Most committed, long-term relationships are likely to face occasional challenges in the bedroom, and law enforcement marriages are no different. Photo iStock
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The officers who brought the stocky, strong and delusional 19-year-old in for the psych assessment were probably long since asleep. I just happened to be in the ER with my own case when the psychiatric resident told the kid that he wasn’t going home anytime soon and would instead be returning to the state mental health hospital. The young man apparently had other ideas and decided to abscond, breaking out of the “secure” seclusion room and into the presence of a handful of surprised nurses, hospital security, ER support staff and a cop—me. The determined young man assumed a fighting stance, announced that he would be leaving and threatened to rain down destruction on anyone who would try to stop him.
What followed was a brief but memorable patient/nurse/security/orderly/cop pileup as we brought his flight to an end and scrambled to restrain him. But what made the situation most memorable wasn’t the bizarre declaration he chose to scream from the bottom of the pile (although it was good):
“You will never stop us! You can never keep us apart! I’m going to marry my girlfriend, and we will have sex every day—morning, noon and night! All the time, every day for the rest of my life, I can have all the sex I will ever want! Because I love her, I’m marrying her and that is what married people do—have sex! All…the…time!!!”
No, what was most memorable was the response of an ER nurse, who hilariously deadpanned without missing a beat:
“Aww, sweetie. On behalf of all us married people here, I have some really bad news for you…”
See, I told you he was delusional.
The truth is this young man’s fantasy of uninterrupted conjugal bliss is probably not that far off from what a lot of people believe. In the early stages of a relationship, it’s hard to believe that romance and passion will ever diminish or that the rush and routine of everyday life could possibly get in the way. But for most of us, it does.
Now, to respond to the inevitable comment or e-mail we will get claiming that this person and their partner engage in daily bedroom gymnastics (twice on Sunday) for 45 years and counting, we say, “Good for you, Captain Viagra! Keep it up!” But please, forward this article on to one of the mere mortals in your department. Because most of us are not like this.
Most committed, long-term relationships are likely to face occasional challenges in the bedroom, and law enforcement marriages are no different. In fact, the challenges that law enforcement couples face may even be greater. Shift work, unpredictable and changing work hours, physical and emotional fatigue and other professional stressors can all contribute to intimacy roadblocks. As you read on, consider each of the separate topics in the context of your role as either a cop or someone married to (or in a relationship with) a cop, and consider how this can contribute to problems.
Observations From a Therapist’s Office
We've been working with married couples for too many years to count, and our favorite type of counseling to provide is for couples. We love helping people pull a relationship from the midst of chaos to a place of reconciliation. In doing this, one topic that often emerges as couples describe their conflicts (and which tends to be brought up by men) is sex.
The couple will usually divulge that their intimate relationship together isn’t meeting either one of their expectations or needs. What we most often hear is that the man says he does not have enough sex with his wife, and the wife replies that they just did it six months ago and wonders why that isn’t enough.
Men and women in a committed relationship operate very differently when it comes to being physically intimate, with the biggest differences being how each gender feels loved and how each is stimulated. Men are stimulated by sight and their "go-time" in the bedroom can take just seconds to lift off.
Women, on the other hand are, as John Grey, author of Venus & Mars in the Bedroom puts it, are like a car engine on a cold winter’s morning. In other words, they’re slow to warm up. Women need seduction, touch, romance, foreplay and, most importantly, communication. The first challenge that couples must negotiate is how to approach their time in the bedroom and what’s going to lead them both to an experience that’s mutually satisfying.
Another difference between men and women is how they feel loved. Men often feel loved through sex and what goes on in the bedroom. Women, on the other hand, need to feel loved outside the bedroom before they want to take the relationship into the bedroom.
Men: Expand your definition of foreplay! For women, foreplay includes help around the house, taking an interest in and talking about her day, non-sexual touch (such as hand-holding, hugging or a massage) and her partner first being her friend. All of these behaviors lead to sexual attraction. If a woman doesn’t receive love or partnership outside of the bedroom, her interest in sexual intimacy can diminish or even disappear. This is why a couple often finds the physical part of the relationship lacking and full of tension. Men and women’s needs are different.
One of the most widely kept secrets about couples is they often have difficulty sleeping in the same bed. Reasons for this vary but some causes are sleep apnea, excessive snoring, shift work, insomnia or different biological rhythms. Some people simply enjoy sleeping alone. And often one person is a night owl and the other a morning person, which leads to being apart during crucial intimate times together, such as going to bed and waking up.
The timing of when a wife or a husband feels amorous is another challenge. One partner may be more in the mood for physical intimacy before bed and the other may just want to sleep. Conversely, one partner may want to be intimate in the morning, when their spouse is already at work. Another difficulty is that orgasms often famously help a man fall asleep. But for women, having an orgasm can stimulate their brains into being wide awake. In short, timing issues often contribute to a couple’s lack of sexual intimacy.
When we're leading a seminar on Survival Skills for Police Marriages, we tell the male participants, “If you want good sex, you need to give good communication.” Women feel close and intimate by sharing their dreams, goals, happiness and pains, as well as the mundanities of life. When women eat lunch together, we will often sit facing one another for two hours or more and expose our souls. In contrast, when men get together, they generally sit side-by-side facing a bar or watching a big-screen TV with their favorite beverage, with the conversation often going something like this:
Joe: So what’s up with you?
Paul: Well, the sergeant was riding me again today, as usual. He’s always on me for something! I gotta say, it’s really starting to get to me, you know?
Joe: Yeah, I hear ya. Me too. Sooooo, uhhh, what do you think of the Bears’ chances this year?
Another challenge couples face is that men generally speak only about 8,000 words a day and women speak about 20,000 words. This means that when a man comes home from a busy day at work he might feel verbally tapped out and his partner is only just warming up. Women need to talk in order to feel close to someone, and if they don’t feel close to their partners through communication, they'll often be hesitant to be physically intimate.
As the story about the amorous young psychiatric patient in the emergency room shows, couples often go into marriage believing that sex will come naturally and with ease. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The truth is, couples often become frustrated when they feel unloved. Too often, these feelings turn into resentment.
The solution to these problems is to talk openly and vulnerably about the challenges you face in your relationship with your partner and to focus on solutions. Stay objective and try to not become defensive. Be open and honest about what you need and give your partner the chance to respond, and be open to their needs as well. Communication is key. With it, even the most difficult obstacles can be overcome.