Think of everything you do on-the-daily in the business of managing your life as an individual and as a couple. Imagine I gave you a wheelbarrow and asked you to add a boulder for each physical, mental, logistical, and emotional task you did for yourself or your family.
How full would your wheelbarrow be? How would that volume compare to what’s in your spouse’s cart? And perhaps most relevant, who decided where each boulder should land?
You can only push extra weight for so long before you find yourself stuck in expat quicksand. Then, if you want to go any further, you’ll need to unload a few boulders.
Get ready because this week’s going to be an eye-opener. Just like those tricky pictures you stare at to see what at first glance appears imperceptible, I’m about to point out all the invisible burdens you carry. Then, once they’re named and in full view, we’re going to reexamine your responsibilities, renegotiate them to stomp out resentment, and make it fair for everyone.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Quiz: Are you stuck in expat quicksand?
- An Excel spreadsheet exercise every couple should do
- How resentment is a cocktail of multiple complex emotions
- Replenishing the tinfoil & calls to your mother-in-law
- Taking on tasks that no one asked you to own
Listen to the Full Episode
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 07:00 am in New York, 1:00 pm in Johannesburg and 6:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
I remember we sat down together at the table we had recently bought in an outlet store and in front of my partner was an Excel sheet. I’d been in the country for, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half and there was something on his mind. He was frustrated.
We looked at the laptop and the Excel sheet, and what we did is we listed all of the household chores, the tasks, the cleaning, the shopping, all of the things that have to be done for life, for operating as an individual and for us as a shared couple.
And then next to each thing, we put our name, whether he did it or I did it and to my surprise when we stepped back and looked at it, he was doing far more than I was. No wonder he was frustrated. But the thing was it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t something either one of us planned, but it kind of just grew out of the context, and when I first moved to Switzerland, I didn’t speak German, so I wasn’t able to make phone calls or I didn’t know how the system went to do a, b, or c.
My husband took on that burden in the beginning and thankfully because I didn’t have the capacity or the competency, but we kept going on and on with that routine until one day, it just felt imbalanced, and I didn’t even know it was happening until the weight had set too heavily on his shoulders. So what do we do? You can imagine what we did with that Excel sheet, we reassigned names and balanced the tasks.
There was a solution that we found and maybe you’re the one who has felt frustrated? Maybe you’re the one who feels like things are imbalanced and that sense of resentment is coming up. At the same time, you might have a completely separate struggle and that might be feeling stuck, like you’re hungry for more purpose and meaning in your life, you’re looking for more direction. So not only do you have the problem of resentment and frustration from imbalance, you’ve got this other thing that you’re dealing with.
And that’s what today’s episode is all about. We’re going to look at how these things are surprisingly connected and what you can do to get unstuck. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know, how I talk about expat quicksand. These are the things I’ve noticed over a decade of working with people who are living abroad where they get stuck.
So feeling like you’re hungry for more purpose and meaning, hungry for connection with yourself and loved ones, feeling unclear in your direction, and feeling like you don’t know where to go, feeling stuck! I call that expat quicksand for a reason because it feels deadly even though it might not be, it feels like it’s going to kill your joy abroad. The other thing about expat quicksand, like real quicksand, is that the harder you resist against it, the more you get stuck.
So if this is a topic that you’re on fire about, stick with me in the next eight weeks because we’re going to dive in. If you can’t wait eight weeks make sure that you go back to episode 127 where I talk about expat quicksand in detail and episodes 130, 131, 132 and 133, on all about how to get unstuck.
All right. So by this time, you might be asking yourself “What does my intro example have to do with being stuck?” And I want to promise you hangout because, by the time you’re done with this episode, you’ll find out more. You’ll notice that last week’s episode, episode 184, we heard from Caroline, and she was feeling stuck in ordinary and there were some tips there on how she went from feeling bored by her own life to living an unordinary life that lit her fire and made her excited to talk to people at parties about what was going on in her own life.
Today, I promise we are going to find out about a hidden practice I’ve discovered in my clients that actually keeps them stuck and if we keep doing it, there’s no way we’re going to free ourselves from this expat quicksand. So before I tell you that, let’s take a little quiz. Give yourself one point for everything that I list here that you know, you do pretty automatically. All right, let’s go.
Number 1. You ask your partner “Hey, have you called back your mother?” Number one, give yourself a point. If you often ask your partner “Hey, have you called back your mother.”
Number 2. You decide what is for dinner almost every night.
Number 3. You’re the person who ensures that your kids favorite snack is always in stock, so it can go into their lunches.
Number 4. You keep a close eye on whether the aluminum foil is low and make sure that you write it on the list when it’s getting there.
Number 5. You make sure that you have contraception. You’re the one who makes sure that you have contraception.
Number 6. When your teenage daughter is caught in friend drama, you try to fix it.
Number 7. You often hear yourself reminding family members about other people’s birthdays or important celebrations.
Okay. So there you go. We’ve got about seven items. Do you have at least five points? If you do, I really encourage you to keep listening because these things that seem to be super disconnected, have a connection directly to why you’re stuck in a way that you might not expect. I invite you to be really honest with yourself. Are you the manager of the household chores? Are you the primary relationship nurturer? Are you the carrier of the mental load of all the things that you have to remember for your life and your family to function? Are you the bearer of the emotional load?
If this sounds familiar, it’s like no wonder you’re feeling stuck. Aren’t you exhausted from doing all of this work? There is a wonderful artist who does books called Mental Load by Emma and the Emotional Load by Emma. She is a feminist illustrator and she talks about the mental load and emotional load that we bring into relationships, that weighs us down. So if you’re curious check her out in the show notes and be sure that you look at her books to see if you’re the one carrying that mental load.
Because here’s the thing, what I’ve seen for over a decade when people come to me who are feeling stuck, there’s something else that needs to be freed before they get unstuck. Before you get unstuck. You have to get unburdened, and most of this burden is invisible. Okay, and here’s what I’m going to say next is going to make you want to stab me in the eyeball with a sharp object. I know it, but I’m going to say it anyway.
Most of this burden is invisible. You’re the one carrying this heavy load, and my hunch is that no one asked you to do it. That’s where I’m going to guard my eyes right now from sharp objects. What I’ve noticed in my work with clients is that when someone is burdened with this kind of load, it was not as a result of a direct request. For example, we’ll go back to our quiz, when you’re the one always reminding your partner to call back their mother; it’s usually not because you and your partner agreed that you would be the one to remind them.
When you noticed that the aluminum foil is low, naturally you’re the one who writes it down, but you might not have had a conversation in your relationship about “I am gonna be there rememberer for all that is.” When you’re engaging with your teenage daughter, did your daughter say, “Hey intervene and try to fix this for me.” How many times do we do this? How many times do we burden ourselves with something and no one asked us to? I say this absolutely with full knowing that some of the burdens that come are a result directly from our social conditioning.
We enact roles in the world that we absorb through our history, context, lenses of identity, and culture. This conversation is not a cultural one, it’s not without power, but we find ourselves in it and the point of today’s discussion is for you to find your power in it and you might find yourself. Then, as a result of this, challenging status quo, going against the grain of cultural norms, challenging gender dynamics, relationship dynamics, because if you’re coming from a place of resentment and frustration, that is born of a feeling by definition, of feeling like you’ve been treated unfairly.
Resentment is this multilayered complex emotion where we’re mixing up disappointment, disgust, anger, and fear, all together under the umbrella of resentment. Something feels unjust. So if you feel like you’ve got this burden and it’s making you frustrated or resentful, maybe there’s something wrong with our society, right? But before we fix society we have to look at where we have our own power, in our own lives, in our own relationship.
So an important caveat that means full awareness, we’re bringing that into the discussion. But let’s start where we do have control and that’s with you, and that’s what the people in your immediate surroundings that you love. I came to this idea around “before you get unstuck, you have to get unburdened,” after years and years of helping people find more purpose, meaning, and direction in their life. And before we get on that hot track, we have to lift the weight that you’re carrying and sometimes it’s in the simple stuff.
One of my clients was getting really clear on how she wanted to spend her time and energy differently and she realized that what was going to change is how she spent her time in the morning. And she was the one who cooked like big family breakfasts and one day she was like, “wait a minute, no one really asked me to do this huge big breakfast. Why am I doing it?” And when she made a change, the entire family was unfazed and she was left with more joy and energy. So what I want you to think about is, where are you feeling the burden in your life, because before we can get you on a track of purpose and meaning, and direction, we have to lighten your load.
Okay, so look at the list we started with in the quiz, and see which one of those things that you do. This is my ask of you, if you want to unburden so you can get unstuck, the first step is simple, ask yourself these questions. Look at your long list of what you have to do today, we have to do this week, this month and ask yourself these questions.
“Have I been asked to do this?”
“Who gave me this job?”
“Who asked me to do this?”
If you are like a lot of my clients, my hunch is that 30% of your list, no one has asked you to do it, and that includes the mental load and the emotional load we were talking about before. So your first task or experiment you can do is throughout your day. If you’re feeling resentful or if you’re feeling frustrated, answer the question, “Who gave me this job?”
Maybe you did and do you really want to do it if you’re feeling frustrated or resentful? So step one, is to ask yourself when you’re noticing that frustration and resentment, “have been asked to do this, who asked me to do this, who gave me this job?” Then get in the habit of making the jobs, the burden, the emotional and the mental load, and the actual physical load, visible. I guarantee you when I watch my clients put down on paper all that’s on their mind and heart in addition to their task list, they are surprised at the volumes that they write.
Now if you are in a partnership, some of this might impact the entire family positively so you don’t want to stop doing it but until it’s visible. No one sees it, no one understands the burden that you’re carrying. So you have a couple choices. Make it visible, and you can do one of two things.
A – Just stop doing it. Just stop doing it. Watch what happens. Like what would happen if you stopped reminding your partner to call their mother back or you stopped reminding people of other people’s important birthdays. What would happen? Stop doing it and watch what happens.
Look at your long list of things that you have to do and what if you stop doing it, what would the implications be? Some of you are going “there’s no way I can stop doing that.” So then look at those things that are on the list, what can you renegotiate? Remember resentment is a result of feeling like you’re treated unfairly. So maybe you are being treated unfairly and it needs to be renegotiated. Or maybe you just have their perception of being treated unfairly because maybe your partner has invisible things on their list.
So the renegotiation doesn’t mean that you’re completely passing something off, it’s about relooking at it and saying, “is this important to everyone?” It would look like this, so you’ve made your list, you’ve added the emotional burdens, the mental load and your tasks you have to do to get done, and then you say with your partner, your children, whatever is relevant in your family dynamic, “Hey, I’ve noticed that I’m the one who’s constantly thinking about what we want to eat every night, but all of us eat every night. Is it important to you what we eat? Because I can just automate a schedule and everybody eats what I decide or would you like to have a say in this?”
“Can I give my 17-year-old Tuesday nights to cook? How else could this be shared as a family? Can we do takeout on Wednesdays to give me a night off?” I don’t care how you renegotiate it, but you know you’re getting closer when it doesn’t feel unfair anymore. So if you feel unfairly burdened by having to decide what everybody eats every night, maybe you just say, “You know what, Monday is pancakes, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday we’re eating out, Thursday is Spaghetti Al Tonno, Friday is pizza, etc, etc.” And you decide and everybody deals or you delegate who’s cooking until you feel like it’s fair.
Another way that you can lead into this conversation, is what has to happen for us to function on this topic, whichever topic it is, without frustration or resentment. Then we can negotiate it. Then we can understand who is ready to drop the thing, or who’s ready to do their part differently. So renegotiation is an important part of that. My hunch is that when you write down this list, there’s going to be a decent percentage of things that just get dropped.
The other thing I’ve seen with my clients is that another percentage of things can get redistributed which is actually in alignment, more closely, with your family values. Maybe you’re giving your eight-year-old an important job to take the garbage out and now they’re learning accountability and Independence. You’ve taken a task off your list and you’ve taught something to your child, that is meaningful for you. Maybe your partner is fully on board with having equal distribution of tasks in the home but just wasn’t aware of everything, because it so much was invisible and is happy to take part of that on.
You won’t know until you get to the renegotiation phase. Emily Maroutian is an Armenian author and poet and I love what she says about being stuck. She says, “You’re not stuck, you just committed to certain patterns of behavior because they helped you in the past. Now those behaviors have become more harmful than helpful. The reason why you can’t move forward is because you keep applying an old formula to a new level in your life. Change the formula to get different results.”
Thank you Emily for articulating that, it goes back to the conversation that I had with my partner at the Excel sheet, about old patterns we had when we first moved abroad. We needed to stop the old formula and move forward with this new level in our lives, your children have maybe grown since the last time you looked at household tasks and it’s time to move forward.
Apply that distribution to a new level in your life. Maybe 20 years ago, when you married your partner you were very much in a role of traditional gender distributed tasks. But as our decades have changed, our culture has changed, and maybe you’ve grown, you’re ready to stop old formulas and start showing up in new ways in your life.
Change the formula to get different results.
So this is my “please see it as a loving nudge” for you to unburden yourself. So then you’ll have a level of lightness and turn your energy toward you because that needs to happen before you can get unstuck. This is like the pre-work to feeling unstuck and then going on to finding more purpose and meaning and direction.
I love this topic. It’s so near and dear to my heart and we’re going to spend the next few weeks diving in. If you want more, don’t forget to check out my episode 127 on expat quicksand, episodes 120 and 129, we talk about reconnecting with yourself and others and more on getting unstuck is in 130-133. You have the power to take control over your lives and get different results.
If you want to start now, it’s not too late to do that with me in Focus Camp. When this podcast goes live, we’re going to be in the onboarding week of Focus Camp. It is a five-week program where we take control over the limited time and energy that we have, and work in a hyperFocus way, with your fellow Focus Squad as your cheerleaders and accountability partners by your side, for you to make progress on an important goal for you. So you can move forward.
If you’re curious about Focus Camp, check it out in the show notes. I would love for you to be part of it. You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider Bean. Thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with a quote from an unknown author, “Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.”