Marriage to a police officer, depending on whom you ask, is either no different from other marriages or an exercise in waiting for the inevitable.

Officers' wives - and male officers are the majority in all departments - say marriage to an officer requires getting used to revolving shifts, working holidays and weekends, and off-duty hours spent in court."They're gone at night a lot of times. To me, I don't think it's any different" being married to a policeman than to anyone else with a demanding job, said the wife of an officer in a suburban Salt Lake County community.

The women interviewed understand police badges make their husbands targets. They also were reluctant to have their names used because of possible reprisals by police administrators. Talking to the media is frowned on for officers, ditto for wives.

"I have more time with him. We probably have more time together than other persons who work 8 to 5. But we don't have prime time together, like weekends," said the wife of the suburban officer.

Shift work can be a source of conflict for couples, especially if schedules don't allow much time together.

"I think the most stressful part is the hours they work," said the wife of an 11-year veteran of the Salt Lake Police Department. "My husband prefers afternoons over days, and with a family it is very difficult."

But the woman, who married her husband the same year he joined the Salt Lake department, said, "He likes his job and I respect that."

John Stratton was the departmental psychologist with the Los Angeles County sheriff, where much of the research into police stress has originated.

"Spouses experience `the weight of the badge' during the course of their relationship," Stratton said in an article published in Police Chief magazine.

"At various times it may weigh heavily, while during other periods it is a source of pride and honor," Stratton said. "Alternately, it may be the basis for euphoria or depression."

Statistics such as divorce rates within a department are only as reliable as the methods used to collect them, said Mark Zelig, a psychologist who specializes in police work.

The numbers say officers in the Los Angeles Police Department have the lowest rates for suicide and divorce, while Wyoming has the nation's highest suicide rate for police, said Zelig.

No statistics are available for divorce, death and suicide rates for Utah officers.

"I think to be married to a cop you don't have to have a good sense of humor. You have to see the world as it is," said the wife of the Salt Lake officer, a mother of three.

And seeing the world as it is includes accepting how lousy some people can be and that police officers are always in season.

"I think I don't know half of what he does and I don't think I want to know," said the wife of the suburban officer, who was injured in a car accident last year. "What happens, happens, so why worry? You can't change it."

For the wife of the 11-year veteran, who also was injured in an accident while investigating a collision, the possibility of harm is not an issue.

"It's the little things" that get to her husband, she said. "Danger's never been a topic; maybe it's just ignorance."

For many officers, what they see on the streets is reflected in how they view their families.

Paranoia is "an integral part of your life. You get paranoid. You see girls raped, you buy a gun and teach your wife to shoot," said one Salt Lake officer, who is married to a police dispatcher.

Because of what they see, those who carry a badge tend to become overprotective, Stratton said, and want to shield their families.

To the suburban police officer's wife, mother of a 6-month-old girl, having and knowing how to shoot a weapon wouldn't help much.

"They could get it away from you and then you'd be worse off," she said. "I'd just rather have the guns locked up and down in the basement."

Yet the job, for all the hassles, offers stability. Said one woman, "I think there will always be crime."

And while some would say police officers are a different breed, the wives see their husbands as people who care about others and have a sincere interest in helping.

"I think he's always been concerned about people, but even more so now," said the suburban officer's wife.

Along with that caring comes pride.

"I think that there's a certain personality that cops have. And I think you can see Joe Blow on the streets, but you can pick a cop out," said the wife of the Salt Lake officer.