was be available to listen when he came home. For much of our marriage, my guy didn’t talk much about work. He usually had a lengthy commute to calm down. But as the academy commander, he entered the house, still talking on his phone. Because he couldn’t talk with others about his frustrations, he vented to me. I was safe, I listened. I didn’t say much, didn’t need to. Sometimes I offered my female intuition, and he was pleasantly surprised that I could be so business smart. I liked that. It brought a new level of trust and respect to our relationship. All I had to do was be ready to close my mouth and open my ears.