Understanding the unique threats to a relationship posed by policing is key to preventing infidelity. Photo iStock
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A new group’s page popped up last week on one of the law enforcement-oriented Facebook sites I’ve fanned since joining the social networking world. The group, called Make Adultery a Crime, cuts right to the chase as far as its intent and sentiments are concerned.
Now, neither Althea nor I are fans of adultery. We’ve seen, both professionally and personally (not us personally, but friends of ours) the havoc and heartbreak it creates. However, criminalizing (or recriminalizing, as many states have had criminal statutes concerning adultery on the books that have either been repealed or effectively nullified through the practice of non-enforcement) seems a bit extreme.
The idea is one of those that will probably never gain popular legislative traction or, if it did somehow find its way into some state’s criminal statutes, would be virtually unenforceable by and very unpopular with the police charged with enforcing it.
The premise of Make Adultery a Crime is an interesting intellectual exercise but really nothing more than that. What really caught my attention and made me think was a comment made by someone in response to the site’s posting on the law enforcement page. To paraphrase, the commenter asked the question, “Will it apply to all the cops who cheat, too?” Hmmm, an interesting take, based on a popular stereotype of the philandering, badge-bunny chasing, girlfriend-on-the-side-keeping police officer.
But is the stereotype fair? It shows up frequently in the popular fiction of the large and small screens and in print fiction, and rumors abound at times in departments of all sizes. The divorce rates of cops are legendary -- if maybe a little exaggerated -- and infidelity is a common cause and common symptom of marital discord.
But is the stereotype fair? Do cops cheat at a greater rate than the general public? Honestly, no one really knows for sure. But cops are in the public eye, working in a profession with a certain mystique, and the stereotype is pervasive whether fair or not.
Infidelity is surprisingly common no matter what someone does for a living. Famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey once reported 50% of men and 26% of women had engaged in extramarital sex. Other studies have found the rates of at least one instance of infidelity falling between 22.7% and 50% for men and 11.2% and 38% for women. Keep in mind: These numbers might even be lower than what’s true. Any survey asking people whether they are adulterers is relying on people to self report behavior that’s socially and morally rejected.
Clearly, fooling around is a fairly popular pastime, no matter what you do to pay the bills. And despite all the popular stereotypes of the cheating cop, we may actually be more conservative when it comes to marital fidelity than the apparently sizeable population of our non-badge-bearing brethren who bedroom bounce like so many overheated bunnies.
But we’re not going to concern ourselves with what the non-cop population is doing. Not here. And this article really isn’t for those of us who have already decided on a course of infidelity. We’re not going to moralize or lecture anyone. You’re all big boys and girls. Your lives and decisions are yours, and you will do what you want to do. This article is about and for those who do wear the badge, who are in committed relationships with someone they love and would like to stay in them for the long haul. This article is committed to the committed.
Recognizing the Common Threats to Fidelity
Most of us want to do the right thing by the one we love, and have nothing but the purest of intentions. But wanting to do the right thing isn’t enough. The job poses very real risks to the fidelity of a police couple’s relationship. If those risks are not known, understood and confronted with eyes wide open, the best intentions may not be enough. The common threats, in a nutshell, are:
Complacency: As police officers, it’s drilled into us that complacency kills. (See the Below 100 intiative for just how important this concept can be.) “It’s just another alarm (or just another traffic stop, domestic dispute, civil matter, emotionally disturbed person, etc)” is the type of complacent thinking that gets cops killed or hurt all the time. Complacency catches us flat-footed.
“I never thought it could happen to us!” or “It’s not something I was looking for, it just happened!” are heard all too often when it comes to affairs. And, sadly, it’s very true that many affairs -- whether a single, out of the blue fling or an ongoing relationship -- were never planned or sought after. They happened when someone became complacent or overconfident about their ability to resist temptation.
Or conversely, the complacent partner isn’t the one who strays, but complacency in the relationship creates distance between partners and leads someone feeling ignored to seek out attention from another. Fight complacency. Your relationship depends on it.
The allure of the badge: They’re known by many different names (e.g., badge bunnies, cop groupies, holster sniffers). Although their ranks are overwhelmingly female, there are plenty of men for whom a leather and polyester-clad feminine authority figure is irresistibly alluring. Merely pinning on a badge is enough to elevate even the otherwise unremarkable guy (or gal) to sex symbol status in some peoples’ eyes.
It can be awfully easy to be enticed by flatterers and flirts. And why not, if you are single? They aren’t necessarily bad people -- just proceed with caution. But if you have another you call your own, remain en garde against the complacency that can lead to trouble.
And never forget that, for the true cop groupie, you the individual are probably much less important to them than the badge you wear and what it represents -- at least at first.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder: “For someone else, that is,” as my old high school English teacher Bill Ludwig liked to remind us. Quite the romantic, ol’ “Luds” was, especially when cheerfully sharing his utter lack of empathy with someone pining away for their off-at-college Romeo by wistfully scribbling “Tru Luv 4EVER!” on the outside of her Trapper Keeper.
Turns out he was always right.
The life of a police couple is often one of long hours at work, frequent absences from home, missed holidays, weekends alone, flying solo to couple-oriented events and trying to stay connected via phone tag. Most partners of cops know this and are unusually resilient and resourceful, but extra attention needs to be paid to the relationship by both partners in order to keep the relationship front-and-center. If not, the risk of romantic feelings being redirected by one or the other in the relationship increases.
Misguided gratitude: When someone is helped by an officer, it’s not uncommon for them to feel a sense of gratitude, appreciation or even admiration. This can be especially true if someone has been a victim of a crime of abuse or exploitation. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, gratitude can be a welcome response. But when the gratitude is misguided, as when it is expressed as a feeling of love (or what may pass for it) for the officer it can actually become dangerous.
Officers should guard against this when assisting victims of domestic abuse or sexually exploitive situations. The people, often women, who seek or come to the attention of law enforcement in these cases, can feel heartfelt appreciation at being aided by someone who genuinely cares about them and wants to work for their best interests. The problem is that they often have very limited and/or skewed ways of experiencing or expressing that gratitude. The abusive, exploitive relationships they have experienced may have taught them their only options are to be overly dramatic, clingy or even inappropriately sexual.
If you’ve helped someone escape or navigate out of an abusive relationship, you may find yourself in the role of “the only decent person they know.” The urge to hold onto you will be great. Recognize it for what it is and take care to safeguard your home life. Being a hero to someone is dangerously intoxicating.
Staying faithful is very easy for a lot of police couples, and perhaps it’s for you. We hope so. But no matter how easy it has been so far never take your own fidelity for granted. Being aware of the threats all around you is an important element of avoiding the infidelity trap.