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Sandy Malone

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Why Every Marriage Needs A 'Good Cop' And A 'Bad Cop'

Posted: 08/17/2012 12:55 pm

Every marriage has to have a good guy and a bad guy in it for the couple to survive in the real world. You can't both be the Cleavers or you'll get eaten alive out there. If you consider your marriage to be a joint venture, then one of you should be able to be firm and direct while the other reflects a warmer, more compromising air. If you ask any child who is the "good cop" and who is the "bad" of their parents, they are invariably quick to reply. But this concept goes far beyond the inside of the home. To avoid getting your house egged on Halloween, at least one of you has to be firm enough to confront your neighbors about their obnoxious children while the other partner smiles and offers the kids cookies. The concept of "good cop/bad cop" was especially relevant in the first years of my marriage when my husband Bill really was a police captain in our neighborhood.

When we lived in the nation's capitol, Bill was the "bad cop" and I was the "good cop" in our marriage. Once he arrested both our lawn boy and his older brother (did I mention they were neighbors of ours?) in an afternoon brawl at the local subway station. It would have been nice to have a heads up before their mother called me, but I held her hand through the process of bailing them out and the kid showed up at my house to mow the lawn on schedule the next week.

My job was often to smooth out hurt feelings, bake cookies, and host 4th of July barbecues for my husband's district. All of the cops who worked for him loved me (or my cookies) so much that when Bill got promoted, the midnight guys voted to keep me. That was my job as the "good cop" -- to make everyone comfortable, happy and facilitate compromise.

Back then, Bill and I were pretty clear about our roles, and we both understood that we needed to play these parts in order to make life go smoothly and keep the people around us happy. Sometimes I would grit my teeth behind my smile, and sometimes Bill had to give some family member the smackdown on my behalf, but overall, it worked for us.

When we moved to Puerto Rico, our plan was for my husband to "help" me with a little wedding planning business. They say it's unhealthy for cops to retire and do nothing -- so I haven't taken any risks with that! But Weddings in Vieques is definitely my baby and I am the boss. Whereas Bill's former job almost required him to wear the mantle of the "bad cop" in DC, in Vieques, our roles ended up switching completely. I am officially the "bad cop" now. Just ask anybody.

My company plans beautiful destination weddings in a place where manana doesn't mean tomorrow, it means not today. And "island time" isn't just an expression -- it's more of a way of life. Clients hire me to make sure wedding vendors are where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there, dressed properly, sober, and knowing what to do to make everyone happy. Anything less is unacceptable. As a result, I've occasionally had to crack the whip, bring down the hammer, and fire a few people. Thus, I've earned my reputation as a merciless witch.

These roles are a lot different to play in a small town where our personal and business lives are inexorably linked. Several of our employees live within less than 100 yards of our house (just try and oversleep a wedding setup -- I'll knock on your damned door til you wake up if you're scheduled to work). Even when Bill was a District Commander with a police substation 10 blocks from our house, life was more separated. On Vieques Island, there are only so many people and so many restaurants. Inevitably there are people in every establishment who have firmly established opinions regarding my husband and me, not all of them positive. Sometimes I really, really miss anonymity. Bill relished the "bad cop" role back in the states -- I'm not having quite as much fun with it here on Vieques Island. And yet, still, it's my job.

You cannot even imagine how weird a shift in marital dynamics this is. Before, back home, everybody thought I was the nice one and he was the mean one (close friends and family know the truth). Bill was okay with that because, let's face it, he was a SWAT team commander not a social worker. I, on the other hand, have spent the previous 15 years in public relations and public affairs -- my job was to make people like me and my clients. Every day was a big popularity contest. Within months of moving to Vieques Island, the whole balance of our identities had dramatically changed. My clients love me and I do fantastic work, but I am not Miss Popularity in my community anymore. Bill could probably run for office if he knew more Spanish than "cerveza," "banos" and "uno mas."

The "bad cop" formerly known as Captain Malone, however, has become the champion of the masses at Weddings in Vieques! I swear my husband is everybody's friend. He's the one they go to with complaints about me (most of which he never tells me about because he hates to watch the bloodshed), and he soothes the hurt feelings. My husband is the one who buys the interns lunch after I tear their heads off for oversleeping on an event day, and he's also the one who talked the landlord off the ledge when I refused to pay the rent because he hadn't finished having the building painted. Yep, Bill is the good cop now. Don't let it get around in DC -- it would hurt his rep.

But the whole point is that somebody HAS TO BE the "good cop" in a marriage or the couple won't succeed. One of you has to have a fit at the cable company for not sending the installer, and one of you has to suck up to the installer when he finally arrives. One of you has to manage family relations, and one of you gets the blame. And in the public arena and the community, somebody has to wear the white hat and somebody has to wear the black hat, even if it's not really a good color on her.

So when we're down here in Vieques, Bill is the "good cop" and everybody likes him better than me. I've accepted that. Joint ventures mean effort by both of us -- and it's my turn to arrest the lawn boy (figuratively speaking, of course). Bill had that job before and he was good at it -- my goal is to be at least as good a "bad cop" as he was so that he can relax and be Mr. Nice Guy. As long as we get to go back home to DC frequently to visit everybody else who knows that I'm really the nice one.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy

 
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