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Marriage Difficulties

Police work is very hard on marriages. It is a demanding career, and it is demanding on the whole family. I hope in this article to show what happened in my marriage. I made many mistakes and I am not trying to shift the blame to anyone else, however, there were things that my wife did and things that she misunderstood that I hope will help others also.

My wife always told me that my mistress was my job. She told me that she almost wished I had a girlfriend because she knew how to fight that, but had no idea how to fight the 'job.' I look back and I guess she was right, the job was my life. I want to say right here that God was not playing a part in my life for the most part during my time as a Deputy Sheriff. If I had placed Him first in my life, I could have saved myself a lot of pain and also saved a lot of other people pain too.

I loved being a Police Officer. I had wanted to be a cop since I was seven years old. I can remember a funeral for a police officer. It was written up in the newspaper and I saw the picture of all the police officers and police cars which were at the funeral. I can remember thinking that it must be great to be part of something that close knit. I did not really understand it at age 7, yet it still struck me that those people who attended the funeral must have loved and cared for the fallen officer. I wanted to be part of something like that.

My whole purpose in life was to be a Police Officer. I was in the last year of the draft for the Vietnam War, my number was pretty high and I did not think I would be drafted. I was living in Michigan and I went and talked to a State Trooper. I asked him how I could best prepare to become a State Police Officer. He (being a former Marine) told me the best thing I could do was get my obligation to my country out of the way. Go into the Marines, they will make a man out of you and many Police Officers are former Marines. Sounded good to me and I joined the Marines.

I started out in an office but was able to become a Military Police Officer. When I got out of the Marines I joined the Sheriff's Department in Beaufort where I had been stationed in the Marines. I had gotten married about 2 years before I got out of the Marines.

I could not believe my life long dream was coming true. I was a Police Officer. I wanted to be the best Police Officer that I could be. I studied the law and law enforcement magazines. I lived and breathed law enforcement.

This was a whole new world for me. I saw things in the first couple of weeks that just blew me away. I tried to talk to my wife about these things, but she did not want to hear about it. I saw death up close and personal for the first time in my life, instead of the nice clean sterile environment most people see it. I don't blame her, but she did not want to hear about the horrible things I saw.

I found myself turning more and more to the other officers. They understood the things I was going through. We became close. I knew that I could call any of them at anytime of the day or night and tell them that I needed help and they would come without even asking what I needed. They knew I would do the same for them.

My wife owned her own tailoring business and worked days. I worked nights, so we did not get to see each other very often. A couple of times I called her and had her meet me at a restaurant for breakfast. I only did this twice. Both times as I tried to have a quiet breakfast with my wife I had people come up and ask me if I knew this or that officer. Of course I would say yes, and at that point they would start to tell me what a jerk the officer was. It usually had to do with them getting a ticket that they felt they did not deserve. It was a very uncomfortable position to be in. It was easier just not to go out to restaurants. The real result was that I spent even less time talking with my wife.

One night I worked a horrific accident. Two teenagers were traveling on Hwy 278 towards the Island and an older couple were traveling away from the Island. They hit each other head on in a blind curve. The teenagers (a boy and a girl) were in a small car and the older couple's car was a heavy Cadillac. The speedometer on the Cadillac was stuck at 70 miles per hour and we estimated that the teens were probably going at about the same speed when they hit.

The girl had been driving, but the only way we found that out was that the boy was found still clutching the passenger side arm rest. The small car was totally destroyed. The front axil and engine were over a hundred yards away from the back of the vehicle.

When I arrived on the scene I came into the curve and saw the two teens laying in the middle of the road. I checked them and they were both dead. I also found that the wife in the Cadillac had been killed. The husband who had been driving was the only survivor of the accident.

It took several hours to get the mess cleaned up so that traffic could move again. After we cleared the scene we went to the hospital to try to find identification on the victims. I remember thinking that the older woman who was in her mid-seventies had at least lived a long life. I looked at those two teenagers, both about 18 or 19, on those cold metal tables and it all seemed so senseless. One minute they were fun loving kids and the next they were what I saw now, corpses. They had their whole lives ahead of them, and then in an instant it was all over.

When I got home that morning my wife was already gone to work. It took me a long time to get to sleep. I finally got to sleep about 11:00 a.m. At about 3:00 p.m. the phone rang. It was my wife. She asked if I was still in bed. I said yes, and she said something like, "You've been in bed all day, it's already 3 o'clock."

That did not go over well with me, I had been in a very fitful sleep for all of about 4 hours. I thought to myself that I should call her at 3 a.m. and ask her if she was still in bed. I managed not to say anything. Then she told me why she had called. She had gone to do something, I don't remember what it was, and the person behind the counter had given her a hard time. She was upset about being treated badly and just wanted to talk to me about it. The problem was that I could not quit thinking about those two dead teenagers and to be honest her complaint seemed trivial to me. To be totally blunt I did not care, get over it.

I did not tell her how I felt but she could tell that I did not really care and got mad and hung up on me. Fine, who cares anyway, if no one died what does it matter? I tried to get back to sleep but I kept seeing those kids on those metal tables in the morgue.

Another incident that happened was a fight at a local hotel which had a bar. We got a call of a fight in the bar. Three of us responded. When we got there everything was over and everyone involved was out in the parking lot. It was my call so I took down the information.

There were two groups of people, friends of each of the two combatants. I started with one group and got their version of the incident. One man was bleeding from a cut on the cheek. He said that he had been going to the dance floor with his girlfriend when he accidently bumped the other guy's chair. He said it did not bump it hard and did not think anything about it, so he just kept on going. But the guy in the chair got upset and jumped up and grabbed him and then hit him in the face. The man admitted that at that point he also threw a couple of punches and then the fight was broken up.

I informed him that if he wanted to press charges on the other man he would have to go see the Magistrate to sign a warrant. I explained to him that this was because it was a misdemeanor assault and I had not seen it so I could not arrest anyone on the scene without a warrant. He said he did not want to press any charges he just wanted to go home. I told him to stay put until I spoke to the other individual.

I went over to the other man, who had a busted lower lip. He appeared to be more intoxicated than the other man, I had just spoken to. I asked him what happened and he started cursing and telling me the other guy started it. I had to warn him to calm down and start at the beginning. He finally got out that he had been sitting minding his own business when the other man almost knocked him over in his chair. He said all he did was stand up and ask for an apology and the guy hit him numerous times. He claimed that he had not even touched the other guy. He said he had no idea how the other man's cheek got cut.

I asked him if he wanted to press charges and he said yes. He said he wanted that guy in jail right then and there. I told him that was not going to happen, because none of the officers had witnessed the incident, and therefore he would have to sign a warrant with the Magistrate. I told him I would give him the person's name so that he could sign the warrant. He got even more belligerent with me. He kept insisting that I arrest the guy right now. I kept trying to tell him that under the law I couldn't do that, he would have to sign a warrant.

I tried to reason with him by telling him that even if I arrested the other man, that man would probably also demand that I arrest him and I was sure he did not want to go to jail over this. He really got mad at that and kept telling me that he was the victim. The group of people with him all started talking and yelling at me, telling me that I was wrong and that I should go arrest the other guy. It got so bad that I finally had to tell them all that if they did not shut up and leave the parking lot I would arrest them for public disorderly conduct.

I then tried to give the man the name of the other subject but at this point he was so mad that he told me to shove it, since he couldn't get any justice he would just forget the whole thing. The whole group went to their cars and drove off while saying some pretty unflattering things to me.
I went back to the other group and asked if he was sure he did not want to press charges and he repeated that he did not. They also left the area.

Two or three days later my wife confronted me about the incident. It seemed that one of her friends had been in the group that I threatened to lock up. This friend had told her what had happened and my wife wanted to know why I had refused to lock the other guy up. I tried my best to explain to her that under the law I couldn't lock either of them up without a warrant. She kept asking me why, since they had all told me what happened. I tried to explain that the other group had a totally different story, and that only a judge could decide who was telling the truth, since I had not seen it happen I could not just take either of the groups word for what happened.

She got mad at me and told me that she thought the whole incident was stupid. The wall between us just went up by a couple of layers of bricks.

My wife just could not understand my job. I would complain of being tired, yet there were many times, especially when I worked the 4 to midnight shift, when I would pull into the driveway and then hear a call of a fight in progress or a shooting, or robbery, and I would back out of the driveway to go assist. Sometimes finally getting home two or three hours later.

When I made Corporal, I got to have Friday and Saturday evenings off. Those were the most busy days of the week. We were short handed and my Sergeant would ask me every week if I could come out and help out on my days off. I did this for almost six months, without a day off. I did not mind at all, I had not wanted Friday and Saturday off anyway, since those where the most busy nights. My wife on the other hand got very upset by the fact that I was working my days off. She kept telling me that I should stand up for myself and tell the Sergeant no, that I could not work my days off. I tried to explain to her that I did not mind. I finally ended up changing days with another of the Deputies so that I was working these days anyway, but had different days off. It still made us one man short on Friday and Saturday, but since both the Sergeant and I were working we could handle it with one less person. All of this just caused her to hate my job even more.

Another thing that drove a wedge between us was the that all too often my wife would tell me that she would be home at say 7 p.m. but would not get home until closer to 10 p.m. This would be on my nights off, since the other days, I would not know when she got home. There could be a variety of reasons, including having met a friend for a drink or needing to run to a couple of stores. To most people this might sound all quite innocent and to be honest it was innocent. The problem was that I was not most people. I did not live in a world where I believed nothing bad could ever happen to someone I cared about. When she told me she would be home at 7, by 7:30 I was worried that something had happened. As the hours dragged on I would get more sure that something had happened. I would listen to the scanner to see if I heard anything. I saw death and mayhem too often to think it could never happen.

Then when she would get home, I would be in a very bad mood. I would ask her where she had been and she would get defensive as if I did not trust her. I tried to explain that I was worried but it never seemed to help.

To this day, I am still this way. If my wife tells me she is going to be somewhere at a certain time, she knows to either be there or to let me know she is running late.

I look back on my first, failed marriage and I see so many things that I did wrong. I won't make any excuses but I did not see what was happening at the time. The wall between us kept getting higher and higher. We had nothing in common, we lived in two different worlds. If you are a married Police Officer, or the spouse of a Police Officer, take heed and talk to each other. Even if you can't relate, try, be there for each other. It takes a lot of work but it is worth it.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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