More Than Just a Partner

There are some relationships that are as strong, or maybe even stronger, than the marriage bond.  Some writers have professed having such a bond with a trusted agent who has guided a career for many years. I wouldn’t know, not having an agent for longer than one year at a time.

Many partnerships in law enforcement also run deeper than just the job. We see it in fiction all the time. Fans of Law and Order SVU spent many years wondering if Elliot and Olivia were ever going to become more than just partners. The writers danced around the issue with several story threads, and in the final seasons before Elliot was written out of the cast, it became clear that the relationship between them was strong and deep and meaningful, but it would never betray his relationship with his wife.

In real life, there are police officers who enter into physical relationships with their partners. Sometimes they even get married. Others, for whatever reasons, follow the path that Olivia and Elliot did. Partners on the job who have a special closeness and a special understanding of the good and the bad about being a cop, but that’s all.

These officers find that they cannot talk to their spouse about the traumas they deal with every day, but they can talk to their partner. This type of emotional intimacy, coupled with the stress of the job, can lead to problems at home and often divorce. According to a report by Sergeant James Boyce of the Arkansas Highway Police that he gave at the Criminal Justice Institute University of Arkansas System School of Law Enforcement Supervision in 1996, “Police officers are twice as likely to die by their own hand as by homicide. The divorce rate of police officers ranks second in the nation, compared to other occupations. The national divorce rate is approximately fifty percent while the divorce rate for police officers is sixty to seventy-five percent.”

Boyce got his facts from Dr. Daniel Goldfarb, a police psychologist who wrote a paper, The Effects of Stress on Police Officers.

While interviewing officers for my mystery, Open Season, I found quite a bit of anecdotal material that supports those facts. I met officers who had been married three or more times, and still felt like they were closer in some ways to a partner than a spouse. In fact, some of them said that closeness was part of the problems at home.

I also discovered that when a police officer loses a partner to death, the grief can be as intense as losing a spouse.

This whole theme of partnership is one I wanted to explore in depth with the characters in Open Season, so I opened the story with Sarah Kinsgley losing her long-time partner, then having to try to build a new partnership. Here is what she had to say to the department shrink while she was still struggling with her emotions:

It was Sarah’s turn for silence and Murray finally stepped in. “What was your relationship to John?”

“We were partners.”

“That’s all?”

“What does that mean?”

Murray arched a bushy brow, and Sarah couldn’t believe it. What was he? Doctor Sigmund-Murray Freud?

She shot out of her chair and leaned across his desk. “Okay. You want to know the intimate details of our relationship? I’ll tell you. Yeah, partners are close. Closer sometimes than spouses. We’re like two sides to the same coin. And we always know if we look behind us, the other one is there. It’s trust, asshole. The intimacy of trust.”

“And you broke that trust.”

His words were like ice water on her anger and she had to choke another emotion back. She whirled away before he could glimpse it in her eyes.

“I only say that because every other cop who’s come in here after loosing a partner feels the same way. It’s a terrible burden to carry.”


Maryann Miller is the author of Open Season and One Small Victory, both of which deal with relationships.


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  • Really enjoyed your article. Tweeted and +1’d it. Surely in the history of law enforcement partners, there have been cases where the partners eventually married, I would suppose after one or both left the force. Do such relationships tend to make for long term marriages?

    • One of the officers I knew in the Dallas area, did marry another officer, but that marriage did not last. Sometimes it is more than issues with the job that lead to such high divorce rates. This particular officer, while being a really great guy and a top-notch detective, had some emotional and mental issues from serving in Vietnam. He was truly a troubled soul, and I don’t think troubled souls do well in relationships.

      On the other side of this coin, I recently met a couple, both retired from some area of law enforcement, who met and married several years ago after retirement. They seem to have a strong relationship, but I also learned from talking with them that they did not deal with a lot of violence in their respective jobs. That makes a difference. Just how much blood and gore and nastiness can one see without becoming jaded?

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Maryann: The inside story is fascinating. You are a great writer with a fine attention to detail. I appreciate your letting us better know the inspiration behind your characters and your novels.

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