Roommates or Teammates? Part 3

By Anne Gagliano

The roommate–a cordial co-habitant with whom you share lodgings and living expenses and the perfunctory duties of life. But my roommate has a life apart from mine. He has hopes and dreams and passions that do not include me. The teammate–we are on the same team, the home team, with lives completely intertwined. Passions and pursuits are shared. It is profoundly more meaningful and satisfying and romantic for a marriage when the relationship is approached as such. And these are the final ways (as continued from Parts 1 and 2) that teammates, not roommates, roll:

Teammates are on the same team defensively. A team will face the forces that rage against it together. Side by side, they brace for the onslaught, drawing courage from one another as they watch the enemy advance. It may be a heavy load to tow; two draft horse can pull triple the weight of just one. It may be an attack from an enemy who viciously wants to harm one of you with the good chance they may succeed, if faced alone. But your teammate has your back; one may be overcome, but two can stand. It can be a financial crisis, a work conflict, a problem with the kids, or an illness. Life throws many flaming arrows our way.

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson had a complete nervous breakdown and a cerebral hemorrhage that paralyzed his left side. No one outside the oval office knew. How is this possible?  Because his wife stepped up and protected him from the press and coordinated all his executive responsibilities while he recovered. If someone wanted to get to him while he was vulnerable, they had to go through her. She protected his image, she had his back, and she even ran the country while he was down. Amazing.

Firefighter couples, never tolerate disrespect toward your spouse. If someone speaks ill of them or rudely to them, stand up, speak up, and shut them down. Make it known that you are your spouse’s champion; you will always defend and protect, no matter what. A unified front will not be divided, despite the enemy. United we stand, united we fall; we’ll all go down together. And in the midst of the storm, we’ll cheer each other on. That is the very heart of teamwork.

Teammates are on the same team equally. There is nothing more disastrous than an unequally yoked pair. “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” (Deuteronomy 22:10). Is an ox superior to a donkey?  No; they are simply different creatures, entirely different. The ox is much stronger and will work longer and harder than the donkey. It is surefooted and less prone to injury. But it is foul tempered and does not like its space invaded. And it has a unique diet. The donkey is laid back, gentle, and much faster. Its nature is very different than that of the ox; the two are simply not compatible. They are unequal in their capabilities; hence, the work is not completed.

The same is true of horses. Though the same creature, a poorly matched team will not perform very well either. If not equal in strength, they will literally work against each other, even to the point of running in circles rather than moving straight ahead. The stronger will do all the work and break down sooner. The weaker will struggle to keep up and break down sooner. Functionally, not a good match.

But the team that is equally paired will achieve great success. Minor strengths and weaknesses are not as crippling when the load is divided fairly. A compatible team moves as one, understanding and responding as the work shifts while never leaving the other to carry it alone. So much more is accomplished when both do their share, neither overtaxing the other. With this model, not only is resentment avoided but something wonderful blossoms as well: respect and gratitude and deepest affection. “I need you to do this; you are my rock, my helpmate, my teammate.”

As I write this, I am struck by a very recent example of my own marital teamwork in action. You would think that after 34 years of being together, my husband Mike and I would have seen and done it all. But this is not the case. Our lives as husband and wife continue to evolve as our roles and duties change and expand.

We are installing new windows and sliding glass doors in our old drafty house. The foundation has shifted over the years, causing all the sliding doors to not close and lock properly. And they let in a lot of cold air. Our view windows (of the lake) are literally peeling, hence distorting our precious view. So, we saved and ordered new windows and doors–just in time for the Christmas season. In the middle of this week-long installation project, we have a firefighter marriage speaking engagement in Canada. It is just a two-hour drive to the north, not too bad, but we must stop at the border to have our books approved for sale in a foreign country. We always approach our engagements with focus and purpose and sheer hard work, as we are deeply honored to be invited. And we truly wish to serve and encourage the firefighter families we so dearly love.

The day before our Canada gig, we discover that all the new sliding glass doors are warped and scratched. Our awesome installer rushes to the store to swap them out. But despite his efforts, the second batch is the same as the first. It’s a long and stressful day, to say the least, with no resolution imminent. That evening, as we’re reviewing our presentation for the next day, the computer we just purchased crashes. Literally crashes, even goes to blue screen. We spend more precious time reverting to the old computer, disappointed and frustrated beyond words that our careful plans for an upgrade have just imploded. No wait, there’s more. More surprises to stress us out to the max and test our resolve as we try to work together on our house and our speaking engagement, simultaneously.

Teammate or roommate, who do you want beside you when the chips are down? When all the forces of resistance come against you, determined to thwart your every endeavor? I’ll tell you what kind of mate I prefer in my next column.


If you’re interested in my book, check it out here:


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.

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