Marriage can really be a drain on missions.
Marriage on the field can be a constant source of distraction, discouragement, and pain.
But I hope it’s not.
I’ve written before about marriage and its purpose, but today I’d like to take a step back and speak directly to husbands: my brothers.
This advice is carefully given, and with no slight hesitation. After all, if you want people to argue with you (and I don’t particularly enjoy it), then write about marriage. Even so, I will write. Because it matters. And because I hope the men who marry my sisters will do these things. I hope the men who pursue my daughters (in the very far distant future) will do these things. I hope my sons will do these things. Because marriage is important. It’s also really complicated.
Marriage is a complex thing (2 into 1) entered into by complex people (humans) who have to do complex stuff (live).
And you all know this already, but missions is a hard gig for marriages. You’ve got sky-high stress levels, extreme temperatures, lots of broken things, financial tightness, the fishbowl of fundraising, and a rewarding but very hard job. Sounds like fun, right? Well, if you add all of that to an unhappy marriage, I can tell you the one thing you certainly won’t be having is fun.
So, onward! What are three things you can do to care for the heart of your wife? And for the record, I’m trying all these too, man, and learning as I go.
1. See Her
Your wife needs you to really see her. She’s not touched up and airbrushed and two-dimensional. She’s not a product of Photoshop. She’s real, with body and mind and soul. And she needs you to see and value all of her.
She’s the one who shares your memories, your children, your bed. She’s also the one who shares your future. You chose her. So brother, keep choosing her. She is, after all, a daughter of the King.
Read this article (and the comments) and hear the cry of women who long to be seen. [Although it was written to singles, many of the points, as well as the comments, speak to this issue directly.]
Now, here’s the deal: it’s very hard to turn towards your wife and really see her when your face is glued to the porn screen. Watch two-dimensional fakeness, body parts flying for your pleasure, and try to see your wife as anything more than disconnected pieces. It’ll be really hard, bro.
Porn kills love.
And watching porn keeps you from seeing your wife.
Porn is really expensive. Even the free stuff. Want a reminder of the cost? Check out Matthew 14 or Mark 6. The story of Herodias’s daughter dancing for Herod reminds me of the old anti-drug campaign in the States: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs [porn]. Herod was willing to give away half his kingdom (or behead a prophet that he didn’t actually want dead] because he thought a teen girl was hot. Yikes.
Turn to God, man. Repent. Get some strong accountability. Yeah, it’s scary, and costly, but the price you’re paying is way higher, and climbing.
– Want to see what a porn addicted missionary looks like?
– And here’s a list of resources from A Life Overseas writer, Kay Bruner.
2. Listen to Her
Listening is an extremely validating gesture. It feels good to be listened to. It’s like someone cares. So yeah, you want to care for the heart of your wife? Listen to her. Want to see how you’re doing? Complete this short quiz and then have your wife do it too. Then compare scores.
If your scores are vastly different, that’s probably worth noting and may indicate that one or both of you aren’t really listening (or communicating) very well.
Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.
Need help? Check out this book by John Gottman. He’s got decades of experience helping couples listen (and hear!) each other. By the way, his research indicates that healthy couples devote at least five hours per week to specific, focused, I’m-paying-attention-to-you time. If you’re too busy for five hours per week, you’re too busy. Find some margin.
Not interested in a book? Check out this short article with some basic (but important!) info on listening.
Not interested in research? That’s cool. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 and ask how a patient, kind, non-boasting, humble, non-demanding, non-irritable, non-record keeping husband would listen to his wife. Then listen to your wife like that.
3. Touch Her
Not like that, dude. Chill.
This one’s last, but not because I want you to see her and listen to her so you can sleep with her. That’s just crude.
No, that’s not the kind of touch I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of touch that tells her you’re there for her. I’m talking about comforting touch. Intimate touch.
I’m talking about touching her with your heart.
I’m talking about holding hands and long hugs. I’m talking about a soft kiss that has nothing to do with a proposition.
I’m talking about loving her with your arms. I’m talking about showing affection in a culturally appropriate way. Often.
Ladies, if you’re reading this (and I hope you are), please help us out. We’re not really very good at reading minds. Tell us what kind of touch you want and don’t want. And ladies, can I just say one more thing, it’s OK to want non-sexual touch and ask for it, just like it’s OK to want sexual touch and ask for it.
These are generalities, I know, so I won’t feel too bad if your wife reads this and says, “That’s not me at all!” Cool beans. Just makes sure you ask her what is her? What is it that will help her feel loved and cared for?
For our 5th wedding anniversary, I bought Elizabeth a large, framed periodic table of the elements. My dad warned me that might not be such a good idea. He was so wrong. I knew my wife, and although most folks wouldn’t find that sort of gift endearing, it was a slam dunk.
If you really took the time to see your wife, to listen to her, to touch her, would she feel cared for? Loved? Probably.
If not, then ask her what would help her feel cared for and loved. Easy Peasy.
You might be thinking, “OK, remind me again why this is on a missions site?”
Well, because you take yourself (and your marriage) with you.
And because it matters.
And because we’re most likely working with people, and people often get married, even in other countries.
And because marriage is The Beautiful Hard.
Oh yeah, and because I really, really like seeing “husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church.”
May God help us all to love our wives like that!
— Jonathan T.
Ladies, I know that many of you feel loved and cared for already. That’s wonderful! However, as a pastor and lay counselor, I also know that many of you don’t. You feel widowed by Missions, unheard, unloved, and alone. That really breaks my heart. If that’s the case, perhaps this article could spark a conversation between you and your husband. If he doesn’t want to budge, or if he thinks everything is just fine, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor or member care person. You’re not alone, or at least you don’t have to be.