Marriage in the expat world
Marriage and relationships in the expat world
We have nothing in common anymore.
We both end up slumped on the settee too tired to talk.
The kids take up all our time and energy.
The magic is gone. It’s all so humdrum.
Sounds in anyway familiar?
Maybe you have your own unique reasons for doubting your marriage. Perhaps you have already made up your mind but can’t make the step.
Or you maybe you see your spouse drifting off into a direction you don’t want to go, but you still want to save your marriage.
There is no easy way to say this - just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to make a marriage. That’s what I want on focus on here – saving something that was once worthwhile enough for you to stand in front of family and friends and swear to love each other ‘till death you do part’.
Even if you are not sure you want to save this marriage, perhaps you are not sure your husband wants to save this marriage – ask yourself have you done enough on your part. Can you honestly say you have given 100% into this marriage from the outset? Given it your absolute best shot. If it ended tomorrow could you walk away and look yourself in the mirror and say – I did my absolute best with all my heart, with the best intentions. I can sleep at night.
Problems can be exacerbated when we live away from family and friends. If you had strong family connections or a good community in your home country, being cast amongst strangers in a strange culture can make everything seem worse. You might not know people well enough, (even if you have been expating for a few years), or maybe you move countries a lot, to bring up such personal topics as a troubled marriage. When you ring home, the natural response is to say everything is fine, we are having a great time. So it can feel like you are on your own.
If there really is no one you feel you can trust then seek professional help. Better to enlist help now to save your marriage rather than paying for a family lawyer later.
There are a couple of things to acknowledge first.
Some people blame the environment. (Too many temptations in the expat world. If we had not left home this wouldn’t have happened. If we hadn’t had kids so soon).
Whatever the reason, if there is a problem in your marriage it doesn’t matter what country you live in or where you go or how much money you are making. The problem comes with you. Imagine having a favourite water bottle with a crack in it. Everytime you fill it with water, it leaks. You promise to get it fixed, but never have time, or your spouse won’t fix it. Its always manãna manãna. (Or in this side of the world - Inshallah I will get it fixed tomorrow). So it leaks everywhere. In your bag, in the car, on the table. You moan about the mess in your bag, having to clean the car, constantly wiping the table. It becomes a habit to just moan and clean, because that’s what you have become accustomed to doing without even thinking about it.
Is that your marriage? Have the cracks been there for so long you have accepted them as part of your marriage. How many countries have you lived in and made the same complaints to yourself or your spouse?
Expat life can take its toll on a marriage. There is no doubt about that. It can also be the saviour of a marriage. New life. New opportunities. New attitude. New water bottle.
As Leonard Cohen said;
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
The second thing is recognizing that we can’t always have our cake and eat it.
Social media sites are full of memes about grabbing life, living it to the full, women in power, women finding themselves, women putting themselves first for once. Where once we hovered in the background now we are elbowing each other for the limelight. So when our marriage hits problems we think – I didn’t sign up for this. My mum had this all her life , I’m not putting up with it. This was not how I planned my life/marriage to be. Every other woman is getting what she wants why can’t I?
We have cultured and nourished ourselves from impoverished to entitled. Is this what we want to hand to the next generation of women? Are we in danger of tipping the scales too far? Where once we simply gave in too easily, now we give up too easily.
Of course there are many reasons why marriages struggle or fail. Sometimes the best course of action is to accept the differences and leave. And sometimes it’s good to do nothing for a while and think.
Lots of couples go through phases of muddling through their relationship. Marriage has its ups and downs, we are constantly being told that. However look at what happens when we continue muddling through and being constantly in the ‘downs’. It becomes a habit. It’s easier to not talk and watch TV. It’s easy to talk about the kids, but lets not touch on the huge problems in the relationship. Maybe you have a tumultuous relationship. Full of arguments, sulks and not talking.
How can it be that someone you once loved could so provoke such anger now? What happened? What’s causing the anger?
Anger is often a surface emotion that hides more vulnerable emotions. Do you feel let down, unappreciated, unloved? Maybe you have been lied to, not given a choice in important matters, ignored?
These feelings often present themselves in the form of anger. It’s easier to express anger than to leave yourself vulnerable by saying you feel unloved/ignored or let down.
It’s also the amount of investment we put in to our relationships that flips the balance. When we love so deeply, when we are vulnerable with that one person, when we give ourselves unconditionally and then something goes wrong, all the invested time and emotion has to go somewhere. We can’t switch it off like a light. Click! Gone! No more love so no more heartache.
‘Heaven has no rage, like love to hate returned.’
Instead all that emotion festers, acidity sets in and what was once love congeals into a mess and we no longer trust our judgment to trust and love. So we resort to safe default emotions, ones that are easier to deal with.
In its mildest form when love has slowly been eroded it manifests itself in lethargy. Can’t be bothered if he can’t. We are ok, aren’t all couples like this after kids. It’s up to him. He won’t talk about it.
In its most ardent, when love is strong, it manifests itself in hate. A dangerous emotion, because it blinds us and makes us act irrationally.
What is your default emotion when things go wrong? Anger, withdrawal, indifference? Think about it. Where do you go to in your head when things are going wrong?
One very important point.
There are some relationships that are toxic and or violent. (That can be psychological or physical violence). No one needs to stay in such a relationship, unless you want to or are afraid to change. Seek professional help and support if you think you need it. You may need more than marriage guidance for that kind of relationship.
Why do I have to be the one to do something. You said it takes two to make a marriage!!!
I’m addressing the women out there because I am making the assumption that only women are reading this. So I am talking to you, the woman in the relationship. If what I am saying resonates in any way the next step is up to you.
Look at it this way. Whether your marriage has simply hit the doldrums, or has hit a crisis, someone has to do something if it’s worth saving. And I am going to assume, for the purpose of clarity that you want to save your marriage. Otherwise you might as well stop reading now.
So you are aware there is a problem. And you want to take action before it’s too late. Fantastic start. Well done.
First thing - ask yourself. What have you done so far to save your marriage / make amends / bridge the gap?
What proactive, or positive outcome related measures have you made to help your marriage? Think about it. Your marriage is ailing. If it were your child you would take it to the doctor, google tips, ask friends for advice, look to your partner for support.
From now on try to look upon your marriage as being unwell, what can you do to do to help it get better?
5 things not to do when your marriage is in trouble.
1. Attribute blame. (Blaming is about removing responsibility from yourself. It’s not helpful and will result in your spouse becoming defensive).
2. Whining. (It’s not attractive and if you get anywhere with it, it’s short lived).
3. The silent treatment. (Not talking is a one way street to a build up of resentment).
4. Doing your own thing. (Marriage is a partnership remember?).
5. Shaming him in front of your friends. (Seriously! You think that’s going to help your marriage. Would you want to hang around someone that made you look small in front of your friends?).
Harsh words. I know.
So lets flip them into something productive and positive.
If your marriage is on shaky ground then both of you have to accept responsibility. Not blame. Recognise that both of you could do more. Even if one of you has done something unforgiveable and broken trust, if you want to save your marriage you can find a way back. You may need professional help to get there. It will be worth paying someone to get you back on track. See it as an investment in your marriage.
So ask around. Whether it’s a marriage counselor, relationship coach, therapist, make sure it’s someone you can feel comfortable with and that you are all working towards the same goal.
Instead of whining about things that you feel aren’t right. Make suggestions.
You never take me out anymore.
You always leave it for me to do.
You don’t understand….
Hey, lets get a baby sitter and eat out.
Can we sit down and work out who can take on these chores/jobs as I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Can we talk? Can we be honest with each other?
Notice the good section involves a more cohesive ‘lets do it together’ kind of language.
It may feel awkward at first. So practice in front of the mirror or on your kids. New habits take time to form and become natural.
Giving your partner, or being on the receiving end of ‘The Silent Treatment’ is incredibly destructive and soul destroying. Sometimes after an argument it might be best for both sides to say nothing and give time to cool off. That’s different from the silent treatment. The silent treatment is about power and control. I can’t do much else but I can decide not to acknowledge your existence.
It’s about wallowing in your anger and the desire to punish.
Acknowledge your anger. Say hello to it. What is it hiding? Can you talk to someone about it? More importantly, can you talk to your spouse about it?
Communication is the key. It also helps to remind yourself regularly that your spouse is not a mind reader. How many of you have wallowed silently only to find out later your spouse thought you were just being quiet. The silent treatment is no use if the recipient doesn’t even know he is getting it.
If you are angry over something –tell him.
If you are upset over something he did or didn’t do – tell him.
If you feel taken advantage of – tell him.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Then talk some more.
I’ve met quite a few couples that ‘do their own thing now’. It works when both sides are honest as there maybe be many factors involved regarding why they can’t or don’t want to separate. It could be the children, finances or simply appearances. The key lies in being open, honest and accepting.
Last but not least. Shaming. Another common symptom of a fractured relationship. It’s a form of insidious bullying.
Talking down to your spouse, disparaging your spouse, demeaning your spouse in front of your friends or mutual friends is one sure way to lose friends and your marriage. Even worse when it’s done in front of the children.
When people carry suppressed anger it comes out in uncontrollable spurts, often in a negative form. Shaming is also about control over another person. You might think you are being funny or just trying to make a point, however it actually makes you, the shamer, look bad. But people will be too embarrassed to say anything. If you have a problem with something your spouse is or isn’t doing?
Talk. Talk. Talk. In private.
If you are the one being shamed, then are you ready to put your big girl pants on and do something about it? Every bully needs a victim. Are you ready to stop being a victim?
The 10 golden rules of a happy marriage:
8. Mutual goals
10. Caring for each other.
Simple isn’t it.
It can never be stressed enough for any relationship – communicate, communicate, communicate.
That doesn’t mean one person talks and the other switches off. Communication is a two way street. If your spouse wants to get something off his chest, give him the air space without interruption or criticism. If you can’t trust yourself not to butt in, grit your teeth and just nod acknowledgements or hmmms. When he has finished, discuss what he said. Acknowledge his feelings on the matter, even if you don’t agree or feel aggrieved. Now that you know how he feels you can both begin to work on it.
Then ask for the same thing back – that he to listen to you without interruption or criticism.
Be nice to each other. As an expirement agree to commit to doing random acts of kindness for each other but not tell each other when you have done it and not to always expect thanks. It can be as small as leaving the remote within reach when you leave the room, or making a cup of tea/coffee. These random acts of kindness should be easy and effortless and everyday. After all if you can’t do something that’s easy and effortless, something you both should really be doing anyway because you are two caring human beings, then how are you going to get onto dealing with the big things?
ICF Life Coach. NLP Practitioner.
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