Have you ever felt like a tea kettle building steam, about to blow its whistle? Pressure adds up gradually, then blows suddenly. The expectations of others and our own expectations from within begin the process. People who depend on us and promises we’ve made add stress. Then just when we think things are under control, the unexpected happens. Add to this any illness or sleepless nights and we become brittle.
Living cross culturally adds to normal tension. Trying to make ourselves understood and understanding others is stressful. Climate, traffic, and a different work load take their toll. Social norms that are vastly different from where we grew up means a lot of re-evaluation for every decision. And there are a million decisions! With a lack of support systems, it is a wonder any of us function normally.
In a national magazine, Rachel Marusak, quoted Dr. Jennifer Graham, a researcher from Ohio State University.* Jennifer said, “People who go through stressful situations with a friend fare much better than someone who goes through them alone. Sharing your feelings and talking things through can make a dramatic difference in your health. Stress affects your immune system, morbidity and mortality from diverse diseases, even how quickly a wound heals. There are also scientific studies which show that those who have a supportive person with them during a stressful time actually have a lower blood pressure and lower heart rate than someone dealing with the stress alone.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? Two can resist an attack that would defeat one alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break.” (Good News Bible)
This is a familiar passage, often read at weddings. But when one of my best friends recently sent me this passage, she reminded me that it talks about a friend, not specifically a spouse. She wrote out of thankfulness for our friendship.
Friends share our thoughts and concerns, they help us laugh, encourage us, cry with us when we are hurting, and they give us perspective.
It is not a luxury to have a good friend, it is a necessity. There may be periods in our lives when we cannot have a friend close by. During those times, we can draw on long distance friendships. Writing our thoughts instead of pulling our friend into a warm hug may not be quite as satisfying, but the rewards can be great.
We just don’t do very well over the long haul if we don’t have anyone to share with. But living cross culturally sometimes makes it hard to find that kind of friend.
I just had a wonderful visit from a long time friend. We talked about all the little things that make up our days, about our families, and our hopes and fears. She is back home now, but we call each other so we can keep up to date.
Phone calls are still a luxury in some fields. Until just a few years ago, every cross cultural worker was out of touch with friends and family. Letters took a very long time to reach the field and to be answered. PWs in these situations learned that “There is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother.” When there is no friend to talk to, pour out your heart to your Best Friend. You will find grace and comfort with Him.
I know that some PWs live in places where friendship with other women is difficult. They may have lots of acquaintances, but for legitimate reasons cannot develop true friendships. If you are in this situation, friendships from home, though not ideal, may be your best option.
But most PWs do have women around that could become friends. Some just don’t take the time or make the effort. Friendships cost something. If you have women around that you could develop a friendship with, take the first step and keep working at it. Even though these friendships may not be all you want, they can be a life saver in reducing stress.
In my normal routine here, I don’t have contact with other expatriates. I live in a modern city and most of the women speak English. However, it still takes effort to make friends with the local women. I go to a gym where every woman I meet is from a different race and religion. I would never have met them otherwise. We talk about our families, our daily activities, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear. In that casual atmosphere we are able to ask each other questions we would never dream of asking someone on the street. Our common activity makes room for friendships to grow.
Hopefully, married women have a “built-in” friend–their husband. If you don’t, well that’s another article. He won’t be able to meet all the same needs that a woman friend can meet. However, many women say their best friend is their husband. Sometimes a husband adds to our stress, but in a good marriage relationship, thoughtfulness, encouragement, and tenderness go a long way in relieving our greatest stresses. Learn to communicate your needs in a way your husband can hear you and accept his way of helping you.
So, when you feel the pressure building, look for a friend you can relax with. You may not talk about the issues that are most troublesome to you, but you will feel refreshed. Hearing someone else’s story, laughing at a good joke, and sharing a recipe can defuse a stress bomb.
*“The Friendship Effect”, Diane Magazine, Winter 2006