Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cops and Couples Therapy

I contacted a baby faced eighteen year old kid the other day. I was getting my dip and a highly caffeinated beverage and noticed that he appeared to be casing. The first thing out of the kids’ smiling mouth was “I’m on parole...I just got out of jail.” I said, “why are you smiling...are you proud of that?” When asked where he lived he said, “the rollin’ seventies,” a gang-type designation. Then it clicked, this kid is proud of going to prison. He got his stripes.

While this may not be a fair comparison, it seems to me that too many jaded, battle worn veteran cops talk about their three divorces with similar gusto. It’s like, “yeah, I divorced that crazy bitch.” And thus begins the next generation of divorced cops, as the baby faced rookies enter police culture. I shudder to think of the messages they get about marriage when driving around with the veterans during their field training.

Fine. But what if you don’t WANT a divorce? By stealing away to an isolated corner of the police department and pulling up ‘police mental health’ I’m assuming you’d like something more for your life. So, let’s talk about it. Here is a non-exhaustive list of signs that you should consider couples counseling:

  1. You feel miserable (or something close to miserable) in your marriage.
  2. You haven’t had sex since Y2K.
  3. You resent your partner but can’t talk to him/her about it for whatever reason.
  4. Your having or have had an affair.
  5. You’d rather be at work than home.
  6. Your ability to solve life problems (finances, child-rearing etc) with your partner has broken down.

Couples counselors don’t have magic wands. In fact, good therapists will tell you they’re not personally invested in you staying together or getting a divorce. That’s up to you. What they can do is help you clear the air, and communicate more effectively. As a therapist, peer support person, friend and husband I have found that the biggest problem in marriages isn’t finances, or child-rearing or work issues. It’s communication.

I’ve already covered the most common problems encountered in police marriages,

and the importance of getting professional help when its needed, so we’ll get right into how to make the most of your couples counseling.

Take the kid gloves off. You can’t solve problems you don’t talk bring it [whatever ‘it’ is] up in the meetings. That doesn’t mean being abusive or sadistic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people about their couples therapy that say, ‘I can’t bring THAT up?’ Really? You’re paying this shrink money! Probably a lot of money. You’re waisting your money if you don’t bring up the real issues that are bothering you.

If you’ve been going to couples counseling for awhile and dread going to your next session because of how uncomfortable it is, then your on the right track. It should hurt a little to be in therapy. If it’s a big Happy Fest you’re probably not doing the work you need to do to fix stuff.

Ultimately couples counseling should give you and your spouse clarity. Either you’ll realize you really do need to split, or you’ll realize this marriage thing is doable.

Or, you could skip the touchy feely crap, divorce ‘the bitch’ and move on. But if you fail to delve any deeper than ‘she was a bitch’ you’ll probably have the same problem with your next mate. “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Regarding police marriage, an unexamined life is probably going to cost you a lot of money and heart ache as well.


  1. Dear Jeff,
    I'm in therapy, and I can testify that the sessions themselves are frequently tough. Sometimes few words but not mostly. Sometimes pulling my hair. Sometimes talking faster than the shrink can catch up. That's frustrating.

    Sometimes I have a plan for talking, e.g. an immediate challenge; other times, here it comes without forethought. Sometimes the plan gets ditched and away we go.

    I always walk out feeling miserable or drained. About twenty minutes later--total relief. Sometimes that relief is about something totally different than what I talked about.

    By doing it this way, getting right to it no excuses, the shrink says I've done 3 yrs worth of work in about six months. It's not easy, you have to fight yourself to do it right.

    I have no expectation of being in therapy 3 full years, but if I have to I will. I figure my chances of a three-year stint however are greatly lessened by using therapy to the full.

    So I'd like to second your writing about committing to using, not enduring, counseling of any type.

    Have a great day!
    Ann T.

    1. That’s why we encourage some couples who are unsure to start with a three session assessment. Over the course of three 90 minute sessions, our professionally-trained therapist will communicate with both partners to determine the best way to approach counselling. Typical assessment sessions include the following: Couples Counselling

  2. Ann -
    Thanks for your comments. That's exactly what we're talking about. Half the battle is getting people to see the value of therapy..the next part is getting them to USE it well. Good job and keep at it.

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  4. Thanks Jeff for providing a blog where officers can talk and express themselves, it is a much needed tool. I have worked with officers and their families for some time now in the Detroit area. Many need a way to take care of themselves, when usually they are always taking care of everyone else.

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