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Taking Marriage Overseas

Helping the Relationship All the Way

By Dan and Bonnie Porter

Editor's Note: See also Taking the Kids.

We took ten teenagers to Mexico for two weeks and lived to tell about it. In a short time, we experienced practically the whole gamut of marital pressures. Lack of privacy. Confusion over roles. No time alone as a couple. Traveling separately.

We know many other couples who have also been short-termers. Though our situation differed, our responses were the same: it was one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

Deciding to Go

Different things motivate different people. It’s important that both of you identify your goals and reasons for going.

Maybe your mate just wants to experience a foreign culture. Maybe you desire to use your college French. Get your motives out in the open. Talk about them.

We discovered that one of us had a strong desire simply to expand our family’s horizons. But we both saw the trip as an opportunity to investigate a long-term assignment.

Plan a candlelight dinner or a weekend retreat with an agenda. Discuss motives for wanting to go; goals that you each want to make; what it would take for each of you to know God wants you to go; feelings you have about the privacy, competition, and other issues raised below. Pray together about what you’ve discussed.

Going as a “Married Single”

One couple we know had a hard time overseas because their group of five all lived in one hut with only a sheet between them and the singles.

”Anticipating what it would be like really worked for us,” said another couple. “We knew we would be the only couple on the team. We expected to be separated most of the time.”

An attitude of flexibility is the best preparation for functional singleness. It will enable you to cope with

  • little or no privacy;
  • distance created by task-related roles;
  • finding your niche (especially the wife’s);
  • functioning separately, not as a couple.

Competing on the Go

If there is a tendency to compete in your relationship, expect it to surface overseas. So one couple suggests, “Go as a team, giving mutual support.”

During our summer project, Bonnie quickly renewed her language comprehension while Dan struggled with the basics. The threat was there: humiliation and avoidance. But Dan’s efforts to communicate paid off. It changed his perspective about the new culture and about himself.

A couple returning from a two-year term explained that their marriage and ministry “tended to get mixed up together.” The wife said, “We worked so closely together that my husband was my boss.” Solution? “We scheduled in some relaxation time, even separate activities.”

Going with Priorities

Ministry time can easily absorb all marriage time. Amid all the changes and activities overseas, your spouse can quickly become a stranger. It’s up to you whether you pull together or let the stress drive you apart. Determine before you go to make your marriage a high priority.

Each couple needs to work at building a strong and enduring marriage upon biblical principles. This will involve sacrifice and creativity. If you want to grow together as a couple. Expect to give up some group activities to spend time together. Plan to study Scripture together regularly. Set aside time to pray as a family. Read through at least one book together, such as To Understand Each Other by Paul Tournier. Try to plan a date night at least once a week to get alone and talk.

Other issues include marital communication, long-term effects on finances and careers, relatives’ opinions, language aptitude, and taking children overseas.

Schedule a weekend retreat shortly after you come back. You’ll need the time together to process the experience. If you’ve each kept a journal, use them as springboards for discussion.

You may find yourself uncovering unexpected areas of growth in your relationship. We can truthfully say that our times spent overseas have added a dimension to our marriage which we would not trade for anything in the world.

Reprinted with permission from Stepping Out: A Guide to Short-Term Missions. Copyright 1992, 2010 by Short-Term Missions Advocates, Inc. Updated and expanded in 2010. Published by YWAM Publishing.

Dan and Bonnie Porter had been married twenty-three years when this article was written. Dan was Church Planting Team Leader for Mission to the World’s work in Milan, Italy, for the Presbyterian Church in America. Bonnie was mother to their three sons and a freelance writer.