Go to school. Get a good job. Get married. Have a family. That’s what the climb up looks like to #livingthedream. Then, like a waterslide without the fun, midlife hits and suddenly, you’re spiraling down into a cold-water awakening.
Biological and psychological changes combined with (yet) unmet goals funnel into a perceived dissatisfaction with your life in general. You start projecting your personal problems onto your spouse and begin to question your decisions.
“Should I have moved abroad?” “Did I pick the right partner?”
If you’re between the ages of 35 and 55, treat this episode like an urgent public service announcement for your love life.
It’s my honor to host psychologist and founder of the Expat Nest, Vivian Chiona. With a specialized focus on the distinct challenges faced by the globally mobile community, Vivian provides virtual counselling services (in multiple languages) to individuals, couples, and families.
Vivian’s certifications and accomplishments are endless; most recently, she was named as one of the 100 Most Inspirational Women in the World for 2020. In addition to helping bring many marriages back from the brink of divorce, Vivian teaches reparative and preventable measures to keep couples from getting there in the first place.
What you’ll learn in this Episode:
- Hidden competitions within a couple
- Vulnerability & the different levels of exposure
- Language scripts that spark cooperation
- Hard questions to ask yourself before leaving
- The truth about infrequent sex
Listen to the Full Episode:
Hello there, June! If you’re like me and, um, everyone else on the planet, you’re feeling like things are turned upside down. I have something special coming up to get your energy back on track so you can put it into what matters most to you. So…make sure you’re in Expats on Purpose and let’s infuse FRESH into the second half of 2020.
Featured on the Show:
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae’s Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, It is 6:30 am in New York, 12:30 pm in Johannesburg and 5:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. I’m Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations, and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
So I came across a saying, “Marriage is like eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.” I’m not sure who said that but I get it. It’s hard enough to have a loving relationship with yourself and then smash yourself in a life with another person and now we’ve got to get creative. And that is why I am so delighted to have my guest today here to help us kick off a two-part series on connection.
Sundae: So, a heartfelt welcome to Vivian Chiona, the founder of Expat Nest. Vivian, welcome to Expat Happy Hour.
Vivian: Hello Sundae. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very pleased to be here.
Sundae: So I’m going to brag a little bit about you, Vivian. She is really amazing. So not only has she created a platform called Expat Nest which promotes the emotional well-being of expats, by offering online counseling, in… let me tell you this, English, Greek, Spanish, Italian Arabic and Chinese. I’m just waiting for the next language to come out. Vivian is a psychologist, she has a master’s degree in both child and adolescent psychology and health psychology. She is a multilingual bicultural and an expat with her family all over the world. So she gets it. Vivian says she feels at home in the international community and is inspired by diversity. I happened to meet Vivian at the Families and Global Transition Conference, I think in 2018. Is that right Vivian?
Vivian: Yes, I think this is when we met for the first time in person.
Sundae: Exactly, and then we got to see each other again in 2019, and since then, she has gone on to be awarded as one of the hundred most inspirational women in the world for 2020. Wow!
Vivian: Thank you so much Sundae for this wonderful introduction.
Sundae: Tell us a little more about you. How did you come to do what you do now Vivian?
Vivian: Right. Okay, first of all, whatever I do, I do it with so much love. I think what I have done with Expat Nest reflects exactly that because it’s a business with “Heart.” As you said, I’m an expat myself, I’m bicultural, I was born and raised in Greece by a Greek father and an Assyrian mother. Assyrians are a minority in the Middle East with no country. My family was spread out in the United States and Australia, so I have grown up knowing that families can be spread out over the globe and still feel that love and the sense of being part of a family. Love has no borders.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I was working there for many years and then I realized that there was a need for expat specialized services. For me back then, the easiest thing would be to just start my practice there in the Hague where I live, and help the people in the local community. Then I wanted to do something that would help expats no matter where they are in the world. I wanted to do something that had no borders, exactly as with my family – our love had no borders.
So, one day I was at the beach and I was swimming and then the idea came. I think actually the best ideas come when we are connected to ourselves and I remember I said, “Okay, I’m going to do it.” Back in 2013 though, everybody thought it was a bit crazy because they were telling me “Vivian, why you want to start something exclusively online, exclusively for expats, in all these languages.” Seven years later when this recognition came early in 2020, I didn’t believe it, because it’s so many years later. At the beginning, it was hard because I had to raise awareness about expat challenges and why there’s a need for more specialized psychological services.
I enjoy it very much, but above all, it’s because it serves a purpose, and my mission in this life, which is to help expats no matter where they are. So in that aspect, I’m a very happy person.
Sundae: You’re giving me chills because that is absolutely my core mission and ironically, 2013 is when I started my own business as well, serving expats and also all online. So I didn’t know that we had that in common.
Vivian: Yes, that’s wonderful and I didn’t know either.
Sundae: So we’re going to dive in today. There’s so much you could speak on because your level of professional competency is not only deep, it’s also broad. Today, I want to focus on relationships and transition. So I’ll just give you a little bit of background: A lot of my clients are experienced expats, they’ve been abroad for a long time. They might be in binational relationships, or living that globally mobile life. For years they’ve done this.
Then something happens and it’s unclear. “Am I not happy in this country, am I having a midlife crisis, is our marriage dissolving.” Everything gets put into question because something happens and one or more persons in this partnership is no longer okay with the way things were. So I invited you today for us to sort of untangle this idea of relationships and transition because it’s even more complex when we’re looking at relationships in globally mobile transitions.
Vivian: Indeed, because major life transitions, their location, and your job are great life’s treasures for most people. This may happen a few times in their lives, but for expats it can happen every few years or even more often. Expats face normal challenges of a committed relationship, as well as the challenges unique to their nomadic lifestyle.
I think it’s important to mention that sometimes expat couples think their marital problems or long-term relationship problems (for those who are not married) have to do with their location. But, sometimes their marital problems are usually within the relationship itself because marital trouble is harder to tackle overseas. Sometimes it’s about the chicken or the egg. If you want, we can try to explore both and then see what makes more sense. You can have a midlife crisis, you can have a marriage crisis and you can have both at the same time.
Sundae: Right! That’s nice.
Vivian: It’s quite complicated, so I think, let’s try to keep it simple. It’s true though.
Sundae: It is true, I see it all the time. Okay, I want to tangle that out, so I have a couple questions: “What do people blame on expat life, but it’s really about marriage?” and “What do people blame on marriage, but it is really about expat life?” I don’t know if you can give me definitive answers, but let’s see what we come up with.
Vivian: Okay, I’ll start with the part of the midlife crisis because, first of all, change is good when we know what we’re changing to. Actually, it’s healthy and necessary to change, and I think in a relationship you have to embrace this change. I would be more worried for example if I was in a relationship and my partner never changed because the only constant in life is change.
However, some small changes can become small annoyances and this is actually the moment to talk before they turn into big obstacles. When there are big changes in our lives, then we can represent a direct contradiction to your own thoughts or your values, and this is much more difficult to swallow. I’ll first focus on the midlife crisis, which is something that will happen, most likely to all of us, which is an emotionally uncomfortable period between the ages of 35 to 55.
It’s time to question our priorities in life and to adjust our lifestyle, that better fits our emotional needs, and that’s good, that’s healthy and that’s necessary. For others though, this is the moment that they have a true crisis and they then seek affection and attention outside of the relationship and this is where the problems start. The midlife crisis, in a way, is a natural reaction to aging and sometimes it’s triggered by physiological changes. As a health psychologist, I always ask my clients to check their hormone levels and their hormonal drugs, because that’s part of the midlife crisis. We cannot talk only about the psychological factors if we don’t explore the physiological factors as well.
Sundae: I think that’s so true. I mean, this is what we just talked about on our last episode, The Menopausal Expat. If things are going on hormonally that’s making a huge impact on how you feel, your well-being and how you’re experiencing your own mental health, It’s really important to have that biochemical analysis. As a coach, I say this to my clients all the time, “I can’t coach biology. I can’t work against biology.”
Wait a minute, you’ve got so many great nuggets here. I just want to slow down a little bit. This idea about a midlife crisis, you talked about 35 to 55. This is where we are looking to feed our new developing needs, maybe our emotional needs and it can get to a true crisis when we’re looking for that affection and attention outside of their relationship.
What is so interesting that you said is that this is “a natural reaction to aging” and honestly, I think that we still think about the midlife crisis as a male thing, who is going after the secretary or red convertible. There’s not a lot of space to see what that “midlife crisis” (I call it midlife transition) looks like in a much broader scope. You’re telling me it’s natural. So why aren’t we talking about it more and why is there so much shame around it?
Vivian: Yes, there is a lot of shame around it because I think with social media, they present the perfect idea about aging. People try all the time to look younger and younger and I think it represents the cultural norms right now in many societies that are changing about aging. It’s not easy to talk about this issue, even to your partner, let alone other people in your life. Sometimes in order to communicate what is changing, we have to be fully aware and that’s a process on its own.
Sometimes we’re changing but we don’t know what exactly we’re changing to. It’s very hard to communicate, and that’s why it’s very difficult in a relationship when your partner doesn’t communicate with you what is happening to them. You have to guess and assume and then take it as personal rejection when it’s not. They are having a personal crisis. It’s for both male and female.
Sundae: You’re saying “we don’t know what we’re changing to” and at the same time “we should talk to our partner.” What if we don’t know what we’re changing to, then talking to your partner will just freak him out.
Vivian: Exactly, that’s why sometimes you have to look out for some signs. For example, if you feel bored all the time, and there is a need for adventure and change or the signs of a midlife crisis like depression, or questioning long-term, long-held beliefs, anger and blame, or you’re unable to make decisions about the future, this can be manifested in two ways like a paralysis or flip-flopping on important decisions. There are signs that something is not right.
Even if your partner doesn’t talk to you about it, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. Let’s say your partner feels bored and they start looking for a new hobby or buy a new car. It’s important for you as a partner to participate in these new activities because it’s like showing support until you find the right moment to start having a more vulnerable discussion. Having these discussions about the fear of aging or the fear of what is changing to our bodies, are not easy and they require us to show our vulnerability.
So sometimes it’s not what the people say, it’s also what they do before they have a conversation.
Sundae: So I just had this huge “aha moment” about the difference between being emotional with your partner and being vulnerable with your partner. I think for me the old paradigm was, “If I can cry or be angry or express discontent, that was me being vulnerable.” Actually I think that is showing emotion and that’s different from being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is being bare and saying, “This is where I am in my process.” “This is how I’m seeing things differently.” And that that is a different level of exposure, because if your partner isn’t on board with that, or is not happy with those changes, then it can feel disruptive to the entire relationship.
Vivian: Exactly, and that’s an important point because the feelings do not last forever, but the damage to the personal relationship does. This is where we need to be so careful because the midlife crisis is expected for everyone to go through at some point, but it will end. It’s not going to last.
Sundae: So that’s already good news. The good news is that this is a process, it’s not going to last forever. What I’m hearing from you is to handle that process with care because the implications of what happens during that process might have a long-lasting impact.
Vivian: Right. In any relationship, you can be a part, whether emotionally or geographically for periods of time and come closer again. As I say to my clients, it’s like an accordion. It took me a decade to emotionally grasp this, although logically, I could understand it. Sometimes you can be a part emotionally with your partner and then come closer again. However, what I see in clients and me, is it can really feel like personal rejection from your partner who you’ve built all these things together with. It can feel like a little bit more distance because of their own personal issues.
This is the moment to try to avert that and see it as an opportunity to grow together and adapt because if this is not used as an opportunity for growth, it can be detrimental to a relationship in the long-term. Especially when one of the two starts doubting whether they can be together. Part of the midlife crisis is doubting your choices and if you start doubting your choice about being married to this person or being in a long-term relationship with someone, this is where the problem starts.
That’s why for the partner who is facing these challenges, it’s important to remind them why they got married to you in the first place. In the midst of the relocation and everything changing in your life, there’s so much noise around you.
Sundae: Yeah, that cracks me up. I was just imagining everybody trying to remind their partners how amazing they are.
Vivian: Right. To bring a little bit more sparkle after all the years together. One of the things I need to mention, with the psychophysiological changes, it can really bring on a lot. It can bring a lack of intimacy in sex as well. It’s important to rediscover this together. “Okay, what can we do to make things better between us; what really connects us as a couple.”
If you want, we can move more to the expat part of it, because I think it’s important to know if it’s the chicken or the egg. It’s important to talk about both because as I always say to my clients “a relationship leads in an emotional ecosystem,” it’s like a plant. When you move from one country to another, you don’t have your family support or your friends around. You have to start everything from scratch and you don’t know what to expect or know your working environment, or what your new home will be like, or how to start making friends.
You don’t know if your kids will go to a new school, or how things will be there etc. So you may have a loving partner and a good record together, but your location can put a lot of pressure on any relationship, regardless of how strong the foundation is. It’s important then to create a new routine and to find new activities together as a couple and as a family to do together, as you used to do in your home country.
Sundae: Which can be hard if you’re busy and working late nights, or shuffling the kids off to sporting events. The back and forth can feel hard as a couple trying to make time for each other.
Vivian: Definitely. That’s why I sometimes encourage them to have date nights or to start having friends. I always say to my clients that they have to remember that the partner cannot be their mom, their dad, and the therapist, in one person. They have to try to create a social circle. They have to try to have other things to be balanced. It’s beautiful when the partner becomes the center of your universe, but on the other hand that puts a lot of responsibility on the other person. They also have to adjust to their new work environment. They have their own fears about their family being a continent apart and many other parameters. So it’s important to try to keep that balance.
Sundae: So what I’m taking away is advice for couples who are living expat life, to be really mindful about the ecosystem that they create for their partnership with every move, and even when life pressures get high, that it’s important to water that ecosystem, so to speak otherwise something will suffer.
Vivian: Yes, and to remember that they are on the same team, especially for expat partners who move. I call them “Lovepats” because they follow their partner because of their work assignment. One of the things we work with a lot in therapy is to let go of victim mode, and see that this was a choice that they’ve made for their personal lives and for their families.
Otherwise, there was a lot of resentment or a hidden competition between the partners, about things like “who speaks the language best,” or that “I’m struggling to adjust, but you have your work,” or “you had an induction program, so you can make friends,” or “well you have your languages courses and I’m here at home doing nothing,” or when you don’t know where you belong, or when you have lost your status from your previous country. This can cause a lot of pressure on a couple and that hidden competition can be very damaging in the long term.
Sundae: Yeah, totally.
Vivian: There is a difference for each because, let’s say one is working and the other one is not, they don’t have let’s say the same opportunities for socializing. A different point of view can widen the gap in the communication and the understanding of each other’s experience in the new country.
Sundae: So, what do you think? You have the benefit of watching patterns in couples. I don’t know if you ever feel this way, but sometimes I have this with my work – I help people who are looking to make the most of their life abroad or they’re looking for more purpose and meaning. And you can watch someone go down a path and you see their path and you’re just excited because you know, they’re going to get there. Then there are other people who are walking a different path and you’re kind of cringing because you know that it’s not going to end well. I’m not talking about my clients, I’m talking about in general. So I’m wondering when you look at people who are coming to you and the relationship is put into question. Whether it’s fair or unfair, what are some of the things that make you cringe because you know, it’s preventable, you know, if they made a few small shifts, it would make a big difference.
Vivian: Yeah, that’s a good question because as I said before, I think the expat challenges in my view, are more preventable, especially if there’s a lot of good work done before the couple or family relocates. I would encourage a couple that is about to move, to ask for some support, preventively. However, if your relationship is hanging by a thread, I’m not sure if locating at that moment is the right decision to make. Another country won’t magically solve all your problems.
Sundae: So I’m hearing that if your relationship is hanging by a thread already, then the “preventable” would be: don’t make it worse by going into a relocation.
Vivian: Sometimes we know the reality is that there’s no choice and people have to move. If there is a choice, perhaps it’s better to wait until you focus on what the real problem is. As we said at the very beginning, many expat couples put all the blame on the expat experience but sometimes the problems are usually within the relationship. I walk my talk here, for example, I had a long-term relationship and I broke up with him years ago. I was thinking for many months after the breakup that the reason was because he wanted to return to Greece and I wanted to stay in the Netherlands.
Deep down and after a lot of reflection, that was not the problem, it was the trigger. There was a deeper problem, so sometimes we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. Examples of questions that I ask my female clients are really hard questions in therapy. When they haven’t had sex with their partners for years, I ask “Do you really want him in your in your body?” and when the answer is “No,” there’s a big problem in this relationship.
So either they go to couples counseling or in the long-term, they can coexist in the same house, or they can do co-parenting, but the relationship has a big problem. However, I understand, when you’re in a relationship, it’s not easy to look at yourself in the mirror. Especially because you have to take care of your children, you are in a different country, perhaps you don’t have the same financial freedom or work. You know, it’s very hard when you are in a situation like this and far away at the same time.
Sundae: Yeah! Right, like there’s no easy answers.
Vivian: Right. That’s why in our work, we offer a safe place for people to talk and process and then we try to find solutions because the solutions are very different for each couple.
Sundae: So what are the things that you think are preventable? You talked about dealing with the expat challenges, which can already be large challenges. Dealing with them, being proactive in navigating that, getting out of victim mode, taking ownership of your choices – those are some things that you can use to empower yourself.
What are the things that you’ve seen that are harder to get around, things that are truly challenging for the relationship and are important to pay attention to?
Vivian: Yeah, first of all, I need to mention that for each individual, and in each couple, there are different deal-breakers. Usually in my experience what I see as more difficult than finding a solution is when there is abuse, a lack of sex for many years when there is infidelity involved and things like that. This is where it’s harder to save a relationship. I always ask this question and the answer to it is very important: “Do you have faith in your relationship?” and when the answer is “Vivian, I have no idea how we’re going to move past this conflict, but yes, I have faith in a relationship. I believe in us and I know we can make it happen,” then sooner or later, these people find a solution.
Those who come to counseling from the beginning, having no faith in the relationship, have already taken a decision before they start counseling. They just need to get stronger in order to leave a relationship. I’m not saying that that’s the only question to decide if you’re going to stay in a relationship, it’s far more complicated than that, but it’s important to trust and to see if you have the same vision for your relationship. If you still have faith that you can make it work. When you start doubting if the other person is the right partner for you (which is normal to some extent), and it’s your main question for months and months or years and years, things start getting complicated. Because you’re not focusing on a particular problem, but rather, focusing on whether your partner is right for you.
Sundae: So that’s kind of like setting someone up to fail, isn’t it? Because you can’t work out a specific problem.
Vivian: No, I wouldn’t necessarily say so because it’s not how we decide if something is a success or failure. I wouldn’t necessarily use that word “fail” because if a person sees it as a failure, they don’t have the strength to fight anymore. People want to save the relationships in most cases, so we try to clarify which direction they want us to work together, and then we focus all our energy on this. Of course, sometimes individual counseling is not enough and people may need couple’s counseling.
Sundae: Right, right. So what happens when one person is going through an immense growth phase, and the other person is very stable in their focus and clarity and how they’re living their lives. Like one side is disrupted but the other side is on a track, so it actually could throw off the other person who was like “Actually, everything was rolling along fine here.” How do you work with people who are in that situation?
Vivian: As I said before, we try to offer them a safe place to explore their thoughts and their feelings, and to share thoughts around these changes that are happening. Sometimes they don’t have the words to communicate what exactly is happening internally and then when you realize that your needs, your wants, your desires, your dreams and life’s direction has changed so much. It’s important for the partner who is more stable to acknowledge them, and to allow the time and the space, and the freedom for their partner to talk to them.
Sometimes, when talking is not helpful, I always encourage my clients to use the “more loving, less talking” approach. You can still be there and show them their love in other ways rather than just talking about it. Sometimes talking all day about your problems won’t necessarily make them better. So more love and less talking can be the answer. It’s important to also allow them the time and the space to understand what exactly is going on, and to decide which direction they want to go in.
Sundae: I love that and this is one of the reasons why I wanted to bring you on because I think there are so many taboos that we have around aging. If you think about our trajectory, it’s like: go to school, graduate, get a job, have a family, raise your kids. It’s just all this doing and doing and doing and doing and then at some point in our lives, we start looking at the undoing.
We look at the slowing down, not speeding up and there seems to be so much shame around those changes. I love that we’re able to give some space to that today because I believe that when we were 20, it was like all the 40-year-olds were hiding a huge secret from us, and now I feel robbed. Where were all these people telling us what life was like? That’s why you always see these memes on Facebook about adulting and how hard a dull thing is.
When you create normalcy around it and you can have conversations about it and you can say “Hey, this is what’s going on with me” and it’s a construct somebody already has, it doesn’t feel as scary.
Vivian: That’s why it’s important to talk to the people you trust because most likely, they have the same fears or insecurities. That’s why I said very early on in our interview, that I think it’s also affected by the pace in our lives. Now with the “lockdown-slowdown,” I think it helped, but before that, we were living in lives of fast food, fast fashion, fast everything and it doesn’t help. We must say, “Okay, I just want some time and space for me to reflect on what’s going on and to find my purpose.”
By the way, Sundae, that’s why I love your work about purpose, because I think it’s important to find our purpose in life, in different ages because the meaning of it changes. For example, I ask my clients to work on a vision board or a passion board and create a life that they look forward to and they would enjoy living, because when you’re having a midlife crisis, most likely you’re projecting negatively into the future.
Sundae: Right, right. The thing with my clients is that when they’re unhappy with themselves and they’re hungry for purpose, what they end up doing is they project it on their partner and expect their partner to create happiness and purpose. It’s almost to the point where they want to disengage from the relationship and when we work together, on them not on the partnership, they have automatically shown up differently in their relationships. They actually created the closeness that they were looking for in the beginning.
Vivian: Exactly, and that’s why it’s so important to ask them “are you changing and you’re seeing your partner differently or has the partner changed?” In most of the cases we’re also seeing our partners differently so it’s important to also “If I were to leave this relationship, will it solve all my problems; is this the source of my happiness?” In some cases it is, but in other cases, it’s not. Like you said before, it’s our personal challenges that are projected to our partner, which is normal because we’re together 24/7, you live together, this is the person you’re around.
However, is it fair on them? I’m not sure, and that’s why it’s important to clarify. In many cases, the relationship is the source of the anxiety and stress, especially when you are in a wrong relationship for you.
Sundae: Right, and that’s why I was looking at this whole idea of a marriage/ midlife crisis, where people are looking at how they’re changing and the next whatever 20-30 years that they’re looking ahead and saying, “Is this the way I want to still do it.” You’ve given us some really great strategies to start thinking about what we can do so that it doesn’t become a true crisis.
So I just want to recap for a second and Vivian you tell me if I’ve missed anything: some of the things that you’re saying that we can do is (1) compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, where we have to get clear on the challenges were feeling related to expat life or are they related truly to the relationship. (2) “Are you going through a very natural transition?” People call it a midlife crisis, I call it a midlife transition. (3) “Are you giving yourself the space to just take that in and reflect and use it, as you said, as an opportunity to grow?” Once you’ve done that together as a partner and there’s space to process that together, you can work on the relationship.
Vivian: Yes, and the relationship actually can become much stronger after that. Then you realize who matters to you, who are the people around you, and then you realize the importance of your partner who was there through the difficult transition. You could lean on him or her, actually, when you go through this crisis it can make you much stronger as a couple.
I think that’s the message I want to pass because going through a difficult time does not mean that the relationship is doomed. It’s maybe just a phase of a relationship, and then you can be much better again. When you don’t see it as possible anymore, that’s where the problem starts.
Sundae: So I just wrote down “Difficult doesn’t equal doom” and that this idea of faith or the “belief in us,” is an important thing to hold on to keep moving forward.
Vivian: For me when I ask this question, sometimes it’s a real indicator of where this is going.
Sundae: For me, I always say that I coach who’s in the room. So when we’re working on challenges, I work on them, not their partner or how their partner is contributing or whatever. So, I think the question that I work on with my clients is “Do you have faith in you,” and “do you have faith that you can make changes that you can take back your power?” I think that’s the role that, when I work with my clients, it’s about empowering the individual in their own life and then through that, they show up more courageously with their partners.
It’s really beautiful to watch because it’s so simple, but this is something I see all the time. It’s like when they don’t even know what they want or what they need and then finally they can name it. It was just anger or frustration before and then once they can name it, they can say to their partner, “You know, I really feel like I need more connection, would you be willing to block out Thursday nights for us to have time together.” Usually, the partner is super responsive. The resistance is just gone. So it’s really beautiful to see what happens when someone starts naming what their needs are and what their wants are and they’re believing that they deserve to have those met.
Vivian: Yes, exactly and based on this example you just gave I wanted to add something. We work a lot with my clients on becoming more assertive by expressing their thoughts and their needs and I have noticed that the following sentence has been practiced again and again: “I feel this way…” and then you name your emotions. Focusing only on your emotions, not blaming the other person because if you start doing that then the person will go into defensive mode and then the discussion will go nowhere.
So I feel this way you can express how you feel you focus only on the facts. Then finish this sentence “What I need from you is…” It’s always important to end that sentence by expressing exactly what you need and what you expect from the other person. It’s very hard for a partner to meet your emotional needs when you don’t express them.
Sundae: Right! Seriously. It’s so unfair. It’s so unfair.
Vivian: It’s so difficult at the same time. The assumption is the mother of all mistakes and then the other person assumes all different scenarios, which may not be true.
Sundae: Totally, and this is very similar to the work that I’ve drawn from Marshall Rosenberg about getting clear on what your emotions are, because of what your values are. Most of the time when the client says, “Would you be willing to…” or whatever that request is, if they understand what need it’s meeting, usually it’s very well received. So, that’s so good., sometimes it’s not as scary as we thought and this is where that shift came in for me about the difference between being emotional and vulnerable.
That just crying or being upset is emotional but doesn’t mean it’s always vulnerable. Vulnerable is saying “Hey, this is what I need and would you be willing to meet that need” that is vulnerability. That is where the power of intimacy comes in when that need is met.
Vivian: The right partner for you, will most likely try their best to meet those needs. Whereas, if there’s someone who’s fueling your insecurities, that’s also another sign that perhaps something is not right there.
Sundae: Yep. So good, so good. The right partner will be willing to meet those needs, instead of fueling insecurities. I know we could go on and on about this for hours. I really do cherish the time that you’ve given us today because I know this is on the hearts of many people. This is big. This is important. This is worth couples listening to together. It’s worth rewinding and listening again. This is about keeping that partnership that was started for very good reasons. However, long ago, however many countries ago, so thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.
Vivian: You’re so welcome, Sundae. Thank you so much for having me, and I hope this interview was valuable to your audience. I would encourage your audience, perhaps to check their love language. There is a quiz. I can send you the link and there’s a love language quiz because sometimes when we talk about emotional needs, we realize it’s like talking different languages and people cannot really connect to each other. So I encourage them to do the love language and maybe their partner can also do it and then start from there. So they’ll have something very practical to start with.
Sundae: I love Gary Chapman. He is one of my favorite authors on the Five Love Languages. We’ll absolutely include that in the podcast notes. More importantly, where can we find you if they want to know more about you and what you’re doing at Expat Nest?
Vivian: They can find us at www.expatnest.com and as you said we offer our services in different languages and we help individuals, teenagers and their parents. Of course, we take on couples, depending on their language. We don’t have couples counselors in all languages, but we’re working on it, but we do have it in English and Greek.
Sundae: Okay. Thank you so much.
You’ve been listening to expat happy hour with Sundae Bean. Thank you for listening. So much to take away from today’s interview. I’m going to leave you with an anonymous quote. “The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place, after watching them fall apart for so long.”
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