Married in the Peace Corps

Tish & Marion at Baobob treeOne of things that has made our Peace Corps service easier is the fact that we are married.  We have each other to talk to and vent about what happened that day, someone who is sharing the same experiences, fears, and goals.  Currently there are about 350 married couples serving around the world in the Peace Corps, which is about 10% of all Volunteers.

I don’t know how the single Volunteers do it.  Especially during the “lockdown” periods when Volunteers are not allowed to leave their village.  These “lockdown” periods are the first two months after you to go your village and also the last two months before you go home.  During those periods you cannot leave your village to visit other Volunteers unless you have official business.  Peace Corps feels you need to stay put and work on integrating with your community those first two months.  I am not so sure why they make you stay put your last two months, but that is the rule.

Whether you are free to travel or not, day to day life in your village can make you feel lonely.  Peace Corps Volunteers often feel isolated.  There are Batswana people around you, many who speak English, but there is a wide gulf between you and them.  Their English is usually not very good and there are big cultural differences which makes it difficult to have a close Motswana friend.

Because I am married I can come home and be with my best friend and I am not so isolated.  This is good.

The bad news is that being married in the Peace Corps can be hard on a marriage.  There are a few other Peace Corps Volunteers whom I have met here in Botswana.  One couple who served 2010-2012, Mike and Jerry, are 50-somethings from California.  During our Pre Service Training (PST), they spoke to our group and shared some of the benefits and challenges of being married in the Peace Corps.  I remember listening and finding their talk interesting, but it only now resonates with me since time has gone by and I have experienced the same things.

We find that one of the biggest challenges is that we are together much more than we were in the USA, and we don’t have our other outside interests.  Back home Tish spent a lot of time with her girlfriends or played tennis on her ALTA teams.  I spent a lot of time skydiving and riding my bike.  In the Peace Corps the term “healthy outlets” is used a lot.  The term refers to positive outlets for stress.  Being able to talk things over with my marriage partner is a healthy outlet, but it is not healthy if we take things out on each other.  

This experience has certainly tried our marriage, but it has also bonded us in ways we weren’t before.  Probably for the rest of our lives we will reminisce about our years in Africa.

John & TracyThere is another married Peace Corps Botswana couple, Tracy Adams and John Ottersbach, who arrived in-country in 2012.  They wrote a great blog post about how serving together has affected thier marriage:   You can read it below or by clicking HERE

This is what they wrote:

 “Being married in the Peace Corps sounds wonderful when thinking of sharing these experiences with each other and having someone to lean on and support you when the times are hard (or to fight a battle for you that would have made you throw the towel in). Sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t. Everyone has heard married people and non-married people go through different trials and tribulations and here are my experiences with them.

 In the US we both had our separate lives during the day. There were constant activities we could do separately with friends or even with a group together, but not really being together all the time. People saw us as individual people who chose to be together. Now anytime they see one of us the first question is “Kabo (John) o kae?” People are shocked when I don’t know and keep questioning.

 I also have found a disturbing change in myself; I am becoming a bit co-dependent. Instead of just going to the store by myself or going for a walk when I need to get out, I find myself asking John along or waiting for him. This is a habit I am slowly breaking as it is destroying my self esteem.

 Although it sounds nice having someone to do projects with, having it be a spouse is difficult. I hold John to higher standards than I do anyone else, which always brings about stress. If one of us is not motivated, it is easier than expected to drop the other person’s motivation.

 In the US I did not have to defend my marriage and the idea of marriage daily. I don’t want a small house. I was able to have male friends without people assuming I am cheating and telling me they are going to tell John. Although it has brought up a lot of good conversations, the whole thing gets taxing a bit as about 75% of my conversations now discuss John in one way or another.

 The most difficult thing is that our entire relationship has changed. During the first few months at site we fought more than we have ever fought in our entire relationship. We even discussed going home to save our marriage. One of us having a bad day often means we both have a bad day…that is a lot of bad days and sometimes multiple day long fights. For the new couples, it does get better in time.

 We are still trying to figure out how to best cope with this. Some of the main coping techniques we have come up with include:

      • Making sure we talk about our relationship
      • Not making promises we are not sure we can keep (i.e. talking to someone about something for the other person when you have a busy day)
      • Not trying to be a “back seat driver” to someone else’s project
      • Taking time for ourselves when needed
      • Allowing the other person to go out of town without you if you both don’t want to go

 Although these are things we also did in the US the stressors are different and more intense and our support network and stress outlets have dramatically shrunk. Overall it has gotten better, but when we let down our guard up pops a fight. All in all I am glad John is here with me and I think this has strengthened our marriage, but definitely tested it. “

Tracy Adams and John Ottersbach

I found some other PC Volunteer blogs with posts about challenges to a marriage.  They can be found by clicking the links below:

Tish and I celebrated our 16th and 17th wedding anniversaries here in Botswana.  We look forward to being back in the USA for our 18th.

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