23 May 2014

Marriage: The Home in my Heart

My strengthened marriage was one of my unexpected blessings of moving abroad.

We've been married 11 years and lived overseas for 8 of those years. We've been in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Far East.

I've been pregnant in five countries.

My husband has had inpatient surgery in three countries.

And as colorful and exciting as all that sounds, the journey into a deeper and closer marriage is always through the valleys and not around them. It's the same as if we were to live in one of our hometowns for our whole lives--in the end, we must face our faults, and we must face them together.

I just think moving abroad made us face them sooner.

Just as motherhood brought out levels of selfishness in me that I didn't know existed, living overseas also revealed ugliness that I'd successfully masked in our first few years of marriage--when we lived in my hometown in Hawaii. Without realizing it at the time, I had brought my new husband into a foreign country (although it is one of the 50 states) without buffering the culture shock, without recognizing and welcoming the foreign side of him. In short, I had gone on with my life as usual and added a sidekick.

But moving overseas changed that perspective forever. My husband is not my sidekick. And, frankly, I am not his. And we are more than partners or coworker or housemates or co-parents.  We must be ONE, moving more and more into each other as the days and the years go by. 


Here are two ways I've learned to move past quick fixes into habitual teamwork:

#1 Not only must we seek to understand each other's decisions, 
we must also learn each other's reasoning.
Instead of "okay, I know why you made that choice," we need to aim for this: "Okay, I know how you make choices."

#2 Not only must we address each other's faults, 
we must own them as part of our joint being.
Instead of "you do this wrong and this and this," we need to aim for this: "This is a problem, and I am right here with you."


Living cross-culturally has embedded a truth in my thinking: Forming a home abroad is not about tolerating. It's about adapting. I cannot expect the world to change around me, so I need to change how I move in the world. It's a perspective change from a short-term stay to a forever residence. If I want to be in this culture, it's not enough to live here. I have to let it into the home of my heart.

So much of this is true in my marriage too. We are not simply two people living side by side. We are not tolerating each other. Instead, we are becoming more like each other. I cannot expect him to change without first considering myself. I cannot dismiss things with an "oh well" because we're in this forever. We work to strengthen our marriage, and it strengthens us both as individuals too. If I want our marriage to be deep and good and enriching, it's not enough to live alongside him. I have to let him into the home of my heart.

Through the language difficulties, foreign unpleasantries, and eye-opening culture experiences, our individual shortcomings have surfaced quickly. We had a choice to make--we could turn against each other in criticism or frustration, or we could lock arms and trek this path together.

Now, after eight years of living abroad, there is only one person that knows all the parts that make up me. There is only one person who has lived where I have lived, known who I have known, cried when I have cried, and grown as I have grown. We speak a hilarious blend of English, Hawaiian pidgin, Arabic, Thai, Chinese, and Korean--only when speaking to each other (and our kids). And he knows how I think, how I process, how I manage in all things here, there, and everywhere. My husband is my home.

We walked through the valleys together where the shadows could have scared us onto separate but parallel paths. I thank God that we kept our arms linked, repeated our vows of "no matter what," and took it step by step, prayer by prayer, day by day.

Abide in Him,

How has culture influenced your marriage? What factors challenge couples that live far from "home," and is this something others don't face...or just don't face as suddenly or dramatically?

To read more about marriage and the overseas influence, come join the discussion at Velvet Ashes' The Grove. 

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Blending Well: A 3-part mini-series on cross-cultural marriage
Ask Him the Hard Questions
Sin's Curse, Labor, and Teamwork


  1. So much depth and truth here, Malia. You're right, I think life overseas does bring hidden ugliness to the surface (it has for me!). Love this line: "we could turn against each other in criticism or frustration, or we could lock arms and trek this path together." Love getting to know you and your story!

  2. Love Love Love! My husband and I are on our first overseas assignment and it has not been a walk in the park but he has always been supportive even when I wasn't at my best. This was an awesome read!

    1. I'm so glad you found this helpful. Your husband sounds wonderful. We're blessed to have men that love us even when (especially when) we're struggling.

  3. What a great read. We are just starting our family life overseas and it is encouraging to hear from others who have walked this road a lot longer than we have.

    1. Thanks, Anisha. While I talked about how living abroad challenged us, I certainly wouldn't have traded it for a comfy, familiar setting. I know our overseas adventures bonded us into one and that now we're stuck together like super glue. I pray the same happens in your marriage! Enjoy it all. :)

  4. Wow - this has given me a lot to consider. Thank you!!!
    Blessings from Croatia: www.missionalcall.com

    1. You're welcome. :) I'm still rereading it and thinking about all the article said...and I wrote it! :) Haha.

  5. Anonymous5/23/2014

    Found this post from Velvet Ashes. :) Like you, I have found living overseas to be something that has strengthened my marriage in the long run, even though the valleys are there. Thank you for giving a positive voice to marriage.
    I especially love this part: "The journey into a deeper and closer marriage is always through the valleys and not around them. It's the same as if we were to live in one of our hometowns for our whole lives--in the end, we must face our faults, and we must face them together. I just think moving abroad made us face them sooner." Facing them sooner is not always a bad thing!

    1. Oh it's definitely not a bad thing to face our faults sooner! I think it forced me to grow up, and I needed that. :) I needed to leave the "girlfriend" mindset behind and become a devoted wife. (I hope that made sense. I think being comfortable kept me independent, but now I'm much more united with my husband.)

  6. Hopped over from Velvet Ashes, Malia, and I loved your post and your insights. I am challenged and will keep coming back to your "beyond the quick fix" prompts for a while. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Colleen. I'm so grateful those tips resonated with you. :)

  7. I too was linked in from Velvet Ashes. this community has already ministered to me so much! My husband and I just finished our first year in Mexico and are back visiting family and friends and processing our first year. We have been married 2 years, and we feel like this year has been like 10 years of marriage packed into one year. It is a valley for sure, and a painful one in the midst, but a sanctifying gift that we are grateful for. I so related to how you painted it, and am grateful to not feel alone!


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