The news sat heavy in my stomach: the weight of sadness, wishing the situation could be different.
I’d just heard that a friend’s marriage was not going to survive.
It was a cross-cultural marriage; both are Christians from Christian families. But his culture and background did not teach him how to manage his anger or how to deal with conflict. In fact, his culture allows husbands to use physical force and emotional manipulation against their wives. After months of trying to make the marriage work, she decided she needed to get to safety.
The mission field is hard on marriages.
The stress of learning to live in a new culture and new location wears us down. The pressure to meet requirements or expectations from sending orgs burdens us. We have less emotional reserve for those closest to us. Our marriages get strained.
At the same time, ministry can be hard on marriages.
There is an enemy of our souls who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. Since marriage illustrates God’s relationship to his people, your marriage is a delicious item to destroy. Lies pour in and try to destroy from within.
And yet, godly marriage is a powerful message to a hurting world.
When we display marriages where husbands love their wives, where wives respect their husbands, where there’s faithfulness and caring, this stands out in every culture.
“Your Marriage is Different”
A cleaning lady once told me, “Your marriage is different from the marriages here.”
I was a bit baffled as to why she said that since my husband was rarely home when she came. But I realized that even the few short interactions she saw between us, and the way I talked about my husband, demonstrated a marriage that was radically different from what she knew.
Since marriage is a powerful witness of the kind of relationship God wants with us–and since marriage is attacked and broken in every culture–it’s important to protect and care for our marriages. Most of us will nod our heads at that statement, agreeing to the importance of this idea.
How many of us will take strong measures to do it?
There are many books and resources available for strengthening your marriage. I don’t need to put in all the how-tos in this post.
Instead, let’s focus on a few ways to protect your marriage as you go overseas, what to ask for from your sending church or organization, and what to do on the field.
5 Ways to Protect Your Marriage Overseas
I would highly recommend meeting with a marriage counselor before going overseas. (Don’t miss Why to Consider Counseling Before You Head Overseas).
Even if the only issues are little communication struggles, these can become bigger when you are both under stress. Seek to understand each other and develop a plan for how to protect your marriage by working through conflict and stay on the same team.
Who’s allowed to speak into your marriage?
Many people may try, but who do you allow to influence you?
We all need encouragement and accountability, someone who will confront us when our perspective is off and can challenge us to make godly choices.
Give people you trust the permission to
- ask you the difficult questions.
- challenge you to do the selfless, loving actions.
- encourage you to choose your spouse and God over other ambitions.
Protect your marriage by committing to being honest with these people you trust and invite them into the details of your life.
Build community around yourselves as you build a new life in your host country.
Depending on your host culture, you might need expat relationships to find friends who have similar perspectives on marriage. Encourage and strengthen each other as you face the challenges of ministry and work outside of your passport culture.
Don’t Be Neglected.
Ask your sending church or organization to have someone check in with you regularly. Ideally, this would be a member-care provider in a role of caring for people overseas.
If this is not available from your sending group, pursue someone who could fill in this role. Perhaps there is a member care provider in your host country who could meet with you. Or consider reaching out to Barnabas International for this need.
Whatever course you choose, don’t let your marriage maintenance needs go unmet. Protect your marriage by making sure you have someone whose role in your life is to check in on the health of your marriage.
Take a Break.
Take a break from responsibilities, not your marriage!
Schedule regular times together–date nights, getaways, family vacations. Schedule regular times of getting out of where you serve. If you live in a city, schedule time out of the city; if you live in a village, get into the big city. Don’t keep pushing yourselves until you break down. Take time for fun!
See your marriage as something to be cared for.
A strong marriage will give you strength to walk the road ahead of you. A neglected marriage takes a lot of work to repair, and the collateral damage can be significant.
Your marriage matters. It matters to God, it matters to the kingdom, and it matters to the lives around you.
Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here–and her post on what she wishes she would have known before she went overseas.
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