Retirement Conversations for Couples

Nicole discusses how to prepare for retirement from your law enforcement career and the impact it has on your relationship.

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As an officer or a spouse, there is a mutual agreement to make personal commitments and sacrifices when entering a career in law enforcement. Many couples do not realize the health risks or the emotional harm that could come with the job.  When you add the social and political situation over the last several years, the impact of low recruiting numbers, and potential safety risks due to being short on shifts or required overtime, the impact is making many consider retirement.

There are many different factors to consider when retiring or leaving law enforcement that many people do not consider. Do you transition into a career that has nothing to do with law enforcement?  Do you just pick up a hobby? Retirement or transitioning looks different for everyone, but everyone needs to put time and effort into preparing.  Do NOT wait to prepare until you are at retirement!

Nicole Davison, a career counselor, helps law enforcement officers and couples understand the steps they need to transition to retirement.

Grief and Transition After Leaving Law Enforcement 

After years of identifying as an officer, there can be a sense of loss or grief upon retirement.  Officers that were once in the “know” are now on the fringe.  Oftentimes, they may feel connected with officers but also feel and be treated as an outsider.  This creates not only a feeling of loss of identity but a loss of friendships and community.

The impact of retirement on your law enforcement relationship

Law enforcement spouses are used to uncertainty.  When the countdown clock of retirement is up, and the uncertainty dissipates, it can change our relationship. “We have been on this journey of hypervigilance, this constant state of go, go, go, and then all of a sudden it stops.” It’s important to evaluate what retirement is going to look like for the officer and their family. Retiring doesn’t just impact the officer but also the family and spouse because of the role and commitment they have to be in this field.  Regardless of how deeply you identify as a law enforcement partner or spouse, there IS a shift in identity for the spouse and grief during retirement, no matter how joyful you may be that your officer has left the field.

Conversations to start prior to retirement

Some decisions need to be considered along the way when moving forward or moving out of law enforcement, but the most important thing to remember is the path looks different for everyone. Think about what you need from your retirement so you have an idea of what your path can look like. Maybe you need to bring in extra income or maybe you have saved enough money over the years where extra income isn’t necessary. Do you need to find joy, peace, and calm? It’s a big question to ask, but it’s necessary to ask what you need when you retire. Give yourself the time to find all the other pieces that make you complete.

Start the conversation early

Retirement is different for everyone; this includes your partner or spouse. Don’t wait to talk about it! Start the conversation early and have some sort of vision of what retirement may look like for you individually and as a couple to avoid conflict. 

What does retirement look like? 

When transitioning into retirement, look at the bigger picture of where you want your life to be and what it looks like for you and your family. Does retirement look like working in a similar field, but maybe not in a law enforcement department? Does it mean that you work an 8-5 at home or in a cubicle doing something completely different? Have an idea of what retirement may be for you and your spouse and communicate about the challenges that may come with the change.

Pivoting and Purpose

It is common for officers to have a vision of leaving law enforcement, but sometimes it can look or feel very different when the transition happens. “Be aware of your vision but recognize that it could change and learn to pivot.” One of the most important parts of pivoting is finding a purpose outside of law enforcement. Many times, officers will say that their job is a “calling” and therefore has a purpose. Finding this kind of purpose elsewhere is really important when it comes to retirement. Know your values, your interests, what motivates you, and what is important. These components will help when trying to decide on a new path and coping with the uncertainty of life.

Find your transferable skills 

Transferrable skills are skills that you can take from one position and apply to something else. Law enforcement officers see themselves a certain way with a certain set of skills that apply to their career.  They struggle to see that their skills go beyond gun manipulation skills or defensive tactics.

“I almost want to just scream from the rooftops to remind our law enforcement officers how incredible they (officers) are.” Dedication, commitment, work ethic, writing skills, interpersonal skills, ability to stay calm under pressure, the ability to handle sensitive information, and leadership skills that law enforcement officers have, are something to be desired by any company or business. Get curious and find out what your transferable skills are!

Learn how to transition a criminal justice resume to a civilian resume.  You have to learn how to move away from talking about homicide, rape, and blood stains and move into the problem-solving skills that were used to solve cases. Transferring that information and highlighting your transferrable skills, will assist you in designing a corporate resume and help outside employers understand how you can benefit them.

“Don’t wait until you’re at the doorstep of retirement because that could cause some shifts in your relationship.”

There is also a transition period for the family and the spouse.  Remember, they have been transitioning and accommodating throughout the tenure of the officer.  They have figured out how to function in a specific way when officers are available and when they are not.  Systems and structures may be different in those circumstances.  The officer must consider how the family or spouse functioned without them as it is unreasonable that everything changes because the job situation changes.  There needs to be a discussion about what rituals need to remain in place.

Our needs can look different and the ability to pivot visions needs to be considered. Maybe at first, you thought that it would be great to have your significant other emotionally and physically present. Then at some point and time, it transitions into you wanting them to go do something and get out of the house. There has to be some conversation about expectations, needs, and security when moving forward about retiring and/or leaving law enforcement, and the earlier you can have these conversations, the better. Prepare as a couple for this change. Ask questions! What is retirement going to look like for US? How are we going to adjust to this? What do we want to do? How are we transitioning?

Spouses develop coping skills to deal with their partner always being gone. Maybe it’s watching sci-fi movies, getting your nails done, or painting. We learn to develop another sense of identity and to take care of ourselves. Once retirement hits and your spouse is home, will these coping skills still exist? Will you lose part of your identity as well? Be sure to have conversations surrounding these types of things to avoid resentment and anger. “Having the conversation together mentally prepares a couple to be aware of how retirement is going to change the dynamics of their family, marriage, and their existence together.”

When it comes to retirement remember…

  • Don’t wait to have these conversations until it’s pending!

  • Think about a vision and what you want that to look like.

  • If you are the one moving into retirement, make sure that you have some depth and you’re inviting some other aspects into your life that provide purpose and meaning, which is really important because this many times has started off as a calling.

  • Assess and get curious about who you are.

  • What are these aspects of me that I can move forward with?

  • Identifying needs! What are the needs of the individual that’s the officer? What are the needs of the spouse and the family, and how are we going to address those needs that come up along the way?

  • Remember, officers have transferable skills! Work on your “civilian resume” and maybe get somebody to help you explore those values, interests, and motivations.

  • It’s not just about the officer, it is also about the spouse and family. Have those conversations about what retirement is going to look like and remember that it looks different for everyone

  • Lastly, pivot, pivot, pivot, pivot.

Nicole Davison is a career counselor with a master’s in counseling, specializing in higher education, and a law enforcement spouse of 17 years. She helps people, including officers, make the transition to retirement or some other form of income. If you are considering retirement or moving away from law enforcement, keep reading to know how to prepare.

If you want to get ahold of Nicole Davison, visit nmdcareers.com or @nmdcareers

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Retirement Conversations for Couples

Nicole discusses how to prepare for retirement from your law enforcement career and the impact it has on your relationship.

Share:

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