Relationship Tips from the Wrong Side of the Road
by Pepper Basham
After being married for twenty-six years to a music-director-turned-pastor, raising five children, moving eight times, and working with kids who have various learning needs, you’d think my husband and I would be fit for something simple like…driving on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country. I mean, how hard could it be, right? The same basic principles apply, they’re just…flipped, but the experience proved…challenging. It also provided great reminders of some important relationship tips that we may have taken for granted until one of us nearly knocked off the side mirror of another driver’s car.
In July, my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Ireland. We’d planned to go in March 2020 to celebrate our 25th anniversary, but as you all know, the world shut down in March, which meant Ireland had to wait. So, when Ireland opened back up in July, we took the opportunity to renew those plans. Part of the plan was to hire a car so we could get a closer tour of the countryside and have a more flexible trip.
Well, it was the first time either of us had driven on the “European” side of the road, and we both decided that the experience should be on the premarital counseling list, because it really did teach us and remind us about a few relationship tips.
Here are just a few.
- Trying something new may feel like it’s going to kill you, but it’s an opportunity to grow. Sometimes our relationships can get stuck in habit, and we can take each other for granted, fail to remember or notice the surprising strengths of that other person, or fall into a routine that needs some revitalizing. Though my husband and I had ridden together for years, we’d never ridden together in Ireland, and that changed everything. During this new and sometimes harrowing process, I was reminded of my husband’s sense of humor and his readiness to call on God for help (sometimes, quite literally in the middle of the highway). I was also reminded of how much we’ve grown as a couple. Fifteen years ago, our conversations and responses would have looked very different than they did on the tiny roads in County Kerry in the rain. We wouldn’t have trusted each other as much or given each other the benefit of the doubt quite as well. But, when we tried this new thing, it highlighted how much we had grown together, in both our ways of responding to each other, as well as in our trust of each other. (Though I still squinted a lot when I rode on the passenger’s side, and we passed rock walls.) But the point is, this new experience highlighted how much we’d grown to communicate well with each other—and healthy communication is key to any relationship. (It can also help keep you from hitting other cars too, just so you know.)
- Humor is vital. There are times for seriousness, but in a land where there are a lot more sheep than people, those times are few. Sheep tend to pop onto the road unexpectedly, and when they do, as a driver, you…well, you have to wait on the sheep. I mean, they don’t care if you’re in a hurry or trying to navigate an argueme…er…discussion. They’ll cross when they’re ready. Excuse the description, but humor is a vital “lubricant” of life. When unexpected or difficult things happen, when plans change or fail, finding joy and hope in the middle of it all helps ease those rough patches and heartaches in a special way. It doesn’t necessarily make the pain go away or change the circumstances, but it can change perspective and ease the pain a little (and, as Mary Poppins so effectively sang, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”). Humor can provide that sweetness in any relationship to help smooth out the rough edges of life, because as we all know, life can definitely have some sharp points. Sprinkle in some much-needed grace along the way and it’s a great combination for making it through the twists and turns of life’s journey.
- A different perspective changes things. When you’re on the opposite side of the car, things are different. Many times, I planned to go to the “driver’s” seat and nearly got into the wrong side of the car, or I’d raise my hand to change gears, only to be reminded that the gear shift was on the other side. Being on a different side with different expectations changed my point of view, which gave both me and my husband a new perspective and forced us to trust each other a little more. He could see things from his angle, I could not and vice versa. There were times (like when I started out driving on the American side of an Irish road), when he had to get me back on track. And there were times when he entered roundabouts (of which I’d watched a gazillion YouTube videos), when he had to trust my knowledge and perspective. We NEED each other in community to help us grow, change, and navigate life in such a way that we mature and learn. New and different perspectives may not only keep us from getting honked at by an oncoming car but also lead us to becoming stronger and more compassionate people. The church is a great example of how God uses community to not only build His kingdom but strengthen it—whether that church is on this side of “the Pond” or the other.
- On narrow roads, look ahead and prepare to stop when needed. Some of the country roads in Ireland may SAY they’re two-way roads, but they’re not. Only one car is fitting down that lane at a time, so there are “laybys” at various places along the road where one car can pull over so the other can pass. What this ultimately causes in thoughtful drivers (besides constant panic) is the need to look ahead so we can prepare for oncoming traffic and use the layby when needed. It’s interesting how sometimes, when life feels like its squeezing us and we don’t think we can handle the moment, God calls us to remember who HE is because HE knows the way. He guides us. We can “look ahead” with eyes of faith not only to prepare our hearts but also to know He’s in control. There’s a future and hope in knowing Christ and being known by Him that gives us courage and strength even in the “tight spots” of life. But there are also times when life feels too difficult, and God calls us to rest. That’s part of the journey too. Pulling over and taking a break, recollecting ourselves, letting others move on ahead, and breathing deeply of God’s truths until we ARE ready to continue down life’s journey. Tight spots happen for all of us. Sometimes we must keep our eyes ahead on our Father and His future promises just to make it through, and other times we’re called to wait, rest, and trust Him.
- Don’t waste the detours. No matter where we went in Ireland, the people were fantastic. Most had a ready smile and were quick to offer help, and plenty knew how to enjoy a good laugh. There just seemed to be a constant readiness of welcome. People were willing to point us in the right direction or give tips on places to see. Some would stop what they were doing to have a friendly chat. Time seemed to slow down long enough to share a drink, conversation, and some good humor. Because we were only in Ireland for a week, it was easy to try to “hurry” up so we could see as many of the sights as possible, but we were constantly reminded of the pleasure and providence of detours. Surprisingly, there were some people who drove even slower than we did! And some who looked even more lost than we were! But God used each detour and slow-moving car to teach us more about ourselves and put us in the way of meeting people we might not have otherwise. So…we slowed down. We embraced the detours. And, in the middle of the detours, my husband and I had many opportunities to show grace to each other.
- A little grace goes a long way. Things could get really tense when you were driving through a small Irish town on market day. Believe me! (Those Irish folks know how to park cars in places that would shock U.S. city dwellers!) Situations test your patience, compassion, and courage, and when you throw two broken people into the mess, it can get tricky, at best. But relationships are great ways for God to work very intimately with our hearts. Thankfully, Christians come to their relationships with two tools others may not have: perspective and resources. For one, our perspectives come from a biblical understanding of who we are. We recognize that the other person in the relationship is a reflection of God too, but he or she is also human. Which means, they have the potential for greatness, but they’re working with feet of clay. That can lead to great intentions and bad follow-through. But secondly, we are not left to our own strength and wisdom to navigate the roads of life. God has given us not only His Word but also His Spirit to help us co-journey on the path of life with others. So, when we’re ready to jerk the steering wheel away from the other driver so that things can get done the “right way,” God works within us with grace to help us grow together instead of pull apart.
Life is filled with twists, turns, and unexpected hills and valleys. Thankfully, no matter which side of the road we’re on, God is in the car with us, ready and able to use the detours, the frustrations, the hurts, and celebrations for our good and His glory so we can show Jesus to others. No matter where we are in the world.
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes historical and contemporary romance novels in which she incorporates her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC, where she is the wife of a fantastic pastor, mom of five great kids and a speech-language pathologist. Her newest novel is The Mistletoe Countess, a historical romantic romp with a dash of mystery and a bunch of humor too. You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at www.pepperdbasham.com
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