One marriage in the Peace Corps

(For a more recent entry about being married in the Peace Corps, use this address: http://wp.me/p10lrJ-9x)

So no small number of people have been subtly asking if our marriage is falling apart being in the Peace Corps or if we’re doing okay. How I answer that question is similar to when people ask how our site seems so far. I am too busy living the experience to have had time to effectively process things, and even my gut reactions are largely based on first impressions. Time will tell how the details and events play out. Nevertheless, I would have to say that to my surprise and relief this experience has so far been excellent for our marriage.

Day to day, things are far more difficult here than in the States. Our roles are constantly changing because we have to piece together our solutions and responses in real time as situations present themselves rather than resort to our default dynamics. We have challenges and tasks separately as well as together. Oh yeah, and we still don’t speak the language well. When we’re not dealing with insecurity and a fear of inadequacy we’re frequently taking turns being either tired or grumpy.

Keeping all that in mind, life in the States is no “pan comido” either. In fact, it is the absence of many stressors from that lifestyle that have contributed to our current marriage dynamic. We were mentally prepared for additional stress; we did not expect some things to be lifted. A big one for me is traffic, or lack thereof here. Actually, traffic here is horrendous, but I don’t have to drive in it. Transportation in the capital is a nightmare, but onsite it’s no problem. The times when I have had the least respect for human existence were sitting in stupid Seattle traffic praying for either my own death or the death of the goobers in front of me.

We have a lot of work to do here, and we are only going to be increasingly busy in the coming weeks and months. But for the most part we are putting together our own schedules, and we have the freedom to spend an afternoon sleeping or reading if we want to, and we have taken advantage of that option, yes we have. The pace of life is slower here and to the degree we go with the flow rather than be frustrated, it gives us time to be together which apparently is good for a marriage.

Truth be told, I had been wrestling with the idea for a while that there is another dynamic at work that I had not expected. After I thought I had identified it and wrote the first draft of this blog, I ran it by Kristy who helped me see it more clearly. Turns out my logic had been inverted (good thing women tend to see things backwards sometimes…just kidding, ladies). Initially I suspected there was an additional stressor we had been experiencing in the States that we were unaware of until we came here and discovered life without it. It seemed to me to be something like routine or monotony, which made some sense considering we seem to bump into and condemn that theme frequently in American culture and media. But Kristy recognized the subtle yet crucial difference between the presence of something bad and the partial absence of something advantageous. This makes sense because our lives at home were great, and we appreciated our jobs, freedom, and relationships.

Seemingly obvious in hindsight, what we have had here is an increase in the opportunity for growth, individually and as a couple. Growth is unfortunately not taken in pill form to be enjoyed; it comes from taking advantage of the opportunities to grow which are frequently painful and uncomfortable. It is difficult enough for one person to be committed to enduring growth rather than fall back on immaturity, but it is even more difficult for a marriage, which already has inherent risks and propensity for conflict. I suspect that we have become so accustomed to marriages failing at the drop of a hat that we have forgotten that if you can make a marriage successful than great challenges with high risk of developing bitterness also have the potential to yield high rewards.

We can’t coast through this experience individually either. Every day presents unique challenges, some of which are exciting and some of which we just dread to no end. But we have exceeded the five-month point of being in country and have survived, if not flourished at times. I don’t know about Kristy, but I know that while I don’t feel any different than I did six months ago, I suspect that if I sat down with alternate-universe Brian who had not joined the Peace Corps, we might not see a few things eye-to-eye.

Even when this adventure (a normally cheesy word that means something entirely different to us now after experiencing one) is quite difficult we are comforted by the fact that we took the foolish step of quitting our jobs and following our silly, silly dreams together. Obviously not everyone needs to join the Peace Corps, nor should they. I think about my friend Joel and his passion for his family and his youth ministry, or many of our other friends and family members getting out into nature or pursuing opportunities. When you feel like you’re taking advantage of life, you appreciate the people you’re living it with. When you feel discouraged or lack direction, it’s tempting to partly blame the people around you for “holding you back”.

I do not want to seem overconfident here. We are committed to not taking the peaks of our marriage for granted for fear of being blind-sided by the stressors of the inevitable troughs. And we don’t want to make the mistake of depending entirely on our own abilities to healthily pull a marriage through a difficult experience. We are still a part of a network of relationships at home and other places, and are increasingly getting to know the network of Peace Corps volunteers who appreciate our relationship and are also slightly jealous.

Perhaps I should just finish by saying Kristy and I are so far glad we made this decision despite the difficulty of it and still very much love each other. Ignoring the nagging superstitious fear that I am jinxing myself by putting it out there, I hope and am beginning to expect that come October 2012 we will leave the Peace Corps stronger than when we entered in August 2010…or so I have instructed Kristy.

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