There is much I’d rather not say to you. But if I’m being honest, I really don’t want to tell you about how learning another language can severely strain your marriage. I don’t want to tell you about the arguments, disagreements, and coldness in our marriage.
Marriage is hard. Why is it so hard? Marriage is hard because people are involved. The Bible says that marriage is a “one-flesh” union. The two, male and female become one being. Mark 10:6–7 says it has always been this way, “6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” Something about this one flesh union is hard. Making two individuals with independent thoughts, desires, goals, motives, backgrounds, and perspectives ONE is hard. This is hard when you are in your own home culture. It is hard when there is Target for your wife to go and walk around. It is hard when your husband can take a morning and go fishing at his favorite spot. It is hard when each other can talk face-to-face with a close friend and get some counsel.
Now enter missionary life. Enter stress, nothing familiar, and while you are at it, let’s have each person go to school. Language school is hard. My doctoral supervisor told me, “Language school was the hardest year of my life.” He was wildly prophetic. It was hard, life is hard now, but language school was no joke.
There are several problems with learning a language. First, you can’t communicate. You speak like a kindergärtner at best. At worst, you desperately use Google Translate and the people look at you smile, laugh, and walk away. I went to language school with the ability to order food at Taco Bell and say hello. I went from communicating, preaching, and teaching, to being frustrated because I could say nothing, absolutely nothing. It was like that for a solid six months. My wife had to deal with a frustrated husband who had a serious role deprivation for 6 months, really for over a year.
Let’s compound this with the second factor: student life. My wife is a great student. She almost had perfect attendance in high-school. I had a competition with my best friend to see who could skip more school and still graduate. My wife is very smart. She can memorize verb paradigms, apply the rules of subjunctive, and grasp grammar differences. I speak poor English and have little attention to detail which makes my writing even worse (sorry). Now learning another language was near impossible. I struggled with verb paradigms because I couldn’t immediately apply them. The concepts were more than foreign and I’m not the best student. My wife had to put up with a husband at his worst.
All of this compounded with sickness, sin, and no air conditioning led to fights, arguments, and coldness. It was rough. It was hard and now it is over. Thank. The. Lord.
But that doesn’t mean it is all over. Here is the thing, language school and all that it brought with it did not make me sin. It did not make me selfish and want my wife to bend to my will. Language school did not make me harsh and not compassionate with my wife. All that sin was already there. The sin was revealed not manufactured by an outside force it was me, all me.
But this post is about marriage so let’s think would you want to become one with THAT. No and neither would I. That’s what makes marriage so hard. My wife had to patiently wait while the Lord worked in my life. He’s still doing a work because that is the God he is. He works in us to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) and he often uses outside things to chisel away at all the ugly parts. You bring the sin. He brings the salvation. He starts the process and he is faithful to finish it.
If you are learning a language or are in a major life change, expect these things. It isn’t easy but stick it out. You will be better for it. Your marriage will be stronger because of it but it will be hard. Hard does not mean you made a bad choice. Hard just means you need more grace and that’s good because Jesus doesn’t run out of it.
If you are struggling do the things that first sparked your love for one another. Go on dates. Pray together. Read the Bible together. Don’t be critical. Be compassionate. Be kind. Finally, realize your spouse isn’t the problem you are. Work on you.