How Learning a New Language Strengthened My Marriage

“Se agapo (I love you),” my husband says before we go to sleep, “oneida gleeka (sweet dreams).” While the pronunciation may be slightly off, what is lacking in precision is more than made up for in sweetness.

When I started taking Greek lessons, I was looking for something to change up my routine. It was in the middle of quarantine and everyone around me seemed to be getting puppies, having children, or moving somewhere. Language lessons had just the right amount of commitment — and price tag. Low-stakes fun.

I had zero expectations that it would do anything for my relationship. I figured this would be a solo growing opportunity: a way to feel connected to where I’m from while getting some brain muscles working.

At first, that’s exactly what it was. I went to class. I did my homework. And it was great. But slowly, language classes transformed from a thing I enjoyed doing once a week to a love-brightening-marriage-supercharger that I didn’t even know my relationship needed.

Here are a few ways learning a new language has strengthened my marriage:

1. It’s fun and silly to be beginners together

Even though I’m taking lessons on my own, as I learn new words, I can’t help but share them with my partner. Some are cutesy like eisai omorphos (you are beautiful). Others are more practical like ti kaneis (how are you) and thelo kafe (I want coffee). And of course all the names of food.

The more he learns, the more he sprinkles Greek words into his regular vocabulary (Opa and Poli Orea are his favorites), making me smile each time he does. I’ll be clear: we don’t converse in Greek besides little one-offs here and there, but these brief moments add so much playfulness to our relationship.

I chuckle when he says things confidently and incorrectly… he laughs when I sing poorly along to Greek music. And we go back in forth.

This new hobby has even started inside jokes. For example, he replies with Endaxi (OK) when he doesn’t understand what I’m saying in Greek. Now we say Endaxi to end basically any conversation. It’s silly! It’s fun! It’s ridiculously wonderful!

2. We have new stuff to talk about

I love that my partner and I can sit in silence for hours and not feel weird about it. I mean we both work from home about 10 feet from each other and neither one of us travels for work. So besides hanging out with our friends and family individually or going on solo outings, we’re together. We may not always be interacting but we’re still under the same roof.

Greek classes have given our conversations a little more depth. He asks about what I’m learning and how to say certain words… I share weird moments that happen in class and funny Greek sayings. Especially with the past few years, it’s so nice to have something besides work, often devastating world events, and our dog and families to chat about. And his curiosity in my hobby makes me feel validated and loved, which is a good, soul-filling feeling.

3. Hobbies open up new ways for us to show our love + tap into each other’s love languages

My husband loves to ski. So when he needs alone time, he skis; when it’s his birthday, I always have ski accessories as an option; and when we have a free weekend in the winter, I always suggest skiing because “quality time” is his love language. This hobby opens up so many doors for me to show him I care, I love him, and I value his interests.

A book my husband got me at a used bookstore

Greek classes has become my “skiing.” When I have classes, that’s my “me time.” He now gives me random Greek-related things (like the above book he stumbled upon at a local bookstore) because he knows I love a just because gift. And when he encourages me to speak Greek to a Greek-speaking waiter at a restaurant, it makes me pause and think, wow, I’m so lucky. These gestures are little pick-me-ups that not only encourage me to continue to pursue learning Greek, but they also remind me of why I chose to spend my life with this person.

4. It has deepened my attraction to him

Research shows that 71% of Americans and 61% of Britons believe speaking more than one language makes a person seem more attractive. I find that statistic to also be true for barely-but-not-really bilingual people.

My husband once said, “it’s like I have two wives” in reference to my Greek-speaking self. The feeling is mutual! Hearing him speak Greek makes me feel like I have a Bonus Husband. The rolling rs, the deep “ck” sounds. It’s sexy and different — two really awesome things to feel in a marriage that’s filled with a lot of mundane moments of food prepping, bill paying and waiting for our dog to go to the bathroom.

As I write this, I’m realizing the language lessons aren’t so much of the thing that is strengthening our marriage. Not really. It’s simply giving us an opportunity to practice connecting. And sometimes that looks like saying bad words in Greek and chuckling like we’re 8-years-old. Whatever it takes, right? Endaxi.

Read more about my love for the Greek phrase Siga Siga.

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