We had just gotten in bed and turned on the air conditioner. After a very long day, we were both exhausted. I looked over and raised my hand for a high five.
Another stressful, crazy, intense day was finished.
Before turning out the light, I said, “We did it. Somehow, we’re working together through all of this stress and I don’t think we even got mad today.”
When you’re married and facing stress, getting mad, hurt, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, snappy, sarcastic or mean can be an easy go-to behavior.
Stress brings those things out in all of us.
Overseas stressors like moving, transitioning, parenting third culture kids, handling culture or language mishaps, team misunderstandings, or financial struggles just puts our marriages in the hot zone for some really difficult moments.
We’ve been there so many times.
The final weighing of bags… after the 4th time lifting the same suitcase and finally declaring it done while realizing that there are things still waiting to be packed. Stressful.
The lost passport, the police stop, the forgotten yellow fever card, the army of ants, the broken fridge or the third day of no water. Stressful.
The struggling child, the unknown tropical disease, the scary report, the days of unrest. Way beyond stressful.
Then, you add a spouse that said something in anger or sarcastically answered your simple question and you have a recipe for a very bad marriage day.
The ability to cope with regular stress, overseas complications, family issues or health needs in the midst of building a relationship in marriage can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
Marriage is one of the first things to be attacked and sometimes, one of the last things to be rescued.
It gets put last on the list because the other things, understandably, seem much more important and pressing.
But that moment of laying in bed after a long day and realizing that we were truly ok with each other, handling the stress as one, was a great feeling.
Being together, on the same page, working as a team through the crazy is so much better. It makes everything else on the list more manageable and less overwhelming.
But how do we get to that place?
How do we have more days of togetherness in the midst of stress? How do we lessen the odds that we’ll end the day mad, hurt or frustrated with our spouse?
Unfortunately, there’s no secret sauce that quickly makes everything better and suddenly brings out the very best of your marriage.
It’s hard work.
Every single day.
What are some things that we do our best to implement each day?
1} Patience. Be patient with your spouse. Stress affects us all in different ways. We must be patient for the Holy Spirit to do HIS job in their heart and not push our way into trying to fix things on our own.
2} Compassion. The weight of stress is not light or easy. Be compassionate towards your spouse and how they are learning to carry the stress. Learning to deal with the demands of new skills, new jobs, new pressures, new places, new people… it takes a toll on you and on them. Ask God for a heavenly compassion for your spouse in this stressful season.
3} Forgiveness. Quite often, overseas workers and their spouses are together a lot. More time together means more opportunities for good times and even more bad times. Forgive quickly and thoroughly. Forgive attitudes and words and tempers. Forgive forgetfulness and procrastination or whatever other crime your spouse has committed today. God is working on those things. I promise.Forgive.
4} Talk it out. Every day. Don’t let things sit and wait and pile up. Talk things through. Talk about the pressure and the stress. Talk about what is bothering you, bugging you, hurting you, making you sad. Talk about what you need and what might help. Talk about it all. You both don’t have to solve the stressful situations… but talking about it together can really help de-escalate stressful situations.
5} Balance. Take a deep breath and step outside the situation. So the fridge is broke again… what needs to happen to fix it as quickly and easily as possible? Then, be done with it. Keep things in perspective. Don’t use “never” and “always” and words that you don’t mean. Stay balanced. Look at the big picture and bring balance to otherwise very lopsided events.
6} Help each other. Never helped in the kitchen before? Start. Look around at the jobs that need done for the day and pitch in. Even if you are mad at each other or annoyed. Put it aside and help each other. Laundry, cooking, putting kids to bed… Two are better than one and more hands make work light. Plus, working together means you’re done faster and can have time to sit with a cup of coffee together. Help in ways you never helped before. Is she doing paperwork? Help her crunch the numbers. Is he baking sourdough bread? Go do the dishes. It helps. A lot.
7} Take it slow. Honestly, most countries in the world run on a much, much slower time schedule. Stop pushing yourselves to accomplish the impossible. We were told early on that getting one big thing done a day is a huge win. Rejoice in it. Let the rest go until tomorrow. Going slow and lowering daily expectations will greatly reduce stress levels.
8} Go to bed early. Together. We were also told early on that 9 pm is cross-cultural worker midnight and that trying to stay up later than that will exhaust you. It is true. Get your sleep. Everything is less stressful in the morning.
9} Stay in the Word. If you want God to speak, to help you through, to give you patience and compassion and forgiveness, to keep you in balance and keep your heart in the right place… be in the Word daily. Don’t skip it or rush it. Don’t neglect your time alone, your time to abide in Him. Keep your relationship with Jesus at the very top of the daily priority list. Seriously, if that is what you accomplish for the day, you have done exactly what you should be doing. God’s Word and time in His presence will give you exactly what you need to face the stresses of life and have a marriage that thrives under any kind of pressure the world can throw at it.
10} Stay in today. Don’t carry yesterday or tomorrow. Every day, give God the past, the present and the future and let Him speak directly into the today you are currently walking.
11} Get away. Find a local place where you can retreat for the afternoon together. Go to lunch. Make coffee and sit on your porch. Walk in the woods or the park or the beach and hold hands. Get away together for some time to talk, regroup, and keep falling in love. This “get away” principle also applies to you, yourself. Get away by yourself. Stay in a hotel for a night or two and spend some time with Jesus. Get a pedicure or go fishing. You’ll be amazed at how much some time of refreshing on your own can positively impact your marriage.
12} Get help. Sometimes you need someone from the outside to come in, hear you out and help you work things through. Stress really muddies the waters of marriage and sometimes a clear thinker is just what you need to get a fresh perspective. Don’t wait. If either you or your spouse feels like you need to talk to someone… do it. Get help. Skype your pastor back home, talk to a trusted colleague, video chat with a friend… Stressful times are not times to push marriage issues to the back burner. They will literally burn a hole through what you’ve built and that is exactly what the enemy wants. Get help when needed.
These are some things that we’ve implemented and talked through to help us thrive and survive in the stress of marriage overseas.
It’s a list of healthy principles that help us get to the end of a stressful day and be able to return a high five as we go to sleep.
Not every day ends that way, for sure. Yet, every day is an opportunity to get up and try again.
What are some things that you’ve put into place for your marriage?
How do you and your spouse handle stress together? Differently?
What areas are you currently working on to build a stronger marriage in the midst of stress?