As the holidays approach, we’re often reminded of that which is our greatest joy (and sometimes our greatest pain): our relationships. We celebrate the people in our lives and mourn those we wish still were. For those of us with broken relationships, the holidays can be bittersweet. The truth is most everyone has failed relationships in every sphere of their world, including work, family and friends. Everyone can list people in their life with whom they were once very close, but something changed. Pinpointing what changed can either be defined by a moment in time, perhaps some form of betrayal such as an affair, lying, stealing. Or it’s a more ambiguous series of events, possibly over a lifetime, that the pain in the relationship is surrounded by confusion, blame and the never-ending “if only’s” and “what if’s.”
Relationships are challenging, especially our closest and most significant ones. They require energy, vulnerability, negotiation, assertiveness, communication, patience, reciprocal give and take, and time, especially with those whom we consider our closest friends and family.
Bonds can be surprisingly fragile and, when taken for granted, are easily broken due to the hurt and pain that ensues. Eventually, what often causes a once-valued relationship to simply end is the pain of staying in the relationship is greater than the pain of saying good-bye, or the effort needed to sustain it seems greater than its rewards. Either way, bonds are broken and friends and family go their separate ways.
LE & Relationships
Law enforcement is notoriously hard on relationships, with its long and irregular hours, unexpected overtime and the unique worldview it fosters. These are true enough with close family, and consider how many broken relationships there are in this profession. It’s even more challenging to hold onto friends not bound by blood.
In some cases old friendships fade from neglect—it’s simply too difficult to coordinate schedules and lives anymore—because you both just stop trying. Weddings, baptisms, reunions and parties are missed, but you vow to make the next one. Then you miss that one, too. The old gang still gets together for dinner, or drinks, or to watch the game, and still invites you, but you’re working second shift and just can’t make it. Next time, for sure! Pretty soon the old gang is still getting together and inviting you but, by the time you finally do catch up with them, you sense the distance between you or that you’re no longer privy to the shared stories and inside jokes that bind the group together. And although this isn’t exclusive to law enforcement, it's common—maybe a little more common than it is for other careers—and certainly distancing between cops and non-cops.
Or maybe you have put the effort into old friendships despite the hardships of the job. A lot of people still begin to look at you differently, their “innocent” questions or comments about the police in general, or you or a colleague in particular, come across hurtfully, and invisible walls are erected between you and a lot of family and both old and potential new friends because of the job.
Police work is one of the most highly visible professions, engendering strong opinions in people who often have only the barest understanding of what the job is truly all about. This meager knowledge notwithstanding, these folks are more than happy to confidently share their opinions about the state-of-policing-today with you and anyone in earshot whether you care to hear them or not. You quickly learn they are not nearly as interested in boring old facts, alternative opinions or theories, legally or tactically sound justifications for what some cop did or said, or even asking your input – theirs is a one-way monologue and you’re simply to listen and nod and take it and, besides, they have seen every episode of Law & Order ever and their cousin was a cop 10 years ago in a state 700 miles west of here so they know what they’re talking about!
Is it any wonder so many cops prefer to associate only with other cops?
It’s often sadly easy to let go of old relationships that should be fought for. It often feels preferable and convenient to create an insular, police-centric world safe from insults and ignorance. But we don’t recommend it. To do so is limiting and sets the profession of law enforcement even further apart from the communities it protects and serves, and sets up the individual officer for estrangement from needed support networks.
Strangely, it’s just as easy to enter emotionally toxic relationships and dangerously difficult to leave them.
We are about to embark on a series of articles for LawOfficer.com looking at the interpersonal relationships of police officers and their families and close friends. We will examine what constitutes a healthy relationship and why they are so important for our emotional health, and how to hold onto and nurture the important relationships in our lives. We will discuss strategies for restoring fading or dormant friendships and family ties. And we will also discuss toxic relationships, the special affinity so many cops seem to have for them, the havoc they create, how to identify them, and when it’s finally time to say goodbye for good!
The holidays are a time our minds turn to family and friends. It just seems appropriate we should too. We invite you along, and wish everyone safe and happy holidays!