Why Do So Many Fictional Detectives Have Failed Marriages?

Rich, one of my frequent readers, posted a comment to me via Goodreads that ran along the line of, “Why do so many fictional detectives have failed marriages.”

It was a good question and one that stuck with me obviously, as I’m writing this post.

I thought about quickly responding to Rich, but the longer I considered his question, the more I realized there were some things to say. Not only could I investigate the statistics of cop marriages (it had been some time since I even thought about those), but I could share some things about why I decided to give my characters the relationships they had.

The Myth of the Bad Cop Marriage

When I was a police officer, there were all sorts of startling statistics surrounding cop marriages.  Some even quoted the divorce rate as high as 75%, and second marriages had less chance of success.  Grim stuff, for sure. However, the reality is radically different.

A 2010 study from the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology showed that the divorce rate among law enforcement personnel was lower when compared to other occupations. In this article, police officers didn’t even make the top ten.

If the truth is boring, why is it that even cops hold on to the myth of a high divorce rate?

Uh. Hello? Because the truth is boring and we’re dealing with alpha personalities here.

The guys often do things strictly for the CDI Factor—Chicks Dig It. How boring would it sound for one for them to say, “I’m a well-adjusted guy in a stable marriage with a below-average probability of divorce.”

And since I don’t know what the female equivalent of the CDI Factor is, we’re going to move on.

Seriously, though, there could be many factors as to why that myth persists. Below are several clichés that might give credence to the falsehood.

First, police officers have naturally competitive demeanors. In a marriage, that might not be the most attractive quality.

Second, they tend to be authoritarian types. Sit down, shut up, put your hands on the steering wheel. Theirs is not a touchy-feely job. Again, this is not necessarily a quality that translates to a happy home.

Third, cops tend to be tight-lipped about what they experience on the street. Remember that touchy-feely comment? Well, openly expressing your emotions is still seen as a weakness.  Taking it home and crying with your spouse isn’t seen in a much better light.

And finally, it’s the case of martyrdom. It’s the world against the blue. That can often lead to resentment, which can be brought home.

Are the above four clichés true?  Not necessarily. There could be some element of truth in them, but not for all cops and not all at the same time.

Will it make their marriages end in divorce? How the heck would I know? We’re talking myths and clichés at this point—not facts.

Now, let’s talk fiction.

I Was Written This Way

The Long Cold Winter

Rich liked Major Crimes Detective Dallas Nash, the lead in The Long Cold Winter and The Mean Street.  In both books, Dallas mourns the death of his wife. He had a good marriage and was a loving husband. When his wife died unexpectedly, it turned his life upside-down.

I wrote Dallas specifically for that reason. He needed to be in heart-wrenching mourning. I wanted to accomplish things with Dallas that couldn’t be done with him in a functional relationship. I wanted to talk about loss and regret. That’s hard to do when you’re happy and content.

In my series, the 509 Crime Stories, I wrote about a detective with a failed marriage. However, this again was done for a specific reason.  In The Side Hustle, an underlying theme of that book concerned personal finances. I’d never read a book before where a lead character suffered from crippling debt and its aftereffects. I know how money issues have significantly affected my own relationships.  Major Crimes Detective Quinn Delaney ends up divorced because of his lack of financial discipline. In every other aspect of his life, the guy is in control.  But I needed to show how his lack of self-discipline cost him something he truly cherished—his wife. He reflects on this and does not hate his ex-wife.  He still loves her, in fact.

In The Suit, I wrote about a female police officer, Leya Navarro, who had a wonderful relationship with her husband (not a cop).  I portrayed them as loving and caring. It had nothing to do with Leya being a female officer. I wanted to show someone with a happy family and a well-adjust home life.  She volunteered, and I happily agreed.  Someday soon, she will have her own book (after she is promoted), and we will see more of her home life.

Writing about relationships is a tricky business. Not only do they build a character’s backstory, but they reveal who that person is at their core.  I paid considerable consideration to this with a couple of other characters.

The Value in Our Lies

The first is Detective Jim Morgan from The Value in Our Lies. He’s a jerk, and he treats most women in a transactional manner. Some women are drawn to this behavior, while others disdain it. But I couldn’t draw Morgan as a jerk and then color him in with a loving relationship. It wouldn’t feel right. Maybe there’s a guy out there like that, but that wasn’t Morgan. Now, there are a couple of women Morgan holds beyond reproach. One is his teammate, and the other is a woman he longs for, but the rest of womanhood are pieces on a chessboard.

The second character’s relationship I paid extra close attention to was my latest—Sam Strait (book title to be announced soon). He’s a snowbirding bachelor who lives life by a particular set of rules.  One of those rules is “No Attachments.”

Sam’s relationship trait was vital because I wanted him to be a bit of a rascal. He’s a younger man who is searching for himself by chasing the sun and falling into the arms of the occasional woman.  He does have other rules, and one of them concerns monogamy. I didn’t want him to be a jerk like Morgan.

With that said, I’m circling back to Rich’s initial question and wondering why so many fictional detectives have failed marriages?

For me, the failed relationships were purposeful and were used either to move the plot and grow the characters.

Do all authors do this?  I don’t know.

What do you think?

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