And as C.S. Lewis has written, Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.
All of us encounter those days where we’re thinking, if he throws his socks beside the hamper one more time, I am going to tell him exactly where he should put them. Or, Honey, I get hormones. But does PMS really last all month?
And living overseas tacks on its own version. Did we really need to stay at a six-hour church service on your only real day off? Or, We set aside tonight for a movie night because we don’t even have the energy to talk. And now the electricity’s out. Again.
What the following suggestions are: ideas for when fondness wanes while you’re support-raising or muscling through that crazy first year, and you simply want to move toward your spouse rather than away. You want to kindle the romance a bit—and the affections that do grease the wheels of everyday relationships. (You’re less likely to lash out, for example, when you’re feeling warmth toward your mate.)
What these aren’t: a cure-all for deeper issues. Glossing over deep-seated problems is the equivalent of slapping on a Band-Aid to a gushing wound. These are hopefully healthy solutions in any relationship. But pretending deep problems are shallow will likely only delay healing and possibly dash hopes when your spouse fails (again) to respond. (Don’t miss this post from A Life Overseas: Ask a Counselor: Three Dysfunctional Missionary Marriage Patterns.)
Should we consider counseling?
Remember a number of counselors are willing to meet with you over Skype or FaceTime. That means counseling is accessible as long as you have an internet connection. Counseling may also need to be a top priority before you leave, and/or on home assignment (See A Life Overseas’ Resources Page for counseling options).
For some, it’s humbling to admit you’re in ministry and need counseling (“What if our supporters found out?”). But as Paul questions, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). What if you were able to serve others from a place of health rather than appearances carefully layered on top of increasing strain? How you love one another is far more necessary than maintaining an impression of infallibility.
There are less resources for your marriage overseas in general. There’s less free time, less fun places to go out, less mental margin for graciousness with one another, less conveniences to alleviate stress, less options for couple-friends. But that doesn’t mean your marriage can’t be the best version of itself ever, or even a healthy version that weathers stormy times.
First things first.
Paul David Tripp wisely reminds us that “relationships are first fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally.” Tripp continues,
In my marriage, I have had to make this confession–my problem isn’t first that I have failed to love [my wife] Louella in the way that I should. No, my deeper problem is that I have not loved God as I should.
Jesus said that the second commandment, to love one’s neighbor (created in God’s image) as oneself, is like the first: to love God with all that we are. Our horizontal intimacy and community are outworkings of how God’s loved us. He laid down His life for us, pursuing us when enemies. And marriage is the most intimate form of community.
Ruthlessly hunt gratitude.
Maybe it’s composing a running list of what you’re thankful for in your spouse, your marriage, and the life and journey you’ve made together. Maybe it’s a series of grateful prayers throughout the day. Maybe it’s a mental interview with someone asking about what you love about him. Maybe it’s imagining your jealousy if someone else was eyeing all those attractive qualities about her. The point: Comb through your day to find the ways God’s handed you gifts small and large through your mate. (See here for 5 Ways Gratitude Can Rev Up Your Sex Life.)
Your marriage is an act of worship, and thanking God is a way of giving Him credit you’re tempted to ignore—and stirring a few embers while you’re at it.
Figure out what’s eating your grapes.
The ancient love poem, Song of Solomon, speaks of chasing out the “foxes” in the lovers’ “vineyard”. What’s eating your grapes?
- Maybe it’s a lack of rest or privacy (living in a compound, with a guard or househelp, or with people banging on your gate at all hours can jangle the nerves).
- It might be white space on your calendar, or resolution to the conflict that keeps snacking on your reserves of patience.
- It could be unrealistic expectations of what a “good global worker” or “good Christian spouse” looks like.
- Maybe trauma from overseas living is sapping your stores of feeling safe, effective, or loving toward the culture in which you live.
- Perhaps lack of mutual friendships means your marriage is carrying more than its fair share of relational freight.
Your marriage and home are some of the most valuable pieces of your life (and your kids’). My husband and I got away for a weekend together a couple of months after we landed in Uganda. It was one of the best things we could have done for one another. After the insanity of raising support, training to go, traveling, selling our stuff and the circus of moving overseas, and then adjusting to a new culture, we needed a deep breath. All of us fall into patterns of muscling through our emotions every day to just make it. But we also need to take time to “feel and deal”; to reflect and listen to God and one another.
If you’re further into your time overseas, should you consider stepping away for a sabbatical?
Isolation is a slippery slope! Zero tolerance: Kill the foxes.
Set guardrails on your thoughts–and Keep “short accounts”.
As you think about your marriage and the partner God’s given you as a gift—not an enemy—use verses like 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Philippians 4:8 as the standards for your mind, taking “every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ.” I’m convicted by 1 Peter ‘s command to pursue “unity of mind.” Am I moving toward being more married, more one flesh, even in my thoughts? Practically speaking, start thinking romance and sex (exhausted moms, get tips here for Sex after Kids: 11 Not-So-Quickie Ideas).
As stuff gets between you, don’t wait until it’s lumbering around your house, un-ignorable. Talk graciously with your spouse about what you need, and forgive easily and genuinely. Race each other to the cross. Show the Gospel in your marriage, over and over.
Go against the grain.
Create the romance you long to see, even though your feelings aren’t in it just yet. Create a creative, romantic evening. Write a love note. Take a shower together. Get it on. Social psychology tells us that when we perform actions, like smiling, our mood actually draws closer to our actions. So even if you don’t feel it, lay a hand on her shoulder. Give him a massage. Reality is, our marriages are an offering to God. Sometimes that “widow’s mite” we don’t even feel we have the resources to give is one of the most precious gestures in His sight. Start with some practical ideas, like these: 50 Things to Say to Make Your Husband Feel Great, 50 Ways to Inspire Your Husband, and 50 Ways to Inspire Your Wife.
A version of this post originally appeared on AGenerousGrace.com, and is reprinted with permission.