By Anne Gagliano
There are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Average people are sheep; wolves are the predators that attack and feed off the sheep; and sheepdogs are those that stand in the gap between the sheep and the wolves, rescuing them again and again from destruction. Firefighters are sheepdogs, the rarest and noblest of people. They rush in and sacrifice themselves before deadly predators on behalf of the vulnerable, the unfortunate, the unprepared. They are highly trained, fearless, and loyal, and their skills are a match for any wolf. They run with the “big dogs” of life and emerge victorious, again and again. But the trouble is, the wolf, once challenged, takes a special interest in the sheepdog; he knows that to better get at the sheep, he must take out their protectors. Since he can’t typically do this directly, the cunning wolf seeks to do so indirectly, and this he does by any means possible. The most effective way to get at the sheepdog is not at work when he is running with his mates but to follow him home and seek to destroy the source of his strength: his family.
The Wolf is always at the door, and he works double time on the firefighter’s home. We families needn’t live in fear, but we must be ever vigilant. There are many forms the Wolf can take, and all we need do is recognize them and deny them access. The following are but a few, but they tend to be the ones we most often inadvertently let in:
Money. Money is a good thing, right? How can it be a wolf? Money isn’t a wolf, but the love of money is. The sheepdog, which is the most valuable asset to society, isn’t always rewarded as such monetarily. Firefighter families must appreciate the firefighter for who he is and what he does, regardless of his salary. Money can be tight in the firefighter home, and money issues are the number one reason for divorce in any marriage, nationwide.
Financial woes cause anxiety, depression, discontent, and tension between couples. It’s getting harder and harder to make it on just one income anymore, forcing both partners to work even if one wants to stay home with the kids. But take it from an old sheepdog couple whose been there, done that: You can live happily on a firefighter’s income if you’ll do some of the following: live within your means, avoid debt, and be open and honest with each other. No secret spending! Good financial planning requires lots of communication, and communication builds trust. With trust comes an attitude of gratitude, and with gratitude comes generosity. Love your spouse more than money, and you will deny the Wolf entry in this fashion. And adopt my firefighter’s attitude about possessions (which comes from either his profession or the Bible or maybe both): “It’s all gonna burn anyway.”
Sex. Another good thing, a really good thing, in fact. Sex can be a healing source of love and support within marriage, but it becomes a wolf when sought outside of it. Most marriages do not survive this type of betrayal.
Firefighters are extremely attractive and desirable to the opposite sex. People are drawn to them because of their strength, their courage, and their vitality. Add to this the firefighter’s sex drive, which is stronger than average (part of the stress response and near-death experiences), and you have potential for disaster in the firefighter marriage.
Pornography is but another form of infidelity that can occur without even leaving the house. It is an emotional betrayal that can tear a marriage apart. It is prevalent as never before—inexpensive, accessible, even free. The moral decay of society has even lessened the stigma, rendering it almost irresistible. But do not be deceived; pornography is a wolf at your door, one that you allow entry with but a stroke of your computer key. The only way to avoid infidelities is to literally run from them; there is no middle ground. Sexual temptation is a beast that will always devour you if you dare to entertain it even for a minute.
Alcohol and Painkillers. What’s the harm in a little drink or a pill to ease some of the tension after a long shift? None, if it is only occasional and controlled. But for the firefighter, the protector, it is hard to control. Fighting the Wolf to save others takes its toll on the sheepdog. They get bitten, they get tired, and they get extremely sore. It’s hard to relax with all the adrenaline and even harder to sleep. In this way the Wolf follows them home—to hinder their rest. And he seeks entrance through addiction. For the aging sheepdog who has endured many battles, the desire for escape can grow ever stronger.
Substance abuse changes behaviors and altars personalities; it is a major destructive force for any marriage. Spouses can literally feel like they’re living with a stranger. If you have a problem, avoid that substance like the plague that it is. Do not keep it in your home, and stay away from social settings where it is prevalent. Seek better sources of stress and pain relief like exercise, stretching, and massage. And, if need be, get help. Many resources are available to you. Don’t let the Wolf tear you apart with your own weaknesses.
Anger. Anger is a necessary evil of the sheepdog’s life–anger at the pain caused by the Wolf. Anger gives the sheepdog the will and the strength to fight. And fighting requires a toughness, a harshness, a type of brutality that is required to win. The sheepdog must become as fierce as the Wolf if he is to survive. But anger, too, can be turned from constructive to destructive when it is allowed in the door of the firefighter’s home.
The sheepdog must somehow reside in two worlds: one of ferocity when fighting the Wolf and one of gentility when living with the sheep. The only way for the firefighter marriage to live with this duality is to talk about it—constantly. Spouses, tell your firefighters when they’re being too harsh, bringing their work persona into your relationship. Firefighters, tell your spouse when you’re troubled; don’t repress it and expect it not to surface. And actively counter anger by bringing many sources of joy into your home. Life is good, and the sheepdogs help make it so!
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.