6 Relationship Traits Prison Wives Have That You (Probably) Don't

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Man in prison, supportive wife

By Catherine Hoke

Society is so endlessly curious about prison culture that millions of us tune in to shows like Prison Wives and Orange Is the New Black. Life in prison is a mystery to many, and it’s human nature to want to peer into this unknown world, reflect on the darker sides of our personalities, and wonder how we would cope with the deprivation of prison life.  

Prison isn’t a sideshow. There are real people trying to keep their relationships alive across the boundaries of prison walls. And though women are often judged and belittled when they stand beside their men in prison, the partnerships that survive can benefit enormously from the hard work and sheer determination that goes into sustaining them.

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Here are 6 relationship traits prison wives have that you probably don't:

1. Patience

A woman with a partner in prison knows a thing or two about patience. She must wait patiently throughout the duration of her partner’s sentence and deal with a new set of challenges upon his release.

Restarting a relationship and coping with the inevitable adjustments often requires even more patience than waiting for a prison term to end. But learning to face hardship with determination will pay off tenfold when the time comes to enjoy that hard-earned relationship.

2. Loyalty

A prison wife or girlfriend’s loyalty is constantly put to the test. Finding a way to be patient with her partner isn’t the only challenge she encounters; she must also withstand judgment from friends and family.

Loyalty is a powerful facet of any relationship. When the worst times are in the past, you can stand back and admire how strong your relationship is because of the loyalty you’ve offered.

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3. Forgiveness

It’s tempting to hold a grudge when you’re hurting, but it’ll only make you miserable. Bottling up that negativity can actually inflict more pain than the initial hurt did. When you choose to forgive, the sense of relief is enormous.

Starting a relationship anew after prison is challenging to both partners’ self-esteem, but if they have the will to stay together, forgiveness can be a wonderful healer.

4. Hope 

Real-life prison wives have the rare ability to find hope when they feel hopeless. Whether it’s by writing letters every day, insisting on phone calls, or reminding their partners of the love that still exists, the hope these women display is energizing and provides the optimism a relationship needs to triumph over separation.

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5. Motivation

It’s important to help your partner stay hopeful, too. When a man is released from prison, he often struggles with self-confidence and has little to offer another person. But a prison wife learns to love and help her partner even in his lowest moments, aiding in job searches, boosting his self-esteem, and exhibiting a “we’re in this together” attitude. 

6. Tenacity

Putting hard work into your relationship pays off and can leave you with a stronger, healthier partnership — even after mistakes have been made. Women with partners in prison show extreme tenacity by pushing past the negative stigma, managing their lives alone while actively supporting their partners, and adapting to make a relationship work.

There’s one final lesson we can learn from these real-life prison wives, and one of the relationships I’ve seen prosper during and after prison illustrates it best. Julissa Griffith was engaged to her boyfriend, Jamel Greene when he was imprisoned. Rather than break off the relationship, she responded to this difficult time by motivating and supporting herself and her fiancé.

“While he was gone, I continued to grow and flourish in my life and career,” Julissa says. “I did that so he could see that it could be done.”

Following your own ambitions can do wonders for your partnership. It’s the crucial last ingredient in the winning combination of forgiveness, hard work, and hope that’ll protect your relationship during any trying time.

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Catherine Hoke is an entrepreneur, author, and speaker.