Firefighter Marriage: The “Bugsy Factor”

By Anne Gagliano

There is no simple answer as to why some marriages last and others don’t. Why do some people stay madly, passionately in love for 10, 20—even 50 years?  Why do some relationships soar to heights of pure ecstasy for life, while others limp along painfully until someone puts them out of their misery?  Numerous and extensive scientific studies have been done on this topic, looking for the profound, the brilliant, the genius. But unfortunately, the mysteries of the human heart cannot be understood by even the finest, most educated minds. So I’ll take a stab at it from the layman’s point of view and phrase it in simple but realistic firefighter-speak. If you want your marriage to not only last but thrive for at least 30 years in a profession that is typically tough on relationships, add to it the ‘Bugsy Factor.’

You may be asking, what in the world is the ‘Bugsy factor’?  Bugsy is an odd little pug dog…and our family’s most beloved pet. I fell in love with this breed of dog decades ago when I first saw one in the children’s movie, “Milo and Otis.”  Pugs were out of reach for us, both monetarily and logistically—as they are expensive and were not to be found in our area. But my husband Mike did find one for me, and he was all that I’d dreamed. His name was ‘Bogie.’ I loved Bogie passionately for two years, then he broke my heart. Bogie died suddenly from an undetected heart defect during a routine visit to the vet. I swore I’d never love a dog that way again, and I refused to even try. I had gambled my affections on a rare and expensive dog, and lost. Two years later, my husband did it again. He surprised me with yet another pug puppy on Christmas Eve. He knew that I had a ‘pug-shaped hole in my heart’ that only another pug could fill. The new puppy’s name: Bugsy. And fill my heart he has, for more than 12 years now. Mike wisely invested in our marriage by employing the ‘Bugsy Factor’ which is defined by and includes the following points:

It’s O.K. to do things that are not totally logical. Logically speaking, a pug is not a good idea. They are a sickly breed (as Bogie had clearly demonstrated) and they serve no real purpose. Dubbed a ‘designer breed’ because of the massive in-breeding required to create them, they are hard to train in the simplest of ways, unlike their many relatives capable of tremendous service (i.e. labs, shepherds, hounds.)  Even a ‘mutt’ has some advantage over the pug, as they tend to be extremely healthy. Pugs are stubborn, difficult, and not overly bright. But my pug Bugsy has brought me joy, love and companionship that defies all logic and the gift of him has enhanced my life in ways I cannot describe. The heart wants what the heart wants, who can explain why?

Some people love Harley Davidson’s (expensive and dangerous); some enjoy rock climbing, while others seek the thrill of sky diving. Many collect ridiculous tchotchkes that take up space and gather dust and mean nothing to others. But desire isn’t ‘logical’ and ‘magical’ is just that—magic. Simply apply ‘the Bugsy Factor’ and arrange the surprise anyway, all reason aside.

Delight your mate, even if it brings other consequences. Every good thing comes at a price—the greater the value, the greater the cost. The price you pay may be money, time, inconvenience or the biggest risk of all—future loss. Mike risked all of this for himself and for me when he brought the second pug home. No pain, no gain.

The best gifts are those of sacrifice. You ‘give up’ to ‘go up.’  The risk has been well worth the reward, as Bugsy has added a depth to our lives that only a dog-lover can understand. Along with the expense and inconvenience of him, Bugsy has brought joy, comic relief, and steady companionship. He sleeps faithfully by my side every night which has kept me from the night terrors I used to have from sleeping alone as a firefighter’s wife. His snore, while slightly irritating, somehow soothes me and reminds me that I’m not alone. The extra work-load and commitment he requires is a small price to pay for such comfort. Remember this when considering a gift for your spouse that may be burdensome to you; apply ‘the Bugsy Factor’ and arrange the surprise anyway.

Find joy in the messiness of life. Let’s face it; messiness is irritating because it represents a lack of control. But the more we try to control life, the more frantic we become. Enter a puppy. The epitome of mess. The harbinger of damage. The bringer of dents, fleas, hair and bodily fluids. The creator of noises like barking, licking, and scratching. Perpetual disorder.

But there is somehow joy in chaos. The unexpected alleviates boredom. The unpredictable keeps life exciting. Disorder is the reality; control is the illusion. When considering how to please your mate, apply ‘the Bugsy Factor;’ think outside the box and you’ll find freedom in letting go.

Love the things your mate loves. I don’t know when or how it happened, but Mike grew to love pugs just as much as I do. I’ve never even really questioned this, nor has he. Somehow, when you are truly one flesh—even your ‘tastes’ become similar. If Mike resented Bugsy, I would not enjoy him as much as I do. For the gift to truly be a gift, you must love it too.

We easily do this for our children, take genuine delight in their joy; but it often eludes the adults. My oldest son loves weapons; I still to this day find myself looking at them while shopping. My youngest son loves bugs; I have found myself holding and coddling that which I once found repulsive!  This is what love does; it takes on the desires of others—simply for their sake. We delight in their delight!

Marriage will be next-level and stand the test of time if each of you makes it your life’s mission to seek out ways to please one another. Know the deepest desires of their heart—then find them!  Make room, put up with the mess, and care for that item like a treasure—because it is, no matter how illogical it may seem. The treasure is found in the smile and in the eyes of the one you love. When looking to love your mate for a lifetime, surprise and delight by applying ‘the Bugsy Factor,’ over and over again.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 29 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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