Communication is Key

Amidst all the craziness of a new baby and Kilted to Kick Cancer, I have severely neglected my regular writing here on the blog.  I aim to change that (at least today…I’m still wicked tired).

Last night, I had the opportunity to talk with a young man who has just recently completed a year-long goal of graduating the police academy.  During his time at the academy, this gentleman lost a total of 188.8 lbs.  He lost more than a whole MC!  His dedication to learning a new career while naturally losing a whole damn person during the process is nothing short of incredible.

As is with every rookie, he had a few questions for someone that’s been on the job for a bit and I was happy to listen and offer whatever advice I could.  The interesting bit came when he was commenting on a question.  He said something to the effect of “They” told the academy to “never take the job home” and more or less not to burden their significant other with work-related issues.

I couldn’t disagree more.

While I understand “leaving the job at the job” theory, I think not communicating with your significant other is almost tantamount to an affair.

Learn to listen. Don't just wait to talk.

I know what you’re thinking.  MC, you’re crazy!  You’re saying that not talking to your wife/husband about the job is the same as cheating on them?

Well, in a word…yup.

Hear me out.  This is a different occupation.  You can feel free to lump all first responders in with this one.  It takes a special kind of person to be married to a first responder.  There’s a reason the average number of marriages for a law enforcement officer is somewhere around 3.2.  For people who are basically paid to communicate with others, we suck at it on the home front.

To many first responders equate their whole identity in being whatever it is they are professionally.  All too often, we are guilty of paying more attention to our lives at work than the one at home.  It’s like cheating on your family.

I grew up in the firehouse.  My dad was a firefighter for 29 years.  He was a great firefighter.  He was (and still is) an even better dad.  If I learned nothing else from being a firefighter’s kid, I’m glad that I learned how to communicate with those I hold dear.  If Dad came home after a particularly brutal day, he’d share it with my mom.  As I got older, he’d share it with me, too.  Dad never bottled it up.  He didn’t look for solace at the bottom of a glass.  He looked to his family.  The irony of my parents divorce after 25 years of marriage is anecdotal insofar as this particular topic goes.  I can say with conviction that it had nothing to do with the job.

So, when I hear a wet-behind-the-ears rookie tell me he has received instruction to not share his professional life with his wife, I’ve got to wonder what number marriage the genius that conveyed that codswallop to him is on.  I find it offensive that an authority figure would plant that into an all-too-impressionable ear.

I shared a story with him about when the Wife (who was the Girlfriend at the time) came to visit me at the PD.  A supervisor pulled me aside after she left and told the following:

“Listen, I’m not sure you want to bring your girlfriend around here.  You’re in uniform now.  You’re a good-looking guy.  You don’t want her running into your other girlfriend.”

He was serious.  He was also twice divorced.  I thanked him politely for his advice and just chuckled to myself.  Now, I know he was trying to help…at least in his mind, so I don’t fault him for trying to look out for his people.  I can dig that.  But, taking marital/relational advice from him wasn’t going to happen.

I realize I am not a shrink.  I’m not a marriage counselor.  Hell, I’ve only been married almost seven years.  But it’s been to the same woman who I love deeply and passionately and with whom I share everything.  If you don’t want the Wife to know about it, do yourself a favor…keep it to yourself.

To all you rookies like my recently graduated friend, I say this.  This job will be the greatest reward of your professional lives.  If you bottle up your bullshit, it will eat your soul from the inside and will be the demise of the greatest reward of your personal lives…your marriages.

Before the Wife and I married, I gave her a book.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure we’d even been dating for terribly long.  The book is called I Love a Cop by Ellen Kirschman.  If you’re a cop and you’ve been married for 23 years, do yourself a favor and read this book.  If you’ve been married to a cop for 23 years, do the same.  If you’re dating a cop, read this book.  If you’re a cop and you’re getting serious, by him/her this book.

If you’re serious about your life, both professionally and privately, you’ll be as communicative with your significant other as you can be.  Communicate like your lives depend on it, because your marital life does.

Photo credit: Flickr and P Shanks

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

5 thoughts on “Communication is Key

  1. MC, I couldn’t agree more! I spent a lot of years doing CISM with EMS, firefighters and cops. Men are particularly good at holding things inside. I have the other book, “Love a Firefighter”. Good stuff. I currently work with the agency your Dad retired from.

    “If you’re serious about your life, both professionally and privately, you’ll be as communicative with your significant other as you can be. Communicate like your lives depend on it, because your marital life does.”

    This should be bronzed and velcroed on the dashboard of every fire engine, cop car and ambulance!

  2. I could not agree with you more as well. When I was an officer my (now ex) wife and I were “in the business” together, with her working as a corrections deputy/Sgt., so we had the unique ‘bond’ of routinely talking about people we both had dealt with and it made talking about the days easier sometimes, but usually mostly entertaining.

    With that said, twice (a year to the day apart) when brother coworkers were killed, after I was at home off duty after my shift or on vacation respectively when those went down and I got the phone calls, I remember both times I mentioned what just hapened and to who, and she said “go”.

    Go to go be with my coworkers. go to do what ever I could to help at the scene (one of them was in my beat.. had that incident happened three hours earlier, it would have been MY call to deal with).. or go to just go on the streets and patrol so the guys on that shift could go to the hospital.

    On both of those incidents the city got a combined 9 hours of unclaimed and uncompensated time from me. But it was beyond the pay those times,

    Point being, if we did not talk about the job (our combined work experiences aside) she would not have had the understanding of what those situations meant. What I went through. The stuff I saw aside, the communication was crucial to the understanding of those times. Especially because guys always bottle it inside anyways.

    Your comment about the other girlfriend, sadly is all too true. I saw it to the left, and to the right of me. In retrospect, I learned that NO marriage is infallible, especially if it not a marriage that is built upon a strong foundation-al Rock of faith, discussions and agreements on finances, growth, family, and the job itself are all crucial to combatting the intrusions, and I believe we are all tested, but the badges does not “help” fend off temptations thrown at police officers.

    Great read as usual!

  3. I’m extremely glad that one of the first pieces of advice I received, before I even completed the CA POST Modular Academy (yes, I’m a weenie who did it in chunks. What can I say, I had a Reserve gig for part of the ride, at least) was to buy this book, and give it to my girlfriend, my parents, anyone very close to me.
    I gave a copy to my girlfriend at the time, and though I can’t be sure the book was the decisive factor (I do, however, know she’s read it–I asked), we’re still together and still as stable as two young people in an uncertain time can be.
    I know I’ve been plenty guilty of holding back stresses, from time to time, but even at my (very!) limited experience, I can wholeheartedly vouch for your advice, MC.

    As to “don’t take the job home,” well, I always took that to mean “you can take off the professional ‘mask’ once you go back; you can open up at home around family or friends; decompress a little in your time off.”
    If I misunderstood the instruction, well, then I tried to interpret it in a way that I’d previously been told (by a trusted mentor) would be the most helpful.

    This time I’ll sign,
    Once (and hopefully again soon!) a young Cop

    • IMHO, you took the “don’t take the job home” part right. There is definitely a fine line between bottling and leaving things at work. I try and do my best to leave work MC there and be hubby and daddy MC at home.

  4. Love this post. I am lucky that CA Cop adheres to this same doctorine. It makes my job of supporting him so much easier when I know what he has specifically been through. It also helps me to know that he respects my strength, knowing I can handle the details. Our marriage is so very good in a large part because we have not put any barriers up.

Comments are closed.