It was a dream come true. I’d found the man who was called by God to serve in missions, led to the same people group, full of the same excitement to see what God would do as we followed his will. Though there were adjustments during our first year of marriage, we were too busy finishing studies and working to be bothered by what was to come.
Then we moved overseas and became a two-person team — him and me. No one really prepares you for what that means. I can tell you, it’s not easy.
No more running to the store, going to the movie with a girlfriend, taking a weekend to visit family. If I want to do something, I do it with him.
What about ministry? It’s now a 24/7 job. There are no “office” hours. Every hour belongs to our people group, because they are all around us! He needs me for home visits, and when we come home, others visit us.
Then one day it hits me — I need some space!
Oh, the joys of cross-cultural service. No one prepares you for this. While they may have talked about maintaining a strong marriage, no one can really anticipate the barrage of issues that hit a couple serving together. You’re together, yet isolated. Neither of you has an outlet in the early years for gaining margin in marriage.
Yes, I said it — margin in marriage.
He was the love of my life, my soul mate, my everything, but there were times I needed space — time to just debrief in my own head, read a book, do something with a “girl” friend. We were one body, but still two individuals with unique needs. Full-time ministry, especially in an overseas setting, can bring stress to that delicate balance.
What do you do?
Talk about it.
Raouf and I were different in so many ways, which is probably why we worked together so well. However, we did have to talk about our needs. What we needed from each other and what we needed for ourselves. As the years went by, I knew he needed time in his wood shop or by running to decompress and let out stress. He learned that I needed times of just being alone, whether to read or write or go out by myself. I recharged my batteries by alone time.
We may have struggled to find this balance in the early years, but it did come, and as others joined our teams or we got to know the other expats living in our area, added friendships helped maintain the needed margin to keep us healthy as a couple.
When we marry, we are meant to “do life” together. Marriage is the foundational building block of healthy society, and couples who have common purpose and direction are those that contribute the most to their communities. The unhealthy side of “margin” is when couples are not in sync, whether in ministry or not, and each is living and working toward their own individual goals. This is a warning sign for those in cross-cultural service, as it can just as easily happen to you as well.
Are you married? How do the margins of your joint life look? Too narrow, too wide? Talk about it and find the balance that will bless you and the work you do as a couple to God’s glory.
Grace and Peace