When we first get together with our partner or spouse, we believe that love will conquer all. In most marriages and committed relationships however, there are areas of difference on which there will never be total agreement, and these can threaten to tear the relationship apart.
The life of an ex-pat (I dislike the phrase, so if you do too please just insert whichever word you prefer) is inherently filled with emotions that conflict: sometimes we are smitten with the new country and its culture, its ability to fulfill our passion for adventure, and other times we long for the familiarity of home with family, friends and a language we can slot into without effort. When these opposing emotions are equally divided in a couple so that one spouse is the adventurer and the other longs to return to the home country, it will inevitably be a source of conflict. I see this often with British couples in France where it is the wife who is missing children and loved ones back home and finds her role in France less defined, while her husband has a work life and the social contact that goes with it. If there is a house renovation project involved this can heighten the conflict as the compromised living situation and dwindling savings add to the stress in the relationship.
So how do you solve the problem? The easy answer is to throw in the towel and divorce; “irreconcilable differences” is after all one of the commonly cited reasons to end a marriage. The tougher solution is to put the relationship first and come up with a compromise that keeps you together. Marriages are fraught with many challenges, and it is how we face these challenges that can make us stronger as a couple. Some tips to help you are:
When you are torn between two countries as a couple, ultimately there is not a one-size fits all solution. I have seen many compromises such as moving back to the UK together, one spouse going back to the UK more often, finding a way to feel happier and more invested in the new country, or even moving to yet another country that you both agree on as a new adventure. Know that this is an area of conflict you can solve together if you are willing to put the work in, and ultimately it is about compromise and learning to bend rather than break. As marriage researcher Dr John Gottman reminds us:
“Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood,
respected, and honored in your dreams.” (https://www.gottman.com/blog/exercise-the-art-of-compromise/).
If you are facing a challenge in your relationship and can’t see a way forward, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to learn to work together. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person - Julie Askew PhD
This article was featured on English Informer in France
‘Self Confidence: the ability to trust or feel secure in yourself and your abilities’
Hands up, how many of you would describe yourself as confident? Whether it be giving a speech to an audience, asking someone out on a date, or just going into a shop in another country when you don’t speak the language very well, how do you get by?
If any of these scenarios would make you feel anxious then don’t worry, confidence is not something that is elusive or that only a few are blessed with, it is a quality that can be learned. And confidence is best when you build it for yourself, rather than hoping another person will give it to you. In counselling I find that many of my clients are struggling to feel confident in certain areas, so here is a basic tip you can try yourself at home:
I used this technique myself when I had an important oral examination to sit in front of a panel of doctors, and I can promise you that it works. The feedback I got from my examiners was one word: “impressive”. If you start rehearsing your confident behavior in your mind, your brain and body will soon start to believe it. So go ahead and impress yourself with your new confident identity!
If you are feeling stuck with your life and can’t see a way forward, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to explore your options. For more in-depth help through counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person via the contact page on this website - Julie Askew PhD -
Dear Dr Jules
My husband has had to go into hospital and is likely to be there a while, and even when he comes home things will be different for some time. I am finding it hard to cope without him, plus the travelling to the hospital regularly is hard and I’m feeling lonely without him around. I can’t afford paid help around the place while he is out of action. Any ideas?
I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s health problems, and wish him a speedy recovery. Although we promise to care for each other in sickness and in health when we marry, we don’t necessarily think it will ever happen to us, nor do we discuss how we will cope if it does. In reality, many couples have to face health issues in one or both partners, particularly as they age. My own parents, for example, have spent the last few years with first my father, and now my mother, being out of action for prolonged periods, with the result that one or other of them has had to carry the load for both.
Coping with a spouse who becomes ill always requires a readjustment in a marriage, particularly if that illness is likely to be chronic. Here are some ideas that might help you in your current situation:
1. Coping with Changing Roles
When you got together you had assumptions about the roles a husband and wife take on, and these tend to evolve over time. For example, who does the cooking, the gardening, or manages the finances? When one of you is out of action for a while, these roles have to shift and you might be faced with learning new skills which can be demanding and leave you feeling helpless at times. Don’t feel like you have to carry everything yourself. If the house isn’t cleaned for a while, or you have to eat beans on toast every night, know that the world won’t end. Do what you can do and don’t worry about the rest, especially if you are busy running back and forth to the hospital.
2. Feelings about your partner may change
If you have to take on more of a carer role for a while, it is natural to feel differently towards your partner from time to time, especially if he is no longer as strong or independent as he once was. Complex feelings like anger and guilt are normal, and part of the adjustment to a change in the balance in your relationship.
3. Remember to take care of yourself too
It is easy to get dragged into a routine of caring for the other person while forgetting about your own needs. Remember to take some time out now and then to think about what you need and don’t feel guilty if you take a break. It is an important part of your survival.
4. Understand your partner’s emotional reactions
Your husband will be experiencing a range of emotions at being unwell and at times he will feel helpless. Sometimes he may even seem angry at you or say things you find hurtful. Don’t take it personally, and don’t feel responsible for his emotions. Let him work his way through the process of adjustment and be there for him when he is ready to talk about it.
5. Do ask for help and support
Now is the time to let friends and family know that you need them. Maybe someone can bring some food round to save you having to cook, or perhaps someone can help with the garden or run you to the hospital when you are tired? You might also just need a cuppa and a chat with a girlfriend to feel better. It is at times like these that you find out who your true friends are, so don’t be afraid to push a little. If you need ongoing help, you can also ask the hospital social worker to see what is available in the community, as well as checking out online sites such as HelpX where you can find volunteers to stay with you short-term to work on manual tasks in exchange for food and accommodation.
The impact of an illness on a marriage can be significant. Some couples find that it ultimately makes their relationship stronger, while others buckle under the stress. Understand that the illness will have an impact on you both, and then work together to figure out a way to survive it. You have faced challenges together before, and you are strong enough to get through this one.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck with your life and can’t see a way forward, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to explore your options. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person.
You can follow my posts on English Informer in France as well as on Ex-Pat Radio
Losing your best friend: Coping with the death of a pet
I recently had an inquiry from someone wanting to know about coping with the death of a pet. This seemed particularly pertinent as just this week I have had make the decision that every pet owner dreads, and have scheduled my elderly dog for his last trip to the vet.
Many people share an intense emotional bond with the animals in their lives, they are part of our daily routine for many years and often we derive comfort from them when we feel the need for support and affection. My own dog, for example, was the one reason I hung in there and kept going during a period when I felt particularly alone and lacking in control of my life.
The grief we feel when our animal companions die can be intense, and can vary according to factors such as the role the animal played in our life, its age and the circumstances of its death. If you live alone and your pet is your only companion, or if it was an assistance animal such as a guide dog, then you may feel the loss to be overwhelming.
As with any death there is no right way to grieve, it is a very individual process. Whether you feel the need to cry intensely for a few days, or you feel your grief continues to return in waves over months or even years, allow yourself the space to be immersed in the feelings and then breathe your way back again. With the passing of a human we have rituals to mark the transition, such as a funeral or a wake, and these occasions are important in helping us to grieve and move on. You might find it would be helpful to have some way of marking the passing of your companion animal, such as a burial in the garden or a gathering of folks who knew your pet. Children, especially, will benefit from inclusion in the process and an understanding that sadness is a normal part of life. Pets are often their first introduction to the process of life and death, and an important way of learning to understand the emotions that accompany this event.
Sometimes people devalue the loss of an animal as they feel it is not in any way similar to the loss of a person. Don’t be distressed about whether your grief is appropriate or not, just find people who understand how you are feeling and who will be there to support you.
After the death of your pet, be kind to yourself and remember the good times you shared and the love they brought to you. Maybe it would be helpful to create some kind of memorial such as a scrapbook or a tree planted in their name?
Grief is a natural, if painful part of life. The feelings will decrease in intensity over the years, and slowly you will adjust your routine and move on, possibly to even considering sharing your home with another animal in the future. If you feel, however, that your emotions are leading you to become depressed and less interested in life, or if you have had other major losses at the same time such as a child leaving home, the loss of a job, or other bereavements, then do consider seeking professional help.
If you are feeling stuck with your life and can’t see a way forward, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to explore your options. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person.
This article is dedicated to memory of my dog Louis
who passed away peacefully on 6th July, 2016.
I wish you an eternity spent chasing squirrels little guy, and I will be forever grateful for your companionship.
Since the recent referendum results in the UK, I have been observing a lot of emotions flying around on social media. Many people are shocked, anxious and wondering how to live with the uncertainty that will likely linger for some time.
So, without wishing to get drawn into the political discussions here, I wanted to deviate a little and look at the effect these kinds of emotions can have on us. On a chemical level, ongoing anxiety releases cortisol into our system. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal cortex of your kidneys, and in normal healthy life its levels change with the time of day, being highest when we wake up in the morning, as the cortisol helps us to feel alert and ready to go. It also helps the body to deal with stress or imminent threat by shutting down less necessary functions such as the immune system (hence we tend to be more susceptible to infection when we are stressed and anxious) so that we can save our energy to flee dangers such as sabre toothed tigers. Well obviously most of us don’t get chased down by hungry animals anymore, but we lead life styles where the short lived stress response has developed into a chronic one, and thus our systems are flooded with cortisol on an ongoing basis.
When your cortisol is in balance with your serotonin and dopamine levels you are able to regulate your sleep, appetite (for food and sex), and your energy levels, but when you are stressed and worried for a more extended period the over-production of cortisol and resulting stress on the adrenals can lead to signs you may recognize, such as poor sleep, waking feeling tired, craving unhealthy foods, putting on weight, low blood sugar, brain fog and eventually symptoms of depression.
The French have a phrase ‘Débrouiller’ which means to unravel or unscramble. So if you have spent the last few days feeling like you need to unscramble your brain and emotions, then here are some tips to help:
During a particularly stressful period in my life, a wise friend once said to me “it’s just a piece of time”. This might be a worrying time for you at the moment, but eventually it will pass and one way or another you will survive it.
If you are feeling unusually stressed and anxious, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgmental space to help you move forward. For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person