The Red Flags of Warning

By Anne Gagliano

Mike and I after his keynote at FDIC 2008.

I’m very proud of my husband Mike’s career. Through the 26 years of our marriage, I’ve watched him serve our country in the military; protect our citizens from criminals as a prison guard; and, for the past 21 years, I’ve watched him save lives as a Seattle firefighter and EMT.  He studied countless hours to make lieutenant, finishing #1 on Seattle Fire’s promotional list.  A few years later, he hit the books again to try for captain, and to his utter astonishment (but not to mine), he finished #1 again. 

I then proudly watched his teaching career take off with Air Management.  A book soon followed.  He has keynoted at many events, the most notable being FDIC 2008.  I’ll never forget walking into the opening ceremony there and seeing the enormity of the crowd, approximately 3,000!  Large screens and TV monitors flanked the giant stage.  Both the mayor of Indianapolis and the governor of Indiana spoke.  Bobby Halton, editor in chief of Fire Engineering, spoke.  An award was presented to one of the still-living survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which is the ship that was torpedoed after delivering parts used in the atom bomb used on Hiroshima.  Most of the men that went into the water that day were eaten by sharks.  This survivor lived in Indianapolis and was a retired firefighter there!  Amazing stuff!  My heart raced with anxiety as I knew Mike had to follow this incredible panel of speakers and honored guests as a virtually unknown guy from Stanwood.  But he nailed his keynote address and blew that room away.  I nearly burst with pride.

Since that keynote address, his teaching career has expanded and grown.  He receives invitations almost daily now.  Over the years, he’s earned more honors and awards than I could ever hope to list in this short column.  I’ve even had people come up to me at various awards banquets and tell me that they believe Mike has made more positive impact on the Seattle Fire Department than anyone they know.  Wow, how incredible is that for a wife to hear?

During his 20-plus years as a firefighter, I’ve watched him toil, suffer, and strain, sacrificing his once-strong young body to save lives and put bread on our table.  He’s injured his shoulders and neck more times than I can count, and he once even tore his Achilles tendon coming off a fire truck, one of the most painful injuries known to man.  But still he has soldiered on, day after day, year after year, building an incredible, impressive resume of achievement and success.  For all of this and more, I admire him as much as any wife ever could; but nothing he’s ever done has made me more proud than the moments when other firefighters have come up to me to introduce themselves, clearly excited to meet the woman their comrade has so earnestly raved about, the love of his life, his bride, his wife, me.  They are clearly impressed with our happy marriage, which is rare in this profession, and it is written all over their faces.

This, in my opinion, is Mike’s greatest achievement of all, and one for which I will presume to take some of the credit.  How have we done it, balanced an astonishing work load with a successful and happy home life?  Through struggle, failure, and success, we’ve learned to recognize the red flags of warning that Mike’s workload has gotten out of hand and is beginning to affect our relationship.  Look for these signs in your life; if you see them, it may mean you’re working too much.

  • Red Flag #1:  You’re starting to lose touch as a couple.  As a result of spending too much time apart, your conversation grows shallow and perfunctory.  Meaningful connection begins to wane.
  • Red Flag #2:  You’re beginning to develop a hair-trigger temper as a result of stress and fatigue.  There are zero reserves in your patience account, and you find yourself lashing out irrationally at those you love the most.  As a result, your spouse may begin to withdraw and avoid contact with you.
  • Red Flag #3:  You find you’re not enjoying anything anymore, not even time off, because your mind is constantly distracted with thoughts of the next task at hand.  Relaxation becomes virtually impossible.  When you’re home, you’re not really there; your family will pick up on this and grow to resent it.

If any or all of these flags are presenting themselves in your life, it’s time to recognize them for what they are—warnings of impending disaster.  No achievement or any amount of money is worth the price of your marriage and family.  Something’s got to give; you’re only human, and you can only do so much.  Marriage and family require your efforts as well—where are you choosing to spend most of yours?

Balance; it begins with boundaries (as I mentioned in my last column) and is completed with limits.  Cut back, take on one less project, and say “no” more often.  If you can’t get out of a current commitment, then manage your free time better by concentrating focused time on your spouse first and your children second.  Go out on a date; spend time really talking, just the two of you.  You may have to eliminate private time spent on hobbies, just to see you through the most intense fazes of a project.  If you travel to teach as Mike does, try to bring your spouse with you as much as possible.  Get a Skymiles credit card so you can earn occasional free flights for your spouse.  Mike and I have established a four day rule: If the gig is four days or more, I go with him.  We will never spend more than three days apart.  And lastly, try to sleep more so the patience reserves can be refilled.

At the end of the day, you can’t live with work.  You can’t play with it, laugh with it, nor make love to it.  Live to love, don’t live to work.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 26 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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