Photo by John Odegard.
By Anne Gagliano
I love this picture from a recent Seattle fire. You may not be able to see it, so look closely. Inside the window, a firefighter is taking on the dragon. You can just make out her silhouette in the smoky flames. She’s in it, head on, and for the moment seemingly alone. It appears as if her nearest aid waits safely outside the window. But this is not so. In the shadows stands her partner. He’s not seen, but he’s right there with her, ready and willing to take the lead the moment he needs to. If she begins to grow weary, if she begins to lose ground, if she signals him to do so. He’s beside her. He’s helping her. He’s cheering her on, sharing the battle, the struggle, the glory. It is a beautiful picture of teamwork in action and a poignant, powerful image of marriage that firefighter couples can appreciate: two people taking turns being strong.
What does it take to have a successful, happy, thriving marriage? Seven out of 10 marriages either fail or limp along in miserable dysfunction. Only three in 10 stay happy. A strong marriage rarely has two strong people at the same time; this is a myth. You can’t both always be perfect. It’s impossible. When struggles come, and they will come, keep these important concepts in mind: Number one, divorce is not an option. You must keep trying to work it out even when it gets tough. Without a strong belief in marriage, you won’t be willing to give it your all when you don’t “feel” like it. And two, remember that you’re a team; take turns being strong for each other along the way. At one point or another, one of you is going to grow weary–weary of work, of death, of failure, of disappointment. Weary of lost dreams, of financial woes, of fading youth. Weary, even, of parenting, as children are all consuming. They bring great joy and great pain. “When they’re little, your children step on your toes … when they’re grown … they step on your heart.”–Author unknown. Pain will hit you at different times; one of you will be “in it,” fighting the dragon of despair, wanting to give in. But in a beautiful marriage of true teamwork, the other will be watching and waiting to give aid as needed. Two people taking turns being strong.
When she grows weary, be strong for her; give her physical affection. She needs hugs, kisses, gentle caresses. Hold her when she cries and wipe away her tears. Your efforts to be affectionate don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When he grows weary, be strong for him; be passionate, attentive, willing to take him away from his sorrows with your touch. Remind him that he is an attractive, virile man. Your efforts to be sexy don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When she grows weary, be strong for her; give her your undivided attention–no distractions, no cell phones, no television. Show her that you cherish your time together. Show her that she still comes first and always will. Your efforts to focus on her don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When he grows weary, be strong for him; don’t nag. You’re not his mom or his boss but his helpmate in times of trouble. You’re on the same team, you want the same things. Let the little irritations slide (i.e., the wet towel on the floor) and focus on the big picture. Your efforts to hold your tongue don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When she grows weary, be strong for her; don’t be pessimistic. Men are typically emotionally tougher than women, and it’s easier for them to hide their fears and feelings. Women are four times more likely to experience anxiety. The irony here is that men tend to expect the worst and express it by being negative. But when she’s battling the dragon, she needs you to be hopeful, to remind her that there are good things and good people in the world. Your efforts to be optimistic don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When he grows weary, be strong for him; provide domestic support. Make home an inviting, pleasant place to be. Show him that you can handle projects and tasks by yourself; take something off his plate or make his favorite meals. Work is challenging enough; home should be a place to rest. Your efforts to keep a nice home don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When she grows weary, be strong for her; give her lots of compliments. Praise her work, her strengths, her beauty. Tell her you never tire of looking at her, that you’re just as smitten with her today as you were when you first saw her. That she’s still beautiful and desirable no matter that the changes to her body after childbirth and time have taken their toll. You can never give her too much praise. Your efforts to be complimentary don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When he grows weary, be strong for him; make him laugh. He likes to play, to have fun, to cut loose. But he wants to do it with you; you’re his best friend. Be cool, be funny, surprise him. Do something outdoors—nature is proven to soothe above all other venues. Watch the shows he wants to watch once in a while, even if you think they’re silly. Your efforts to play with him don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When she grows weary, be strong for her; help out around the house. Show her that you are a willing partner in making it a nice place to be. Encourage her desires to spruce things up or to remodel, and fix things without having to be asked more than once. Be active with the kids—show her that parenting is your job too. Be an active participant in home life. Your efforts to help around the house don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
When he grows weary, be strong for him; be delighted by his success. He needs to feel respected. Tell him daily how proud you are of all that he’s accomplished. Praise his work, be supportive, encouraging. Don’t just say it, show it. Be excited for him when he’s promoted—be there at his side when he receives awards. Be his biggest fan, his own personal cheerleader. Your efforts to applaud his achievements don’t need to be perfect, just sincere.
A strong marriage is comprised of two people taking turns being strong. One will be weak; that’s OK. The other will be strong; that’s the good part. Sometimes you’ll both be strong at the same time, and great soaring heights may be reached. Fly through the mountaintops together; and when you’re both feeling weak, walk through the valleys holding each other tight. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
As one fights the dragon the other intently watches, ready to step in. Keep an eye on each other; let nothing distract you from your partner, and you’ll always be there when needed most. Remember what you’re fighting and working for—a happy marriage. Lose sight of that, and the dragon wins.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.