Even though agencies try to create realistic expectations during orientation, some missionary candidates think that their missionary service will be like a wonderful “honeymoon.” Though that may be the case for a short time, reality soon sets in.
When Dorothy Carey set sail for India, she was under no such illusion. As shown in the first brochure, she did not want to go. Unfortunately, reality was as bad as she thought it would be (or worse). She was on a ship for five months without stopping at a single port. During the first year on the field she had dysentery most of the time, and she lived four different places, at times with another family. She lived with the constant threat of malaria and attack by tigers. Her sister, who had promised to help her, left to get married. Near the end of the year, her five-year-old son died. Surely she would have said, “This is no honeymoon!”
Fortunately, most people do not have such a difficult time. We may ask questions such as: Is there a honeymoon period in missions? Will becoming missionaries have an effect on our marriage? If both bride and groom want to be missionaries, wouldn’t it be good to spend the early years of their married life on the field? Does having children when beginning mission work have an effect on our marriage? Do men and women react differently?
During the early days or months of living in another culture, while still in “vacation mode,” a person experiences interest, fascination, joy, and enthusiasm living in another culture. This may last for days, weeks, or even months.
However, when the inevitable difficulties with language, people, housing, and food arise, people may become critical, frustrated, resentful, and angry. Simple tasks become daunting challenges, and disillusionment sets in. This post-honeymoon time is very hard on marriage relationships, resulting in lower satisfaction in marriages.
Though thousands of missionaries have experienced this over the last couple of centuries, it was not until the end of the twentieth century that Christopher Rosik at Link Care studied this change in marital satisfaction systematically. Over a twenty year period he gave couples the Marital Satisfaction Inventory (MSI) three times:
- First, while they were candidates (before serving as missionaries),
- Second, four years later, after their first term of service in another culture,
- Third, an additional four years later, after their second term of service.
He analyzed the data comparing gender, length marriage, and ages of children (if they had any). The MSI has a measure of overall satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the marriage. Rosik found that satisfaction with their marriage declined significantly during the four years between the first and second times they took the test (during the first term), and it remained lower four years later the third time (during their second term).