by Michael Sullivan
Our job demands that we interact with people on a daily basis. We speak and listen to many different people each day in an effort to obtain the information we need to conduct a successful investigation. While we may be trained observers and interviewers those skills do not always translate when we are talking to our spouse, partner or family members.
We have chosen to work on cases that involve the sexual exploitation of children. Our passion to protect children helps us to be successful in this endeavor. At times this work is all consuming and at the end of the day we are physically and emotionally drained. We are at the point that we have shut down on communicating and just need some down time. It is not a matter of IF this will happen it is a matter of WHEN.
You arrive at home and your spouse, partner or family members may not recognize the weariness and want to engage you in conversation. Your mental state may cause you to be reluctant to speak with them. They may internalize you being quite as their fault. In the case of children, they may feel they are to blame for your mental state. If you have not talked about the demands of your work prior to this, they may continue to try to engage you. This can feel as if they are attacking you. The result is you become defensive and even more withdrawn.
The old saying of, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, could not be more accurate for this situation. The ounce of prevention comes in having a previous conversation with your spouse, partner or family members. They need to understand that at times your job will demand all your physical and mental abilities. At the end of the day you may be emotionally spent and need some time to recuperate. They need to know that your current state of mind was in no way caused by their actions. To prevent this situation, you need to give them some tools to help them understand why you seem reluctant to communicate with them.
The fist tool is explaining that the work you do sometimes demands all your energy and can leave you spent. If they recognize this when you come home, allow some recuperation time. Another tool is the use of a code word. While you are exhausted you may perceive their desire to engage you as being hostile or demanding. The use of a code word can correct that misunderstanding. It can cause you to recognize that your spouse, partner or family members have noticed the change in you and are not attacking you. They are attempting in a non-aggressive manner to communicate, they understand your current mental state and that you need time to re-energize. You might be surprised at the therapeutic value of the code word. How one simple word can communicate volumes for both you and your family.
“Preparation for a stressful event, when possible, protects individuals from the effect of stress” In other words, if you know what is coming you are better able to deal with it successfully. Please take some time to use those wonderful communication skills your job has taught you and talk to your spouse, partner and family. Help them prepare for the days when you find it difficult to communicate.
Quote attribution Chemtob et al., 1990