It is far too early to examine the effect of a new culture on our marriage, and so I am writing more generally about transition, with this latest adventure being but one example of it.
Before we left for Thailand, many people told me that being married would make transitioning to life abroad much easier than doing so alone. I’m not convinced that this is true. Don’t get me wrong, I think that transitioning as a couple is good – I’m just not convinced that it’s easier. There are certain aspects that are undoubtedly easier: I don’t secretly hope that I’ll meet a hot, single teacher at the school; I know that I’m with someone who cares about me even when I’m a culturally stupid, culturally shocked mess; and, best of all, I get to share my new experiences with my best friend. These elements make the transition easier than it would otherwise have been.
However, there are other aspects of transitioning to life abroad that are more difficult as a married person. When I’ve lived internationally as a singleton, I’ve been able to hide in my room, or go out and meet people when I’ve been in a bad mood. This isn’t to say that the transition was less painful, just that I had more options for either coping with or evading my moods. As a married person, however, evasion is more difficult. I’m often forced to confront my struggles because I live with someone who sees them anyway, and whose very presence offers me a choice – I can choose to evade or wallow in my fears, thereby allowing them to dominate our interactions, or I can confront and explain them, and choose to treat T well even when I’m not “in a good space.”
Perhaps this choice reflects the well-known statement that marriage is a context in which you “rub the rough edges off each other.” I’ve always believed this statement to be true, but I didn’t fully realize its accuracy until I got married. Marriage does rub the edges off (if you allow it), and the rubbing is painful. I think that transition – whether moving to a new place, having children, switching jobs, etc. – serves to increase the rubbing, and, thereby, the pain. Transition can bring out the best and worst in people, and this is no less true in marriage, which is, in a sense, a living entity.
I have found that one indicator of the rubbing that is occurring in our marriage is the number of times that we apologize to each other. The person who said that “love is never having to say you’re sorry” was an idiot. Love means saying you’re sorry, and saying it often. This journey has already given us many opportunities to apologize to one another. Sometimes, these apologies are for routine, boneheaded mistakes:
“Ruth, I’m sorry for storing my dog-whacking stick inside where it infested our apartment with ants.”
“Todd, I’m sorry for melting the screen off our hot plate. I’ll apologize again if we lose our damage deposit.”
Sometimes, however, we find ourselves apologizing for our deep-rooted selfishness – “I’m sorry for not trying harder to see this experience through your eyes.” “I’m sorry that I’ve allowed my moods to affect the way I treat you.” This is where the rubbing occurs. Admitting that you’re wrong, and, perhaps more fundamentally, selfish, is never pleasant.
I am grateful, though, for the rubbing that our marriage is undergoing (I find it easier to be grateful in retrospect, but I am grateful nonetheless). It gives us the opportunity to receive God’s grace, and, consequently, to show this grace to one another. Transition, if anything, multiplies our opportunities to choose between selfishness and grace. I wish I could say that I always choose wisely.
Adapting to a new culture is simply the current transition that we are undergoing. It is challenging, and it is good, but I’m not convinced that it is “easier.”