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