Drawn by Fire: Gallows Humor

Firefighter and his significant other
Paul Combs/Drawn by Fire

Post by Mike and Anne Gagliano

Firefighters truly enjoy their work and are known for their robust sense of humor, though it sometimes seems a bit twisted. This “Gallows Humor” (acerbic wit in the face of death and human suffering), is a natural and healthy coping mechanism for handling trauma. Humor helps relieve extreme tension by filling the void of needed emotional expression in a safe and harmless way. Amongst firefighters, this dark humor becomes as “an inside joke” that works well within the confines of the team, but at home, it can make a firefighter seem cold, insensitive, even harsh.  In a marriage, if the humor is misunderstood, it can quickly be taken as inappropriate, disrespectful, and even emotionally damaging to a spouse.

Keep in Mind:

  1. All professions have a form of gallows humor.
  2. To be able to laugh in the face of death and destruction makes you feel as if you’ve conquered it, which brings courage.
  3. Laughter releases chemical endorphins into the brain that activate the same receptors as drugs like heroin, creating a painkilling and euphoria-producing effect.
  4. Comedy leads to higher pain tolerance and combats stress hormones.

Keep the Fire Burning

Share the context of your stories with your spouse, and not only will they understand your brand of humor but laugh right along with you. Over time, your spouse will feel “in” on your jokes instead of left out. But it’s also OK, fire spouse, to say when it’s too much. Intimacy is based on trust; know each other’s needs and boundaries. Spouses need to be clear about what details are too much or hurtful.

Learn more about Anne and Mike’s book, Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage.

Relationships by Fire Calendar


34 Lessons…34 Years, Part 1 | Part 2

To see more Drawn By Fire cartoons or to purchase prints, go to:


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Drawn by Fire: The Elephant in the Room

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