The Spartan Relationship

Dana Strickland discusses how becoming a spartan spouse can strengthen your law enforcement relationship.


As a law enforcement or first responder spouse, you quickly realize that this partnership is not like the typical one with couples that work 9 to 5.  I can’t tell you the number of times I got on YouTube to fix something myself because my officer husband had to work.  As a couple, you may be passing each other in the bedroom, with one of you at home while the other is at work.  As a society, many times, we have moved beyond traditional gender roles and picked up the slack where we need to.  Both of us, as a couple, try to keep the household running while we are alone.  Parenting alone.  Doing many things alone as we, as a couple and family, serve our community alongside our officer.  Today’s guest Dana Strickland is a military veteran who now works with military and first responder families to navigate the bumps and celebrations we have in this lifestyle.  She says we must be Spartan Spouses.  I was intrigued by the concept when she mentioned it to me.  This is about being warriors for our relationships and I know by the end of the podcast, Dana will leave you with something to apply in your relationship.

In the first responder world, the spouse is most often the one left at home to pick up the pieces while the officer is on shift. The impact of the career can force a spouse to become fiercely independent in unexpected areas of a relationship. Between shift work, extra duty jobs, and on call shifts, there isn’t much of a choice, BUT independence doesn’t mean disconnection! Does this independence and its accompanied behaviors spillover into the relationship much like the spillover from the job? The answer is yes, however, there is a way to combat both types of spillover. Both officer and spouse need to become spartan spouses in their relationship.

The Spartan Spouse/Partner

The idea of a Spartan spouse or partner comes from the roles of Spartan women in Greek society and how they were different from all the other women outside their culture. They were trained in things that were considered masculine, like sports and weapon wielding while also learning feminine traits like dancing and singing. Greek women could inherit land, manage finances, and run businesses, typically being better educated than most other women. It was part of their warrior culture, much like the independence that spouses face in the law enforcement culture.

A spartan spouse or partner doesn’t distinctly apply to one or the other because not every spouse is going to be a woman, and not every first responder’s going to be a man. This concept of being a spartan spouse is based on the foundation that every spouse and partner needs to be able to rely on one another for a successful relationship.

The Spartan Mindset

First and foremost, the foundation of a spartan mindset starts during the honeymoon phase of a relationship. There needs to be an agreement to not make any major life decisions during this time. The honeymoon phase is when everything is perfect and doesn’t give a true insight into who either partner is. What doesn’t bother you in the honeymoon phase can bother you later on. You have to understand that your partner will change. When you commit to your partner, you’re committing to who they are right at that moment and committing to growing with them, to keep learning who they are, who you are, and how to be together.

Mutual Respect

In the Spartan mindset, there needs to be mutual respect between both partners. This is especially important to apply during conflict. If one of you is angry, don’t be disrespectful. Your partner deserves respect even if you’re upset with them. Think about how you talk to your best friend when you are mad at them and treat your spouse the same way. Do not take them for granted and treat their feelings any less than you would treat your best friend.

The benefit of the doubt

Constantly give each other the benefit of the doubt. Always assume that your partner is coming from the best possible place and have the best intentions for one another. They are not going to hurt you on purpose and vice versa, you don’t want to do anything to hurt them.  This will change how you navigate conflict because there is the realization that your partner is not the enemy! You are on the same team, working toward the same goal.

Set Ground rules

Make ground rules concerning behaviors displayed during conflict. Establish the idea that, yes conflict will at some point, be in your relationship. The key is to decide what you’re going to allow in regard to behaviors that follow conflict.  Here are several examples that can be implemented into a relationship based on what both partners agree on. This will look different for different couples.

  • Don’t punish each other during conflict. This means don’t withhold sex, physical touch, affection, or emotional intimacy because someone is angry! If you want your partner to be with you, you need to be with them. Even if they’re not giving it back and it’s not feeling 100% reciprocated at the moment, still be with them however you want them to come back with you.

  • When you are angry, when you’re hurt, when you’re upset, do not threaten the safety of the connection and attachment of your relationship!  Don’t say things like, “Maybe we shouldn’t be together.” “Maybe we should just get a divorce.” “Maybe we should break up.”

  • Remind yourself that the goal is to move forward together and not separately. Trust and believe that your partner loves you, wants to protect you and has your back.

  • Agree on timeouts and breaks when needed. Set the rules on what that will look like. It can be 15 minutes away from each other with the agreement that cell phones stay in the kitchen. This allows you to take a step back and say, “What is it that’s actually going on for me? Why am I actually so bothered? What do I need?”

  • Have difficult conversations to be able to figure out and express your needs. Honor each other’s no’s and yeses. If you need a hug for support/comfort and your partner tries a different approach, say no. This is what I need. It doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate the effort, it means that you know what works and what doesn’t.

  • If you get off track with this approach, remember to take small steps to regain this mindset.

Communication style to make the spartan relationship successful

To clearly communicate needs and behaviors in the spartan relationship, there needs to be a lot of fact checking. An easy to do this is the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill or feedback format.

 “This is what I heard you say …..”

“This is what I made up about it …..”

“Here’s my feeling about it …..”

“Did I understand you right?”

This allows you to check what your spouse said versus what your interpretation and feelings are.

An example of this is the aspect of control in law enforcement relationships. Spouses may interpret the way their officer tries to protect them as controlling. Many times, spouses hear the phrases “Did you make it home?” “Where are you?” “Babe, answer me.” “Babe.” Babe.” “Babe!” There needs to be clarifying communication from the officer that the intent behind these comments comes from a place of protection! You want to make sure that your spouse gets home safely and in turn, put your mind at ease so you can do your job effectively.

As a spouse, it can be hard to see through that protective lens because over the years you have been conditioned to be independent from the impact of the job. Try and take a step back and appreciate that your officer is looking out for you and wants to make sure you are safe.

A Spartan spouse is independent while also being a partner. Have mutual respect and together, have support, energy, or collaboration to always have each other’s back and expect that each other has the other’s best interest at heart. To be a successful spartan spouse, you must have clear communication along the way. Have difficult conversations and ask clarifying questions to understand your partner’s perspective to approach their actions differently. Through each ground rule a spartan mindset can be created and a beautiful, strong, and fierce relationship can be built.

Dana Strickland, a military veteran, is a therapist who primarily works with military veterans and first responders. Her husband is retired from the US Air Force, who was security forces throughout his military career and now works in federal law enforcement.

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The Spartan Relationship

Dana Strickland discusses how becoming a spartan spouse can strengthen your law enforcement relationship.