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Remains of the Workday: Impact of Job Stress and Exhaustion on Marital Interaction In Police Couples

NCJ Number
Journal of Marriage and Family Volume: 63 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2001 Pages: 1052-1067
Date Published
November 2001
16 pages

This analysis of the emotional qualities of marital interactions between 19 male police officers and their spouses focuses on the influence of occupational stress on their marriages.


The findings overall shows that police occupational stress, both emotional and physical, were influential in placing the marriages at high risk for poor outcomes. The study found that in the kinds of physiologically aroused states experienced by couples on high-stress days, it was difficult to think clearly and to solve problems effectively. On such occasions, the couples often manifested over-learned, defensive, and self-protective behaviors. There was a tendency toward a psychological posture of vigilance and defensiveness, which facilitated quick responses characteristic of on-the-job behavior. When their police husbands had a stressful day, the wives tended to assume a defensive and vigilant posture, i.e., high autonomic arousal and minimal bodily movement. Marriage researchers have identified several "early warning signs" that lead to negative marital outcomes. Warning signs primarily involve a couple's ability to regulate their emotions, particularly negative emotions during their interactions. The study findings suggest that job stress is far more toxic for marital interaction than is physical exhaustion. The husband's job stress produces a physiological and emotional climate in which both spouses show many of the signs linked to marital distress and dissolution. Given the inevitability of police job stress, it is important that an officer and his spouse develop ways to manage stress constructively. This can include the use of stress-management techniques, making an effort to infuse positive emotions into marital conversations, and finding ways to talk about job stress rather than avoiding it. Under the research design, couples completed 30-day stress diaries and participated in 4 weekly laboratory sessions in which their interactions were observed. 3 tables and 59 references

Date Published: November 1, 2001