Fire Life

Ships That Pass in the Night

By Anne Gagliano

I know them.  Maybe you do, too.  Perhaps they may even be you.  They are couples who are “together” in name only, as they don’t ever actually do anything together at all.  They go in separate directions, living completely separate lives.  Their days are filled with work; their evenings and free time are spent with friends.  As the kids get passed off, they merely glimpse each other for mere moments, having very little to say to one another.  These couples have, unfortunately, become as ships that pass in the night.  What happened to these one-time love birds that couldn’t bear to be apart, that longed to do everything together?  As time goes by, there are many factors that can cause couples to lose interest in each other and drift apart; in this column, I will attempt to identify a few of them and to offer suggestions on how to remedy them.

All men love to play, especially firemen.  In their profession, they are surrounded by mostly other men who are just like they are and who share very similar interests.  Research shows that firefighting is a predominantly male profession with an approximate male-to-female ratio of 97 percent.  In this atmosphere of brotherhood and fraternity, where men put their lives in each other’s hands, deep bonds of friendship form very easily.  My husband Mike’s crew is especially close, as most of them have been at his station for many years.  They’ve established traditions such as yearly summer family camping trips, Christmas parties, and fun outings for just the guys.  As the new captain, Mike has added to the fun by coming up with new activities such as bumper car skee ball and curling.  Many firefighters love sports and play on various teams together as well.  They also tend to like to hunt and fish.  Firefighters work hard and they like to play hard.  This is all well and good until it starts to come between firefighters and their spouses.

Women like to play, too, but our interests are usually different.  While dating, a woman may show interest in a man’s hobbies, such as hunting or football; this delights a man and he thinks how lucky he is to have found a girl who enjoys the same things he does.  But jump ahead a few years into the marriage, and the truth may come out: She never really liked hunting or football; she just liked him and wanted to be with him.  (For some reason, women are more likely to “fake” interest than men are—I do not know why.)  Now that they’re married, a wife may then decide she’d prefer to do other things such as go shopping, eat out at fancy restaurants, or go to the theater.  (Of course the opposite can be true; many female firefighters are very athletic and may be married to someone who isn’t.)  The point is this: If neither partner will attempt to find common ground, refusing to give up their treasured hobbies, before they know it, this couple will be spending their most enjoyable moments with someone else.  They may even begin to take separate vacations.

Perhaps “playtime” is not the issue driving a couple apart—maybe neither has any time to play at all.  Another factor that can cause ships to drift apart is an obsessive, single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar.  Mike and I know firefighters who work two or three extra jobs off shift.  Or there are those who continually sign up for overtime and take every shift they can get, even going so far as to walk out on family holiday celebrations if they get called.  Nothing is sacred.  Spouses, too, may work long hours as well to earn that large paycheck to buy that next bigger and better “thing.” They do, after all, have to keep up with the “Joneses” and have as nice a car, house, boat, or motorcycle.  It is an easy trap to fall into, working and working for more and more money, as the cost of living goes up and it gets increasingly harder to have anything extra.  But working all the time leads to exhaustion, leaving little energy at night to connect either emotionally or physically with your spouse.  The distance between such couples can grow very quickly.

Add to this concoction of fatigue, busyness, and differing hobbies the needs of children, and you may have an ocean between you before you even realize it.  Children are beloved and precious; they need you.  Whatever energy is left at the end of the day often goes to them—sometimes it just simply can’t be helped.   The last little bit of love and patience you have left in you is poured out onto them, leaving the bucket empty and the well dry.  With nothing left, couples drop exhausted and drained into bed, roll over, and turn out the lights.  Forget about intimacy.  The next day they get up and do it again, Amen.  (Thank you, Jackson Brown.)

If this is you, halt your engines and turn your ship around immediately, because your marriage is headed for an iceberg named Divorce.  We human beings are programmed for fun—we must have enjoyable companionship and recreation if we are to function and be happy.  Both sexes crave pleasurable activity, and if we can’t find it with our spouse, we’ll find it with someone else.  That someone else may be a friend, but sometimes it can end up being a lover.  So drawn are we to “fun” that it renders us vulnerable to an affair, just to have someone to laugh with again if there’s no laughter at home.

The good news is we adults don’t need a whole lot of time to “play,” just some, a little bit each day, with bigger chunks on days off and during vacations.  We can wait and allot our playtime with amazing discipline, unlike children.  We don’t have to have our own way all the time; we can play well with others if we choose to.  We are, after all, innately social creatures—we all need a buddy.  What joy, what immeasurable satisfaction, what sweet completeness there is in our lives when that buddy, that fun, enjoyable playmate, is our very own spouse! 

In my next column, “The Couple That Plays Together Stays Together,” I will share some suggestions on how to recapture the fun in your marriage and thus help keep it passionate, satisfying, and alive.

Image, “Ships that Pass in the Night,” found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Downtowngal


 Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 26 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.