“If we stay here, this will destroy us!” I can’t tell you how many times I cried this out to my husband during our first months abroad. And in those moments, I really believed it was true. If you don’t already know this, leaving a familiar life and moving someplace completely foreign has the tendency to bring out the very worst in you. You find yourself doing or saying things that just months before you never could have imagined would come to pass. And when you’re married, there’s another person in your home walking through the exact same thing. It’s an equation for a perfect storm!
My husband and I just returned from the field after almost three years abroad. We both unabashedly agree that our marriage has never been stronger nor have we ever been better friends than we are today. So what happened? How did we move past the realization that we were strangers and the fear it produced in our marriage?
Moving to the Dominican Republic changed me. It changed my husband. Although we were experiencing these changes simultaneously, we weren’t changing in the same ways. And since most of these changes were taking place internally, it was really hard to recognize that we were becoming different people. God was growing and shaping us, and revealing all sorts of things to us as individuals, but we weren’t taking the time to share these things with one another. After months of struggle and fear of what our new life was doing to our marriage, it hit us that we didn’t really know each other anymore.
We started setting aside our screens in the evenings, after the kids had gone to bed, to just be together. We played Skip-Bo, Phase 10, or a Dominican card game we had learned almost every free night we had for months. We arranged a babysitter so we could go out on a weekly date. I vividly remember our first night out. It felt unreal sitting across from someone I’d known for so long and not having any idea what to talk about. That realization scared me.
It took a couple weeks to let our guard down and just enjoy being with one another, and once we did, the stories of what God was doing in each of us started to flow. He began to understand why certain things now made me cry, and I had a better understanding as to why certain things now stirred up a response in him. We made the choice to let each other into these inner workings, and we not only got to know one another again, but fall in love all over again too.
We’ve reflected on this a lot, and I often hear my husband sharing with others that I’m not the same person he met at 16, married at 21, or who became the mother of our second child at 25. I’m not sure if that is his own idea, or something he’s read or heard from another, but it is so true! God is constantly at work in us, and sometimes we fight it and other times accept it, but either way we are always becoming someone new. And so are the other people in our lives.
I’ve always loved Philippians 1:6. The Message version reads like this: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” And I think this is so key to remember not only about ourselves, but our spouses, and others as well. We are always changing. And in marriage that means that the person I said “I do” to so many years ago is not the same person I wake-up to every morning. Nor is the mother who raised me, my best friend from “back home”, etc.
God drastically changed my marriage abroad. By His grace, we pressed into something that could have destroyed us and allowed Him to turn it into something beautiful. If you are married, I encourage you to make intentional time to get to know one another again. And don’t just stop there. Make a choice to keep getting to know one another. If you’re not married, are there others in your life you need to take time to get to know again? Maybe that person is you?