My Marriage: Cross-Cultural Studies
When I was 16, I spent six weeks in Venezuela with some missionaries and some nationals. It left a significant impact on me, and I get why my parents believe that sending their kids on mission trips was one of the best decisions they made as parents. I learned a lot about interacting with other cultures and gained a lot of, um, interesting experience using my rather fledgling Spanish.
At one point, in a conversation with one of the pastors and his wife, I remarked that the Coca-Cola there was pretty inexpensive. At least I thought I said that, until they snickered. Then guffawed.
Once the accompanying missionary stepped in, I discovered that I’d actually remarked that the cocaine there was cheap.
Ah, yes. A lovely sentiment from the kid on a missions trip. We all had a very good laugh at me, and though I wish that wasn’t the only language flub I made, it did manage to be the most royal.
Sometimes I might as well be speaking another language in my marriage! We’ve been married for 10 years, but I still have to relearn a language — my husband’s. And the man speaks English.
You may have heard of the Five Love Languages: the ways we “speak” and “hear” love most fluently. Now, my primary “languages” of giving and receiving love are words of affirmation (I adore loving words and conversations; I glow when I see blog comments) and serving — doing loving things or having them done for me. But my husband’s love languages are actually gift-giving (meaningful, well-selected gifts of all types), physical touch, and quality time — doing stuff together.
There ain’t a matchin’ one between us. Sometimes, when I think I’ve really shown my husband love — like telling him how much he means to me, or leaving notes in his lunch — it might as well be conversational Swedish. He genuinely appreciates my gesture and finds it meaningful. But as for accomplishing my goal — making him feel loved — I’m hitting more my sweet spot than his. The times when I’ve really hit it out of the park with him are most often when I’ve “spoken” his love languages: a well-thought-out gift, a massage after a hard day, or playing a game with him.
Even further than that are times when I’ve entered his “culture.” Before I went to Venezuela, I spent months learning about what I was getting into — not only learning the language, but also their world. I didn’t want to offend or be unnecessarily offended. I had to understand their history, what concerned them, important occasions, what they valued. I’ve had to ask similar questions and make similar observations of my man: walking in his shoes, spending time thinking about his world, and entering into the day he’s had or the concerns he’s wearing.
Someone told me as a newlywed to be a student of my husband and never stop (good advice, because he’s always changing). It’s easy for me to get head-down focused on my kids and their needs, along with my world and my own exhaustion. But God made me one flesh with my husband, not my kids — and my marriage represents Christ to the world. If I can tell you what’s going on in my kids’ hearts but not my man’s, I’ve got a problem. I’ve gotta know his culture even better than theirs.
… Especially if I plan to order a bubbly beverage in his language.