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7 ways to sabotage your relationship

Here’s how to most efficiently wreck a solid, loving relationship, get that starter marriage out of the way, and cast a pall over your next few relationships


It is possible to have a successful relationship as an officer – you just need to avoid relationship killers like text battles to hash out disagreements.


As psychotherapists, we have a field-level, 50-yard-line seat to the current and emerging trends affecting people’s social and relational lives, including all the ways humans concoct to crash a relationship. It seems few people have the courage to break up directly or in person anymore, but do so by phone or even text.

One break-up tactic that’s received a lot of attention is ghosting, or simply disappearing from someone’s life, leaving them confused, hurt, without closure and wondering what they did wrong. Of course, ghosting isn’t really all that new – disappearing acts have always been one way of telling someone “I’m just not that into you anymore” – but the opportunity to ghost is so much greater, and its effects felt more acutely, in the digital age.

The opposite of ghosting, but just as indirect and confusing, is something we see a lot of, sometimes played out right in front of us. One of the partners simply becomes the biggest jerk ever in the apparent hope he or she will be the one dumped or walked away from. In this way, the person is viewed by others as the victim rather than the cause of the relationship’s demise. The jerk gets to walk away blameless in the eyes of everyone but the victim, the ex.

We’ve written a lot about relationships over the years, offering advice, sharing observations and experience from our personal and professional lives, and highlighting the work of recognized relationship researchers and experts. We always underscore the unique stresses law enforcement puts on a couple. Our goal is to help preserve and strengthen the cops’ relationships.

This article takes a slightly different tack. For all cops just starting out and likely in the early stages of relationships and marriages – especially as part of a police relationship – we’re going to cut to the chase. We’re going to offer seven time-tested tips on how to most efficiently wreck a solid, loving relationship, get that starter marriage out of the way quickly, and cast a pall over the next few relationships as well. Ready? Great!

1. Take your natural competitiveness home

Most police officers are naturally competitive and pretty good at it. The first two steps to getting hired are usually competitions, such as a written test and physical agility screening. Most hopeful candidates are sent away disappointed, but not you. If you’re a cop and reading this, then you won. You’re a competitor.

Now take that competitive edge home. Make sure to outshine everyone, even your closest friends and family. Even your spouse. Downplay or, better yet, top their accomplishments. They’ll understand you have to do whatever it takes to be the best.

2. point out the failings of others

Does your spouse sometimes make mistakes, step on the punchlines of your best jokes, or mess up your war stories? Is the house sometimes a mess, the laundry not done, DIY projects doomed from the get-go, or his or her career stalled and going nowhere?

Sometimes we even find our partners simply can’t (or don’t even seem to try to) live up to the shining example of our beloved parents, falling far short of the high bar set by our sainted moms or Renaissance-man dads.

For best results, assume your spouse is simply unaware of his or her shortcomings and failings, then take it upon yourself to point them out. It is best to do this when you’re in public or with others, of course. Don’t forget to explain how annoying your spouse is. This should be all the motivation he or she needs to shape up.

3. Be a dictator instead of a partner

Frankly, your partner would probably find it comforting if you assume full dominion over the home and all who inhabit it to set the tone and rules everyone is to live by. Sure, “benevolent dictator” is a big responsibility, but you’re a cop. You can handle it. Step up, take charge and enjoy the perks.

Now, a lot of therapists would stress some psychobabble fluff like negotiating a win-win compromise, finding a middle ground where both your needs and desires are understood and met, embracing self-sacrifice for the happiness of your partner, or even expanding personal horizons by embracing activities you otherwise might not consider.

Not us. Not now. Remember our mission here.

4. Never turn the cop part of yourself off

Considering all the time, money and hard-won experience that’s gone into honing your investigative and survival skills, why would you even think of turning them off at home?

Go ahead and bring that no-nonsense command presence home with you. Parse the kids’ words for logical inconsistencies, bring your interrogation skills to disputes and disagreements with your partner, and confront family, friends and neighbors over any whiff of bull you sense in their words or actions. This will keep everyone on their toes and make sure even those closest to you know who not to mess with.

5. Hold tight to your secrets

Hold what you do all day close to the vest. Assume those closest to you can’t handle it and would worry too much if they saw the demons you face. Imagine how they might think less of you if they knew too much about how policing gets done.

You know what to do when what you see gets too much for you, the politics wear you down, and stress becomes a constant companion. Why, just bear it all alone or, if you really need to talk, turn only to other cops, the only ones who could possibly understand.

Or, better yet, turn to alcohol.

6. Be a martyr

Remind everyone as often as you can how you put your life on the line every day and let them know all that the job takes out of you. Make sure everyone knows how important your job is compared to theirs. Put on a proud show of hypervigilance while lamenting how law enforcement has changed you, and never forget (or let anyone else forget) how you are different than other people. That’s always fresh and fun.

7. When you and your partner fight, use technology

Expressing oneself and hashing out disagreements face-to-face is so passé. Use technology instead. Cellphones and text battles are best, as barbs can be traded at lightning speed from virtually anywhere in the world. No need to take a deep breath and consider the impact of your words.

Speaking of that, hearing voice tone and inflection, the pacing of words and all the subtleties of communication only aids understanding. There’s nothing like misunderstanding a conciliatory joke for mean-spirited sarcasm to drive a white-hot wedge between you, is there? Fights can last for days, forever memorialized in your cellphone’s memory.

So, if you’re interested in crashing your marriage or other relationships with the help of your career and some of its time-tested landmines, try out our tips. If you’re the spouse of a cop on the receiving end, bail now because it’s probably not getting any better.

But what if I like my significant other?

Maybe you’re one of those radical types who likes your partner (and family and friends) and are in it for the long haul. Fine. Then use these red flags as signs to watch for and correct when times inevitably get tough. Maybe they’ll help you stay mindful of what to look for in yourself if you happen to be into insight, and you can set your intentions to do the opposite.

Law enforcement is a career loaded with traditions, not all of them good. Use these “tips” to help put the “tradition” of troubled police relationships to rest.

Althea Olson, LCSW, and Mike Wasilewski, MSW, have been married since 1994. Mike works full time as a police officer for a large suburban Chicago agency while Althea is a social worker in private practice at Fox Bend Counseling in Oswego (Illinois). They write on a wide range of topics to include officer wellness, relationships, mental health, morale, and ethics. Their writing led to them developing More Than A Cop, and they have traveled the country as police trainers teaching “survival skills off the street.”

You can keep up with them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, or check out their website at

Contact Althea Olson and Mike Wasilewski