Marriage is an Adventure
From the moment we said “I do,” my husband and I embarked on a journey of becoming one. We have been out of the country and to multiple states together, but the ultimate journeys have taken place at home.
You see, the journey for us is not where we go, but what we learn. I’ve learned so much about my husband from the habits he’s formed, the family he grew up with, and the way that he worships God. I know he’s learned about me from observing me and asking me questions as well.
Since 2008, I’ve had the desire to travel around the world. I was blessed with the opportunities to travel to West Virginia, Texas, Spain, and Haiti on trips to serve others and bring glory to God. Little did I know that I would not have to travel to a foreign land to get a full-time cross-cultural and God-honoring experience.
Stages of Cross-Cultural Adjustment
In my college classes, I learned about the four stages of cross-cultural adjustment. I have seen these stages played out in my marriage, as well as in others.
Although this stage did not make the cut, the preparation stage is important to bring up in this article. When going on a cross-cultural trip, you always want to prepare in some manner. Whether you spend time reading the Bible, or you learn the language, you want to be as ready as possible for this new adventure.
Before marriage, couples spend time getting ready for their wedding day and beyond. They attend pre-marital counseling, gain wisdom from mature couples, and discuss expectations. They also invest time and money in the wedding day.
The first stage of cross-cultural adjustment is the honeymoon stage. When the plane glides to the ground after a perfect flight, the feeling of euphoria is incomparable. You are a tourist: you want to take pictures, you’re fascinated by the food, and you’re in love with the people. In this new culture, you’re in your happy place, and nothing can get in the way of your enjoyment.
A married couple shares a similar experience during their first few years of marriage. After that seal of the marriage with a kiss, all they can see before them is endless possibilities. They love everything about each other, and nothing can pop the bubble of their love.
The second stage is culture shock, the time when the euphoria fades. It seems almost instant that the culture which was once beautiful and perfect is now distorted and wrong. The food makes you sick, the weather is irritating, and the people don’t make sense. The most difficult part of culture shock is the language barrier. It can be exhausting and frustrating learning the language, and even more tiring is the hidden context behind the words. You may understand the literal definition of the words you hear, for example, but you might not be able to pick up the sarcasm or the background behind it.
It can be exhausting trying to decipher the inside jokes, sarcasm, or traditions of your spouse’s family and friend group. Although you may speak the same language, your sense of humor, your circle of friends, and your slang may be totally different. You may find yourself having to stop the conversation a few times and say “OK, what’s going on? Who’s so-and-so? Why is this so funny? What does this mean?” You may get impatient, but please remember to be patient with yourself.
When going through culture shock, experts suggest taking naps and eating healthy. I would suggest the same for married couples trying to merge their lives together. It is healthy to spend time with family, but you also need a break from other people (and that may or may not include a nap!). After spending time with either of our families, I like to spend a few hours with my husband processing our experiences. We ask each other questions about jokes, pieces of information, or activities that we did not fully understand. It not only helps us grow closer to our in-laws, but it helps us understand each other better as well.
Over time, the traveler transitions into the adjustment stage. You learn to adapt to the culture, and you even appreciate some aspects of this new culture more than your home culture. Although you’re not completely satisfied, you make the most of it. Deciding to adjust and adapt is a willing decision that any traveler must make in order to survive.
My husband and I have decided to be committed to each other, no matter what problems we face. We are attempting to create our own traditions and our own “culture.” Marriage definitely feels weird (since neither of us have been married before!), but we are making the most of it.
Finally, you feel the “at home” stage. You can now comfortably say that you fit in to this new culture. It feels as much as home to you as your home culture does. You aren’t in love with the culture as you were in the honeymoon stage, but you are able to appreciate the culture and adjust to what you don’t like.
My husband and I can confidently say that we’ve made ourselves feel at home in our marriage. Are we perfect? Absolutely not, and we never will be. However, we are able to appreciate each other and to overlook what we do not like.
Marriage is a Missions Trip
So, if marriage is like a missions trip, what is our mission?
Above all, a marriage is meant to bring glory to God. The relationship we have with our spouse is a mere symbol of the unconditional love and grace that Christ extends to us. Even when we have communication troubles, even when there are qualities of our spouses that are not appealing, we are still called to share love, grace, and forgiveness with them. By making Jesus the mission of our marriage, we can bless each other and be a blessing to those in our sphere of influence—no matter if we’re in our home culture or in a foreign land!
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