Police Psychology | Police Divorce Part 1: Shutting Down the Blame Game
by Dr. Gary Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
The real cause of police suicide is divorce or marital problems. Internal affairs investigations are a distant second. I would venture to say when human error comes into play in car chases, and misjudgments by cops, there is often a divorce behind it. As the rest of the regular world, most officers going through a divorce can think of nothing else in that time. They find they have a hard time concentrating and they lose focus easily. Their emotions are on edge, and deep sleep is a sporadic visitor in their life. Not so bad if you are an accountant, but it can be a killer if you are a cop. Literally. And it doesn’t have to be that way. This series on Divorce is about how to calm down a divorce when you are facing one. The first thing we want to talk about is the Blame Game.
I was a consultant with the FBI and we decided to throw three conferences to find out what was really going on with police officers. They were going to invite the best people in the world for these conferences and give them a place to stay in the academy to discuss issues on the topics. The first was Domestic Violence in law enforcement officers, the second was Suicide and the third was Divorce. The first two came off wonderfully and gave the field the basis for policy and program development. The third was interrupted by an internal transfer and lockdown after 9/11. At that conference most psychologists would have stood up and presented internet quote of the police divorce rate being 60-70% (in the general population, somewhere around 45-50% deal with a divorce in a lifetime). A psychologist from Virginia named Mike Aamodt would have gotten up and presented a very logical technique to show that the divorce rate was the same as the general population or that there was no good research on it in policing (he actually did that research anyway using census data). I would have gotten up and presented an innovative treatment program which would have been ignored by mostly everyone for ten years. There is one thing I can tell you for sure, a cop is much more likely to go through a divorce than shoot his weapon at an assailant in his career, but most academies train how to shoot repeatedly and going through divorce not at all. So let’s begin by learning how to treat a divorce in policing.
Divorce and the Blame Game
When you start getting divorce there is a rush of emotions from the ways your marriage didn’t turn out like you fantasized, the predicting of the hassles associated with going through a divorce, and the misguided idea you will be stigmatized by others as a failure in the marriage. You are bound to think illogically. It is a failed event that could have been avoided “if only….” That “if only” is left to being established by the illogical thinking you have at the time. But, there is not an “if only” there. So, you just fantasize that by creating ways of blaming your spouse so that everyone will know he or she is at fault but not you. “If only he hadn’t cheated.” “If only she would have given me more sex.” “If only they wouldn’t have given more attention to the kids than me.” “If only she would think logically.” “If only he would have talked.” Or, whatever, they could go on forever. You boil it down to one mistake and one excuse for the whole marriage to fall apart. Everyone knows there was no one reason, and by trying to blame your spouse you will look the fool. As often happens in the blame game, the perpetrator of blame looks really bad in the process.
But, the people going through a divorce have a secret inner goal. The woman wants to see the guy living in a refrigerator box on the street. The guy wants to see the girl hospitalized or walking around with a giant scarlet “W” on her shirt so everyone will know she is a “Whacko.” Neither is going to happen, so let’s get over it. Get over the Blame Game immediately and the divorce will go much smoother.
The first goal of any divorce is to get both parties to the point where they do not have a need to punish each other for the decline of the marriage. The Blame game is responsible for not only most of the problems in the divorce, but also most of the problems after the breakup. People that can’t seem to let go are keeping the Blame Game alive. Like most parts of life, if you keep focusing on the negative, your life will go negative. So essentially, whether or not you are successfully putting the blame on your partner or yourself, the process will make you fall apart and psychologically unstable. Blame does not really matter much as you are going to move forward apart not together. Essentially, the person that holds on to blame ensures they will have the greater effect from the divorce, they are likely to try other ways to hurt their partner, such as getting other people to hurt their partner. When those people are their friends, they can destroy friendships. When those people are their children, that will have many negative effects on their own kids. And finally, when it is a lawyer or two involve and you are looking to get involved in the blame game, the lawyer will see it as a great opportunity to find more and more attorney fees. Not all lawyers look to that, but many do as it is the most natural outcome of the Blame Game. You end up spending a lot of money unnecessarily that you could be spending on things like a new home or your kid’s college education.
As with most things in life, this is easier said than done. I’ll give you two techniques that tend to work with lessening blame. The first is the mantra. Have them repeat the phrase “it’s better to get your way than make your point,” 100 times. It is better to act effectively than try to prove something to people who are not listening. Acting effectively means keeping focused on the goal and not getting into the “who did what” and “who mistreated who.” If the goal is to break up possessions, then stay focused on that goal. If it is to come up with a visitation schedule, they stay focused on that. Other mantras are repeating what your daughter will say to you later like “Mom I can’t go to college because you spent too much money getting divorced from Dad.” Or “Daddy I can’t go to college ‘cause you spent too much money getting divorced from Mom.” Other mantras include, “I will have a good time with or without you” and “the torture stop here.” The mantra has to be motivating and get into the head of the person saying it.
As a therapist, you have to repeat whatever mantra you choose thousands of times in therapy. As a soon-to-be divorced person, you have to repeat it hundreds and hundreds of times. Golf counters work good if you can get one. It has to be an automatic thought.
On a similar note to the Blame Game is making the decision where the starting downfall of the relationship has been. PEOPLE FEEL THEY HAVE TO ANALYZE WHAT WENT WRONG AND DECIDE A DEFINITE TIME WHEN IT STARTING GOING BAD. Not the case, in fact it is opposite to mental health. Things went bad at sometimes during the relationship. Maybe it was after marriage/wedding, maybe it was before. Maybe it was after the birth of a child, maybe it was before. Maybe he/she changed, maybe you changed. Maybe it was the affair, maybe it was before the affair. Whatever it is, there is no use trying to locate the time or place, you are still in the situation even if you can place the time.
I always use the analogy that if you wanted to make a good cleaner you would take two good cleaners and put them together and they would make one super cleaner. Well, putting chlorine, a great cleaner, and ammonia, another supper cleaner, creates a form of mustard gas (not really, but it is a toxic gas). Sometimes two good people can create mustard gas. Life is full of interactions and sometimes the interaction is not favorable. Glycerin and nitric acid are similar chemicals that have a destructive interaction. Nitric acid is used in fertilizer to make things grow, glycerin is often used as a softener in facial creams. Mix them together and they make a serious explosive called nitro glycerin, the component of dynamite. However, to take the analogy even further, if you add some other chemical into the mix or even dilute the mix, it has no negative effects. Life mixes without knowing the toxic effects of a mix, and you have to sometimes give that the mix in your relationship can become toxic without regard for how it got there because you do not actually know all the formula.
These are the first two steps in getting through the beginning process of divorce – keep blame far away and keep your goal in focus, in other words — act effectively. Remember the court is mostly concerned with the distribution of property, not blaming the right person. You should be mostly concerned about a fair deal for your kids or if you don’t have kids, a fair deal for you and your soon to be ex.. If you don’t get your head straight, you’re in for a very rough ride.
We will cover much more in the course of future articles, but these are the initial steps. If you get your head on straight when you look back, the divorce will still be the worst thing that happened to you in your life, and at the same time, the best thing that ever happened.
Site Editor: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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