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:
- Communication is key. Not discussing problems and instead simmering in anger and resentment is highly destructive. If you have hurt feelings that’s okay, talk about it, listen and acknowledge how each other feels. Make time regularly to sit together and talk calmly, and resolve to discuss. Even if you know you won’t necessarily solve your problem, keeping those lines of communication open is vital.
- Remember that all couples argue, and that’s okay. The marriage is strengthened when we learn to reconcile our differences with each other.
- Remember also that every marriage has areas on which the couple will never agree. Research suggests that even the happiest couples have on average ten areas of irreconcilable differences, but whether it’s about sex, money, parenting or where you live, the skills you use to manage the differences are more important than the solutions you come up with.
- Make it our problem rather than your problem. This helps you move from blaming each other to facing the issue together.
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