We have all been there. You´re stomping around the house, snapping at your partner or your kids. Everyone in the room can see the black cloud above your head, except you.
After 20 minutes of watching this, your partner looks at you and says, “Honey, what´s wrong?”
You shout back, “Nothing!” in a voice akin to Linda Blair from the 1973 film The Exorcist.
You let out a deep sigh, apologize, and say, “I don´t know. I guess I´m just in a funk.” You attempt to articulate what is going on inside you and suddenly you´re crying and snotting and go into – what I like to call – Dolphin Voice.
Dolphin Voice is when you try to talk and cry at the same time, but in such a high pitch that the neighborhood bats get scared off. This is just moments before you break down to “the ugly cry” (as if Dolphin Voice wasn´t unattractive enough).
Your partner looks at you with eyes much like a deer stuck in the headlights. He has no idea what the hell just happened. “Nothing” was wrong, now you are a puddle of tears, snot and tissue on the floor.
By the time you are done spewing expletives, countless examples of what has gone wrong, and good-old-fashioned complaints, you finally discover for yourself what was actually bothering you. You just had one of those “big talks.”
Your partner is traumatized.
Your mascara has slid down to your earlobes.
There has to be a better way.
If you live abroad or are part of an international relationship, there may be times when you feel a little more vulnerable than usual. If you are the one who has the expat assignment, you may feel an extra sense of responsibility for your family´s happiness in the new location. If you´re the accompanying partner, you may feel frustrated that the results of all of your hard work throughout the day are not as tangible as a paycheck or an upward move on a career ladder. If you moved abroad to be with the one you love, you may simply feel exhausted from how hard you´ve worked to adapt.
And we are all trying so damn hard to make the best of it.
An international lifestyle is great, but it isn´t always easy.
So the next time you find yourself thinking:
I hate it here.
I want to move back.
This isn´t working for me.
I didn´t know it would be this hard;
You may be at risk of Dolphin Voice.
One of those “big talks” with your partner – or someone important to you – may very well be on the horizon. That is why I want to share a process with you that´ll leave you feeling a little more grounded, better understood, and much more in control of your life.
This is your go-to-guide the next time you feel a “big talk” (aka Dolphin Voice) coming on.
Step One: Talk to yourself
If you´re unhappy, the first person to you need to talk to is you. (Tweet that!)
In true spirit of Dr. Wayne Dyer, “no matter how much I protest,” I´m responsible for my life. So if things are not going well, it´s time to sit down and find out what´s going on and what you can do about it.
Believe me – I know how good it feels to avoid this. The idea of pointing a finger at your partner and saying, “It´s your fault” or “This place sucks” can feel like a lot less work than, say, the daunting task of taking full responsibility of our own happiness.
However, by looking outside for what´s not working in our lives, we may miss what´s causing all of the suffering in the first place.
So here is the heart-to-heart you need to have with yourself:
How am I really feeling? You need to identify the uncomfortable feeling you wish would go away. To be honest, half of the time we have a hard time putting a name on what is wrong, so here is a list of core feelings from the Center of Nonviolent Communication for inspiration. Simply acknowledging what you´re feeling helps it move through you, freeing up space for other (more positive) emotions.
What need is being ignored? For so many who have moved abroad, this very often involves our basic human craving for connection. Later, gaining a deeper sense of purpose or enjoying greater independence may feel more urgent. Here is a list of core needs to help you nail down what is troubling you.
If your default reaction is to start problem solving when things get uncomfortable, without understanding it at a feeling or need level, you run the risk of taking action that misses the mark. This could mean an immense amount of time, energy and money spent on pursuing a “let´s get you happy strategy” that doesn´t solve the real problem.
Step Two: Get bossy
When you´re unhappy, one of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is: How can I take charge of my life? (Tweet that!)
Much to my chagrin, we cannot control the weather, our in-laws, a host-culture´s turtle-paced approach to friendship, or how difficult it is to learn a new language. What you can do is get creative about getting your needs met, and taking leadership for your own life.
Start bossing yourself around. Make a list of the areas of your life where you would like to take better charge, and then take action on just one thing. And then another.
Good bosses lead with a vision and focus on their top priorities. Good bosses don´t do it all on their own, they get help from the right people at the right time. You should too.
What kind of support could you use right now? Make a list of the type of support you crave. Is there something specific you need from your partner? Are there things that have to change in the home to ease your load? Are you doing enough to support yourself, namely some good self-care and a healthy dose of empathy for your own situation?
At first glance, talking to yourself and being bossy doesn´t sound like great advice but following these principles can actually be powerful catalysts to making the most of your life abroad.
If you work through the steps above, you’re likely to discover something surprising: You don´t need to have a “big talk” with anyone. The tough conversation was the one you just had with yourself. You walk away feeling clarity, more optimistic, and much more in control of your life. You´ve drenched yourself in a bucket load of empathy for all that you´re being challenged by and you have a plan on how to start making things better, right now. Sans Dolphin Voice.
I want to leave you with a little gift. Here´s a reminder you can print, save or share on Facebook to inspire you or others to take back control of your life.
If now feels like the right time to get crystal clear on what you want, pin down what´s holding you back, and create a plan to make things happen, reach out. I´m accepting a limited number of individuals for a free 30-minute coaching session. By this time next week, you could be taking the first steps to transform your life.
Here´s to making the most of life abroad.
p.s. Interested in insight just like this? Sign up for my monthly newsletter and get a free gift, 5 Things You´re Going to Wrong While Living Abroad. This free guide helps you avoid the top five most common mistakes expats make, so that you can reduce overwhelm, uncertainty, regret and stress just when you need it most.