Campbell, A. R., Landers, A. L., & Jackson, J. B. (2022). I have to hold it together: Trauma in law enforcement couples. Family Relations.


Grounded in secondary traumatic stress theory, this study explored the impact of work-related traumatic stress on law enforcement couples.


Studies exploring the impact of traumatic stress on law enforcement couples are limited. Such studies suggest that when traumatic stress impacts law enforcement professionals, their spouses often experience secondary traumatic stress and serve in a supportive role after trauma exposure.


Semistructured dyadic interviews were conducted with law enforcement couples (N = seven couples, 14 participants) using transcendental phenomenology.


Three themes emerged within the data that captured the essence of law enforcement couples’ experiences of traumatic stress: (a) the stressful nature of the law enforcement profession, (b) the impact of work-related traumatic stress on the couple relationship, and (c) protective factors and resilient coping characteristics.


The impact of work-related traumatic stress manifested in couple’s communication, role responsibilities and parenting, and commitment to the relationship and the profession. The impact of work-related traumatic events differed for the law enforcement professional and their spouse based on the type of traumatic event. Overall, work-related traumatic stress led couples to engage in a meaning-making process and activation of resilient couple coping characteristics.


Given the significant impact that work-related traumatic stress has on the law enforcement couple dyad, couple and family therapy services are needed for law enforcement professionals and their spouses. Couple and family therapists, family researchers, and other professionals working to promote healthy couple and family relationships should inquire about how couples adapt to traumatic stress and reinforce use of resilient coping characteristics.