Common Issues in Law Enforcement Relationships

Cyndi Doyle talks about how the career can spillover into your relationship and ways to combat the impact.


This week is a little bit of a spin. Adam Davis interviewed me for a conference he produced early this year. He had some good questions, so the interview was pretty alright. (HA) I asked him if I could share this interview on my podcast. Of course, he said yes.

In this interview, I talk about a few ways that the job of law enforcement can spill over and negatively impact our relationship. In this episode, I talk about:

  • What causes struggles with communication and connection?

  • How does trauma impact our connection?

  • The 3 basic steps in communcation.

  • Benefits of perspective taking.

  • A few simple ways to impact your physical intimacy.

Grab a beverage and get ready to share this with people who need to hear the basics of how law enforcement impacts their relationships.

Communication struggles in law enforcement relationships.

Communication is ultimately about connection and wanting to be seen, heard, and understood. When you are dealing with the struggles of shift work, trauma, sleep schedules, and living separate lives in the first responder community, there are short moments you spend as a couple. In those moments, you do not want to bring conflict, complaining, or “nagging” into your conversations but rather enjoy your time together. It can create surface-level conversations and start a cycle where couples experience feelings of being on separate teams and not understanding each other.

In law enforcement, we often talk about having each other’s back or having each other’s six, but you can’t do that unless you’re communicating. It can be vulnerable to say, “Hey, I’m struggling,” because as a law enforcement couple, one of the themes is to be “strong” for each other. As a spouse, you want to lean on your partner but don’t want to burden them, so as a result you don’t tell them what is really going on when something is bothering you.

Officers experience the opposite side of this. You need to be able to hear your partner and just understand their experience as opposed to taking it as criticism or critique.  This can be hard in a culture where “winning” means you get to go home at night. This mindset works while on shift but does not work at home.

Trama and the ability to communicate

First responders experience trauma on many levels. At times, we personalize our trauma or our struggles.  We label ourselves as broken, weak, or tainted.  We fear other’s seeing our labels and it impacts our willingness to be “seen”.   Dr. Brené Brown talks about the concept of “hustling” and how it relates to trauma. Trauma sometimes creates a hustle, a way of hiding, and results in becoming something that we’re not.  We swing far away from the labels and shame we feel and do the opposite.  This process then prevents us from being honest and vulnerable in communication. For example, if you don’t want to be seen as weak due to trauma, you may tend to overcompensate by being incredibly independent. In actuality, that supped-up independence prevents you from healing and showing vulnerability with your partner by letting them know you do need them.  To strengthen connection, you first have to understand how to approach communication.

How to approach communication in law enforcement relationships

Our body is wired to protect ourselves, so we react to what’s happening around us. It can be difficult to step away from the reaction and communicate effectively.

An effective formula to discuss communication is:

  1. State the behaviors

  2. State your feelings

  3. What is it that you want your partner to know?

An example of this is:

“Hey, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been disconnected, withdrawn, sullen, and short-tempered. I’m worried and concerned that something is going on, and I need you to know that it’s spilling over onto me.”

Using the formula helps let your partner know that you have noticed they are displaying behaviors that don’t align with their character.

Perspective taking

One of the ways to increase communication and connection in your relationship is to take the perspective of the other person.  Ask yourself the question, “If I were to stand in my partner’s shoes and live their life, do I have enough information to be able to see the world through their eyes?”

As an officer, be honest with what you experience while on shift. Saying your day was fine in an attempt to protect your spouse doesn’t give them a chance to understand your perspective and provide support. As a spouse, be open and communicate about your feelings and your experiences for your partner to have a better understanding.  Both sides must stay out of criticism to avoid conflict. When you can understand your spouse’s world, you can better communicate about feelings and increase your connection with one another.

Timing of Communication

Timing of communication is essential.  When an officer comes home from being on shift, the downside of hypervigilance occurs, and their brain is tired. They can’t engage meaningfully.  As spouses and families, as soon as the officer comes home, we want to share and unload everything that has been going on while they were away. This is the worst time to communicate! As a family, establish timing on when it is appropriate to communicate with one another. It could be something as simple as requesting 5 minutes alone when coming home. Whatever ritual you decide on, ensure it works and is respected by everyone involved.

Communication, Connection, and Intimacy

It’s easy to allow life, kids, a career, hobbies, or stress to get in the way of intimacy in a relationship.   It can feel like a connection is missing.  If communication isn’t happening throughout the day, intimacy, our emotional and physical connection, is impacted.  All of a sudden, one day, you wake up, and it’s like you haven’t hugged in six months or you touched in three weeks.

When we don’t touch regularly and then try to strike up some type of sexual intimacy and start touching, the brain immediately correlates touch with sex. You have to desensitize that by making touch a regular part of the relationship. It can be holding hands, a five-second kiss, or a 10-second hug, as Dr.  Gottman always recommends. Make physical touch meaningful and intentional.

Prep your brain for intimacy by keeping your relationship on a slow, low boil. Each relationship will achieve the “rolling boil” differently, so find what works for you! Identify behaviors and actions that keep your relationship at a simmer to continuously think about your spouse as a sexual being.

Know your spouse’s love language!

Learn what’s meaningful to your partner, and be intentional about caring for your relationship.

As spouses and officers, the career will impact you as individuals and as a couple.  You must work to counter the impact on you and your relationship.  Through proper communication and perspective taking, opportunities are created for increased connection and intimacy to strengthen your law enforcement relationship.


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Common Issues in Law Enforcement Relationships

Cyndi Doyle talks about how the career can spillover into your relationship and ways to combat the impact.