Fire Life

Encouragement: An Essential Part of the Firefighter Marriage

By Anne Gagliano

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”Ecclesiastes 4:12

We are not meant to be alone; to be alone is to be more easily overpowered by trials and tribulations and foes intent on our destruction. Two are not so easily overpowered. Why is this so?  Because with two, someone has your back. With two, one can rest while the other works. With two, there is support and teamwork and strength and, most importantly, encouragement.

A beautiful example of what two or more can accomplish together is displayed in the flying V formation of migratory birds. This I detailed in my last column. The flying V is a visual symbol of what unselfish teamwork and heroic encouragement can achieve. To encourage is to give courage, to cheer on, to inspire, praise, console, reassure, strengthen, and revitalize. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your spouse. For any marriage to be next-level, to “go the distance,” to survive the onslaught of the enemies of relationships, encouragement from one another is essential. This is particularly so for the firefighter marriage. Firefighters need courage to face the ultra-intensity of danger and trauma, and the firefighter spouse needs strength to try to meet the needs of her depleted, weary warrior. It is a draining profession for both. One may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

No one encourages like a spouse. Words, actions, belief, and touch: These have the power to diffuse stress and literally give energy. Encouragement should be a regular, practiced part of the firefighter marriage. And by practiced, I mean put into action and carried out on a regular, daily basis. What does your spouse need?  What can you do to encourage your spouse?  In his book The 5 Languages of Love, Gary Chapman asserts that there are five ways to express love and support to your spouse:

1. Words of affirmation.

2. Acts of service.

3. Receiving gifts.

4. Quality time.

5. Physical touch.

Husbands, encourage your wives. Make a plan, make it a daily practice. Find out what her language of love is and ask yourself, “How can I encourage my wife today?”  This can be accomplished in as little as ten minutes a day with words of affirmation—a text, a phone call, a loving note left for her in the morning. It can be done with compliments, praise, and gratitude. Tell her what she does well. Tell her of your pride in her and how grateful you are to be her husband, and let this be known to others as well. And thank her for all her sacrifices for the family and unselfish acts of support for you. Tell her that she gives you courage, that with her you are stronger. Tell her that you need her.

With acts of service: Do something nice for her. Surprise her with a date. Clean the house or fix the car. And with receiving gifts: Surprise her with gifts–flowers, jewelry, or even more. My husband recently arranged for me to swim with dolphins, something I’d always dreamed of doing. It was one of the most magical days of my life, and he made it happen.

With quality time—make your wife feel first. Let her know that she is first in your heart even above the major draw of the firehouse. Put down the cell phone and focus just on her, at least once a day. Say yes to her needs more often than you do to the needs of others.

And physical touch—hold her and touch her in the ways she needs. Women tend to want nonsexual affection as much as, if not more so, than sexual touch; make sure you give her what she needs.

Wives, encourage your husbands. Ladies, you have more power than you know. The typical romantic relationship between a man and a woman is displayed in “The knight and maiden effect.” Knights like to go into battle and strike down dragons—sounds like a firefighter, doesn’t it?  But for the knight, the only thing better than dragon-slaying is coming home to a maiden, taking a chivalrous bow, and hearing her words of affirmation. No matter how strong the warrior is, nothing brings him to his knees quicker than his girl; he’ll do anything for her. Her adoration and praise will make him; her harping and criticism will break him. Use your words wisely and your knight will be your champion.

“A man needs his wife to be his most enthusiastic fan; he draws confidence from her support and can usually achieve far more with her encouragement.”—Dr. Willard F. Harley

With acts of service: Take something off your weary firefighter’s plate; slaying dragons is exhausting work. Do a task that would normally fall into his realm, like the car or the yard. And with receiving gifts, find out what he delights in and support his pursuits. My husband Mike wants to learn to play the guitar, though it seems a bit late in life to start. Instead of objecting, I bought him a “Flying V”’ Gibson guitar, which is, ironically, a fitting symbol to this topic of encouragement. Dream big, Babe; I’m already your biggest fan and always will be.

With quality time, know how your husband likes to spend his free days. Men typically want to “play.” Find fun things to do with him; this will make him feel like your top priority.

And physical touch: Nothing soothes a weary warrior more than a loving caress. Making love is both healing and inspiring.

Just as migrating geese communicate in soulful honks as they fly in V formation, encourage one another in whichever love language is specific to your marriage, to your spouse. Communication binds two souls together. And together you can go further, together you are stronger, together you can withstand the challenges of life, even the life of a firefighter marriage. One may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.