Happy 2003! The beginning of a new year is a good time to take a look at the condition of our marriage and family relationships. As we all know, living cross-culturally does add stresses to the marriage relationship and to rearing children. But it can also afford opportunities we would never have in our home culture.
We did a survey of our members a few months ago to help our organization create an evaluation tool for field directors and families living cross culturally. We want to share some of the insights we gained through the survey.
To understand the answers better, here are a few of the general statistics:
- Out of 55 married ladies who answered the survey, forty-nine said they considered their marriage relationship and family life to be good while overseas. Three said it could be better and only three said it was not good.
- Almost all mentioned specific actions they take to maintain a strong marriage relationship and a healthy family life while working cross-culturally.
- Only a little more than half of the respondents said their organization did something to help them keep family relationships healthy and strong. Among those, some of the help was really minimal.
- Twenty-two said their organizations provided no specific help for marriages and families.
From this survey, it looks like many of us are left to our own devices to keep a strong marriage and family life. With that in mind, let’s look at practices and habits some of our friends have developed to keep their marriage and family vibrant.
Sixty percent of the respondents said they plan special time on a regular basis to spend together as a couple and also as a family. Planning is the key word here. Without planning, time is easily swallowed up by the work and activities of daily living.
Several ladies mentioned dates with their husbands, but that wasn’t possible for others. One creative couple who couldn’t go out for a date put their children to bed, and closed the blinds and turned off the lights so others would think they went to bed early. Then they had a candlelight dinner for two. Another suggested that it was easier for them to have breakfast alone together.
As for family time, the most frequent help was planning a family night regularly to eat dinner, play games, read books or watch videos together. A couple families said they maintain family hours between 5:30-7:30. During this time they are not available to the nationals and other workers. One family has adopted the nice local tradition of a nap together in the afternoon.
Some families plan a day off weekly and a vacation yearly. The kinds of things they do on these days off and vacations varied. Some loved exploring their locale and learning about their host culture together. Picnics out of town, walks, and conferences or retreats were some other good ideas.
Planning time together provides the added benefit of the opportunity to talk freely together. Couples can discuss how to balance family and work responsibilities and schedules.
The ladies had some great suggestions for protecting positive communication:
- Focus on the positives rather than the problems
- Apologize quickly
- Value each other’s opinions,
- Keep a sense of humor.
Two ladies mentioned the importance of staying in touch with grown children by calls, email, and IM.
Almost half of the ladies answering the survey mentioned prayer and devotions as a way to maintain a strong marriage relationship and good family life. They talked about personal prayer and devotions, sharing these times as a couple and gathering the whole family together daily, weekly, or at least occasionally.
Five said their families became involved in their work together. Each one found their importance in the family and as part of the team when they visited together or volunteered their time and services as a family.
The most frequently mentioned support offered to cross cultural workers’ by their organization was an available counselor if the worker requested it. Additionally, some agencies provide marriage and family seminars during annual meetings and regional conferences. Some agencies also provide occasional marriage enrichment retreats on the field or during furlough, or family life check-ups.
Many of the respondents reminded us of the great value of trustworthy friends on and off the field. We can help each other stay focused on what is important.
From reading the responses we received, here is the bottom line: We have to purposefully care for our marriages and families. As my husband, Mike, says in his marriage seminars, what you care for improves; what you neglect degenerates.
So here’s a final synopsis for us all to consider:
- Plan regular family time daily, regular days off, and vacations.
- Communicate about the things that really matter.
- Pray for and with each other regularly.
- Limit the number of days husbands and wives are separated because of the work.
- Develop an accountability relationship with someone locally or by email or phone.
- Take advantage of any marriage and family seminars or retreats when available.
- Ask for help when we need it.
- Read at least one good book on marriage and family relationships each year.
If you need someone to talk to about your situation, please feel free to write:Diane If we cannot help, we will do our best to get you in contact with someone who can be a help to you.