A friend of mine, who had just arrived on the foreign field, recently sent me a letter describing how surprised she was to find herself working so hard at arduous household chores while her husband seemingly had the “easy life” as a language student. She recognized that this little “seed of trouble” which was growing in her heart could negatively affect their marriage.
As new couples settle into new places of service, it is not uncommon for each spouse to disappoint the other in a specific, unique area. My friend should communicate her need for physical help to her husband. But what if she does communicate and Hubby doesn’t “come through for her?” Feelings of disappointment result, which may be suppressed as urgent tasks take her attention. Meanwhile, deep in her heart, disappointment in her husband’s response may take hold and a root of bitterness may begin to grow. This bitterness may go undetected for a time, yet greatly affect the interpersonal relationship of this man and wife.
Although a wife may articulate her disappointment and needs to her husband, he may not understand the degree to which the wife is suffering and to what degree he could make some significant changes and become part of the solution to her pain. He may fail to “come through for her” and another disappointment is added to the first.
Surprisingly, wives are not alone in this process. Often the husband is the one who is suffering in his new field of service and needs the patience and help of his wife.
When a spouse doesn’t change his or her lifestyle to adjust to the new stresses on the marriage, the hurting spouse pulls away. Intimacy diminishes in many areas of their life and unity of heart and purpose wanes and becomes a mere shadow of the vibrancy it once had.
Hebrews 12:15 warns us, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
If the root of bitterness is not pulled up quickly, it grows and causes havoc many years
later as a huge wound in the marriage is finally exposed. By that time, many an unkind and fatal word has been expressed and can never be “taken back.”
Not only do couples suffer from this interpersonal pain, but also teammates suffer as the newcomer’s expectations of his or her new teammates in the adjustment process on the field are not realized. The newcomer expected more tangible help, hoped to be invited for more evening meals or outings, or needed a more thorough orientation process. Bitterness toward the leadership takes a hold.
I believe the healing for this bitter root is twofold:
- Draw upon the grace and strength that the Lord supplies. No one person can totally “come through” for another. Also, no teammates can ever meet all of the needs in the adjustment process to a new culture and work. Grace and strength are found in Christ alone. Totally abandon yourself to communicating honestly before the throne of God regarding struggles and disappointments and to meditating on His Words of promise to give you grace upon grace in every situation.
- Communicate calmly and directly your need to your spouse or teammate. Try seeking an illustration that will help to clearly communicate your pain or disappointment, which will aid in the other’s willingness to make MAJOR adjustments to the way he or she as been interacting as marriage partner or teammate in the past.
Here are some specific ADJUSTMENTS that we may make in our marriages and on our teams to facilitate good interpersonal relationships:
HELPING--with chores, shopping, meal preparation, and childcare
LISTENING —to our spouses feelings more than we’ve ever needed to before—to our teammates specific cries for help
CEASING– good activities like language classes and Great Commission activities to meet immediate needs of others
WAITING–for spouse or teammate to be ready to do risky things in the new culture
POSTPONING– ministry until the marriage relationship, children’s well-being, and team dynamics are on a strong foundation
So, dear sister, take this as a warning to watch over your own heart for bitter roots of disappointment since Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life.” Also, ask your husband about ways you may need to change in order to help him adjust to his new role overseas. Remember your commitment “till death do us part” is a forever commitment, higher in priority than the commitment to serve overseas! Just remembering that will help you keep your spouse and his needs a priority.
May this be good food for thought for you today! May you and hubby have some great conversations, and may all teammates everywhere adjust to one another in HUGE ways that will communicate LOVE in PERCEIVABLE ways! Forgive one another and serve one another. Finally, see to it that no roots of bitterness spring up and cause trouble for many.