Self-defense encounters, either at home or on the streets, often begin and end in a matter of seconds. The recent church shooting in Texas had a start-to-finish duration of just six seconds. Six seconds. Think about that. If you are the sole individual involved, that leaves little time to make decisions in your own mind and implement an action plan. Now imagine that two or more of you are involved and that a successful outcome depends on knowing what the other(s) will do in various types of situations.

No, you can’t plan for every possible scenario in advance. But working with your significant other, you can establish some guiding principles. For example, if you have children, you can decide in advance who will be primarily responsible for addressing the attack and who should focus on getting the kids out of harm’s way. Here’s another example: If it’s just the two of you, you can develop an operating plan of creating distance between each other, assuming that’s possible. You get the idea. Advance communication and planning is the operative strategy.

Plan for a Plan

Step one is to start a conversation. That sounds obvious, but you’d be shocked at how many people never start the discussion, especially when one spouse is proactive about home defense and self-defense while the other is not. If you’re the planner, it’s up to you to start the process. If your significant other isn’t as passionate about defensive planning as you are, it’s important to keep things simple. Talk about basic plans for home defense: “You call 911 while I see what’s going on and get us to safety” or perhaps, “If we get caught in some public attack, I will draw attention to distance myself from you so you can get away or at least not get caught in the middle of a fight.”

Your significant other may be antagonistic or in denial about the importance of creating a basic self-defense plan framework. If that’s the case, gently tell him or her it’s important for him or her to know what your priorities will be in a self-defense encounter. That’s a productive start.

Establish Roles

I use the term “guiding principles” because every situation is unique. It’s impossible to game specific responses. However, it’s perfectly feasible and beneficial to establish high-level objectives for each person. This can be as simple as determining offense and defense. If the situation allows, my spouse and I might agree that I’ll take “offense” while she focuses on escaping and calling for help. Of course, by offense I mean distracting or dealing with the aggressor. No matter what the situation and with no verbal or non-verbal communication required, my wife knows that I will do whatever possible to provide her the opportunity to get away and call for help from a safer position. She knows that, if the situation allows, her primary responsibility is to get away, not stay to assist me. That’s a guiding principle that can apply in many situations.

If children are involved, it’s important to establish, in advance, who is responsible for corralling them and getting them to safety. It’s equally important to provide some simple instructions to kids, assuming they are mature and old enough to understand. For example, you might communicate to your kids if they ever hear a disturbance downstairs or in another part of the house to lock themselves in their rooms until you come and get them. The specifics of instructions like that depend on the age of your children and the locations of their rooms and yours, so you’ll have to think about likely scenarios ahead of time.


Talk about multiple ways you might communicate with family members in an emergency. If your plan involves separation, identify a meeting-point strategy. If you’re at home, that might be a specific neighbor’s house. If you have kids, you might think about creating a code word that you give to your children and trusted adults. If you’re separated and need the kids to follow a friend’s instructions no questions asked, find a way that your kids will know it’s OK to go with your neighbor or friend. A simple code word can go a long way to avoid confusion and resistance.


Hopefully you trust your significant other, even with your life. With that said, there is a trust issue that you may not have considered. Let’s explore a brief hypothetical situation to illustrate the point:

Suppose you’re sitting in a busy restaurant with your significant other. You see something happening that requires immediate — and I mean immediate — response from your partner. If you say something like “RUN OUT THE KITCHEN DOOR RIGHT NOW!,” will he or she do it without hesitation? Will he or she pause to ask questions like “Why?,” “What’s happening?” or perhaps, “What are you talking about?” Will he or she immediately start to look around to identify the trouble? Is he or she willing to embark on a socially awkward, attention-drawing and embarrassing action without verifying the situation for himself or herself?

Can each of you blindly follow a shouted command or instruction completely and immediately, trusting the other’s appraisal of the situation and recommended action? It’s a natural human reaction to question and verify. And that behavior is reinforced a dozen times a day through normal life routines. “Honey, will you close that window?” is a request for action, and there is no negative consequence if your spouse stops to ask why or whether you’re cold.

With the luxury of time, if I told my wife to flee the premises by any means necessary because there are two guys pulling rifles out of their coats, she would do it without question, as would I if the roles were reversed. Would we both be able to act immediately on faith alone with no explanation? It’s something to talk about in advance. In a dire emergency, there may not be the time or the opportunity to discuss the details.

Planning and Training

The very best way to work together as a team is to train together. If you talk and work your way through high-level scenarios, you’ll be far better prepared than 90 percent of the population to deal with an emergency as an effective team. If you attend a quality training course together and take the lessons to heart, you’ll be better equipped than 99 percent of your peers.

No one can predict how a self-defense encounter will go down or how it will end, but one thing is sure: The more you communicate — in advance — and develop team-oriented guiding principles, the better off you’ll both be.

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun, is passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has completed dozens of training programs and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future. Tom has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters, including two for the USCCA: Armed and Ready: Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence. He has published around 1,700 articles for a dozen gun and shooting publications. Between writing projects, you can find Tom on the range.