By Anne Gagliano
You may think we’re a super stellar couple because we’ve written a book about marriage. Surely our wisdom and experience and longtime success render us impervious to divorce. But here’s the hard truth: There’s no such thing as an invulnerable marriage. Anyone at any time can fail—including us. If we stop doing the good stuff and start doing the bad stuff, don’t be surprised if we get divorced.
We, too, have to keep doing the good stuff. No exceptions. The bad stuff is easier; it always is. The good stuff requires effort, intention, and sheer will. This is our better nature at work. Dedication, determination, and deliberation—three Ds for every marriage. Firefighters are used to hard work; their job renders them so. If they let up, people die; it’s that simple. But be reminded that the most important work you’ll ever do is to maintain your first love, your first relationship, your first family. Keep it strong by doing the good stuff, every day, for life. Here are a few things my husband Mike and I do to keep our marriage strong and healthy:
We try hard not to get too busy. This is a major threat for the type-A firefighter. The pressing needs of the firehouse and the community, combined with an achievement-oriented nature, may sometimes work against the firefighter marriage. Mike and I know this from experience and, let me assure you, this tendency is still with us even after 33 years. It is a good thing, the desire to be excellent. But it can become bad when no time is left to simply be together as a couple. Intimacy requires time; if we don’t take enough time to keep our bond strong, don’t be surprised if we get divorced.
Always be willing to say “no,” despite the compelling draw of a new project. No amount of accolade or money is worth losing your primary relationship. Block out days on your calendar and keep them clear for vacations and such, and don’t bend; this time is sacred, so view it as such. Hold on loosely to work, hold on tight to love. A lasting, passionate love affair is the most rewarding achievement of all.
We find the fun stuff. Work is work; it usually isn’t play. Even firefighting, which is compelling and playful at times (i.e., pranks at the firehouse and banter after a fire) is still work. It can even be dark with the ongoing exposure to danger and traumatic aid runs. At times, the pressures to succeed, to please, to earn, and to save lives can start to bring the strongest of souls to their knees.
Mike and I have had to make a concerted effort to find the fun stuff. It is absolutely necessary to play, to laugh, and to have joy in our lives for combating the darkness that threatens to overwhelm. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”–Proverbs 17:22
Laughter is good medicine for everyone but especially so for those who deal with death for a living. The firefighter couple has to be especially vigilant, especially aware of the potential destructive nature of high stress. If Mike and I forget to laugh, to enjoy each other, to find the fun stuff, don’t be surprised if we get divorced.
Mike loves to go to rock concerts; it gives him a thrill like nothing else. The loud, pulsing drum beat and the joyous, raucous interactions with the crowd give him permission to let go. I feel the same about Disneyland; it is my opportunity to be a silly child again. We also love to watch funny movies, swim, kayak, boat, hike, and walk our neighborhood. Campfires at night in our fire pit or just holding hands while we watch a sunset—this is all good stuff. Find your happy place and share it together; it’s good medicine and keeps the spirit from being crushed.
We watch how we speak to each other. Words are very powerful, especially the words of a lover because personal emotion is attached to every word. So, choose words wisely. If Mike and I stop speaking to each other respectfully and start being overly critical, don’t be surprised if we get divorced.
We try to be patient and kind, encouraging and edifying, and to keep our criticisms to ourselves. No need to speak every dark thought the minute you have it; if it is an issue that truly needs to be addressed, do so in a calm manner at an appropriate time. And take the edge off; it is better to be understated than overly abrupt.
Harshness, ridicule, impatience—these are weapons of mass destruction in an intimate relationship. We often find ourselves capable of sheer cruelty and can say things to the one we love most that we would never dare say to a stranger. Treat each other better than anyone else, not worse; and remember, you’re supposed to be best friends.
We try to put each other’s needs first. Selfish and selfless are similar sounding words with vastly different meanings. If Mike and I start to become selfish instead of selfless, don’t be surprised if we get divorced.
A truly happy marriage requires thoughtfulness, attentiveness, and sacrifice. Be mindful of your spouse’s needs and wishes. Seek to fulfill those needs. And do so by committing time, resources, and energy. It’s easier to get your own way and do your own thing. “You take care of you and I’ll take care of me.” Be warned, though, as you may be “doing your own thing” alone. Selfishness is never sexy and doesn’t inspire passion. We are powerfully drawn to the one who truly sees us and desires to please. Be that irresistible force for each other and watch the sparks fly.
Marriage is always a work in progress. Keep doing the good stuff; don’t get too busy, have fun, speak kindly, and be selfless—these are fuel for keeping desire burning hot. An intimate, passionate marriage is the most rewarding and precious relationship we can have. Never take it for granted, no matter your previous successes. To let down your defenses renders you vulnerable to attack, and if so, don’t be surprised if you get divorced.
If you’re interested in my book, Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage, check it out HERE
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Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 33 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.