3 Sure-fire ways to make your expat spouse´s blood boil
Many expat spouses have cringed when hearing these items slip from her loved one´s lips. Beyond avoiding a relationship debacle, following the suggestions in this article can actually help create connection and understanding. And can I share a little secret? For many spouses, when your partner takes a sincere interest in understanding you, it´s a bit like foreplay. (Fun little side effect).
If you are the accompanying partner, you may passionately agree that these things need to stop. But, I´m not going to let you off the hook that fast. If I am asking the one on assignment to make a stretch, be ready get your legwarmers on because you may just get a workout yourself.
(Please see the footnotes at the end of the full article for the caveats on terms and scope of the article.)
Blood Boiler Nr.1
This is otherwise interpreted as “You don´t work.” Tell that to this woman:
I’m not working. I do 12 school runs per day, shop, cook, clean, take my son to football, bring the kids to haircuts, supervise homework, etc. etc.
By emphasizing the gratitude that your partner “should” feel, you may be adding salt to a wound you can´t see. A significant number of expat spouses who choose to give up their careers to join their partner on an assignment abroad are later hit with a paralyzing sense of loss.
This sense of mourning is connected to a loss identity and privileges that come with something easily recognized across industries – regular employment.
While these feelings of loss are real, there is danger of misplaced resentment. Resentment is relationship poison. Both parties can do their part.
If you are the partner on assignment, try something like this:
I thought you´d be happy with how we´ve divided our responsibilities. What´s bothering you?
And then listen. (Don´t start doing Blood Boiler Nr. 3).
When you think your partner should be “grateful” that she doesn´t have to go to work all day, I have a feeling that this may be a projection of your desire NOT to have to go to work all day. So why not share that with your partner?
Try something like this:
Hey Sexy Mama, I know it isn´t all coffee hours and Thai massages for you while I am at work. But it´s hard when I don´t see the kids while they´re awake. It is also hard when I come home after a crazy day only to face a frazzled wife and the requests of eager children. I hate that I can´t be at all of the kids´ school events. That part of the connection and flexibility you have, I really envy.
This does three things. First, it offers what most women would love from their partners – a window into your inner life. It also helps raise appreciation of her situation without being paternalistic. Finally, it helps her extend more empathy and understanding toward you.
Ooh, things are getting warmer in here already.
Blood Boiler Nr.2
This is the second-cousin to Blood Boiler Nr. 1. While potentially innocent, it can be heard as:
So what the hell did you do today, anyway?
Instead, try “How was your day?” or “Tell me about your day.” This small but important difference helps create a space where the one “at home” can let you in on the daily challenges and joys. If open questions aren´t your thing, then you can always try irony, “What did you do all day, sit around and eat bonbons?”
One accompanying spouse shared a common “secret fear” among fellow expat partners is that they are not doing enough. If you are carrying the invisible burden which reads “I need to earn my keep,” please stop. It´s not true – you need to actively contribute to the family.
When your partner is in a position of power (like head of an NGO, or director in an international company), you may be making matters worse by stewing on the stark differences between what your partner is accomplishing (meeting national ministers, launching regional strategies) and the deceivingly mundane appearance of your tasks.
This is where “comparison-itis” has got to stop.
Instead, get real about what you as the accompanying spouse are accomplishing within your specific context. In reality something like getting the Wi-Fi installed ends up turning into a six-month tragicomedy.
Comparing your challenges with your partners or what you can get done “back home” is an exercise in futility. It also brings up resentment. Instead, notice and celebrate your accomplishments.
If you have settled in and still feel unfulfilled, it may be time to get clear on what you can do to invite more of what you want into your life. Becoming a Trailblazing Spouse® may help you along.
Now jump on over to ExpatWoman.com where this article has been featured to find out Blood Boiler Nr. 3 as well as three simple but important steps you can take to make your relationship more like a partnership.
And when you are finished, if this has resonated with you, have the cojones to share it with your partner. Make your happiness and relationship a high priority. If you would like my support in that journey, contact me.