Kay and I moved to the Solomon Islands in 1993. We boarded a rusty ship and headed out to a remote island village with two small kids in tow, and I jumped head first into learning the Arosi language. The sooner I learned the language, the sooner the Arosi people would have God’s Word in their language. What could be more important than that!
Kay, meanwhile, had a 4 year old and a 3 year old to take care of. This was already a full-time job back in the States, but now she had to throw in a few extra simple chores like washing clothes by hand in a stream and cooking everything from scratch using a two-burner stove and a dorm fridge. And in her spare time she was expected to learn a new language without the help of Rosetta Stone or a language school. As time went by and Kay felt more and more isolated, she would say, “Can we spend 10 minutes talking?” My response: “About what?”
In my mind at the time, I thought our marriage was pretty good. I based that on the fact that we rarely had disagreements. Isn’t a peaceful marriage a good marriage? Deep down, I knew that something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Looking back now I realize I was scared. Scared of having a real relationship because it would mean having to express real thoughts and real emotions. (And maybe having a real relationship would mean I would have to face the fact that my wife wasn’t thriving in this new environment which might require me to make a change.) Spending time alone with Kay meant coming face to face with the fact that our marriage was only skin deep, so my best tactic was to avoid spending time alone with her. Maybe in America we could have gotten away with a mediocre marriage because Kay would have had other avenues for support and connection, but now I was it.
In a recent Time magazine article, renowned marriage expert John Gottman described our situation to a T:
In really bad relationships, people are communicating, “Baby, when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you’re hurt, I’m not going to be there for you. You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity. I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job. Whereas the [relationship] Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.” (Link to full article)
Unfortunately, it took a pornography addiction and near-failed marriage to get me on track. There came a point where I had to make a hard decision. Was I going to sacrifice my marriage over the altar of pornography? Or what if it hadn’t been pornography? Would I have sacrificed my marriage over the altar of missions?
If I could go back in time this is what I would want my former self to know:
- Your relationship can be so much more than you can even imagine. Don’t be afraid!
- Spend time alone together, even if it’s hard. It will get easier. In his research, relationship expert Dr. Gottman has found what he calls “The five hours of magic”. You can read more here. Hannah Trotter (age 6), daughter of ALOS contributors Jonathan & Elizabeth Trotter, recently wrote what she calls her “first blog”which she has graciously permitted me to use. What great advice! Although in my case I needed to substitute “FAMULY” with “WIFE”.
- Your ability to work long term overseas is going to depend a lot more on the strength of your marriage than on the strength of your language skills or the greatness of your ministry.
Mainly I would want my former self to know that our marriage didn’t have to be me vs. her. By the grace of God we’re now on the same team, and no matter where we live, it will always be about what the team needs.
How does your life overseas suit you?
How does your life overseas suit your wife?
If your life overseas isn’t working for your wife, would you be willing to make a change?
What happens when you talk together about these things?
Are you able to talk about these things? If not, why not?
(Check the Resources page if you’re looking for counseling support or the Spiritual and Emotional Health section on the Recommended Reading page for some helpful books.)