Of course, there are pluses and minuses of moving overseas for love ….
On the plus side, you don’t want to live with regret about the one that got away, so you pack up your life and decide to embark on an adventure for love, and that’s not a bad thing to do, even if it feels a little irrational. You get to experience a new country, you no longer have to do the long-distance thing, and you learn more about yourself. And of course, you have a chance to build a life with the person you love.
On the darker side, expat spouses can suffer from anxiety, depression and feelings of crisis as they face a lack of identity and independence, and zero friends other than their spouse, who they come to rely on too heavily. She finds she is locked out of work as she doesn’t have the right paperwork yet or her ability to speak French isn’t good enough, and whatever she contributes to the marriage and shared life is often not as high profile as his work. Research suggests that trailing spouses, or those who move for love and the priority of the other person’s career, are the least happy of all expats, often because they have given up careers for the move and lack financial independence, and maybe it is tough for them to find work at a level they are used to. Some of the women I have worked with can also feel trapped once they have children, especially if the marriage isn’t going so well and the options for leaving become limited.
Even if the move goes well, there will undoubtedly be days when you ask yourself why you did this, and it can put a strain on the relationship. So, if you are considering moving for love, or are trying to find ways to cope with a move you already made, here are some tips from expats that might help:
- Remember that you made the move for you and the relationship, and not just for him, so don’t be tempted to blame him or harbor resentment when things aren’t going well, or say things like “I moved here for you!” It is important to be honest with each other as it will be easier for him, it is his country after all, and he likely already has friends and family here, plus he doesn’t stand out as different every time he speaks. His support and understanding are therefore critical, and this initial period will be a good test of the strength of your relationship.
- Go into this adventure knowing upfront that you will be dependent on your partner for months, or maybe even the first year or so as you establish yourself in your new life.
- Build a support system where you are and make it a mix of expats who share your culture, as well as French people who can help you to adjust to the new life.
- Develop some independence as you would do in a marriage in your own country, e.g., an ability to drive or get around, find your own interest groups, make your own friends, develop some training or work , not just for financial security, but to boost your confidence and remind you that you are a capable person who can bring new experiences to the relationship.
- Money – it may be the first time you have been without the means to make your own money, or maybe you left a good career and don’t see the same possibilities here in France where you feel stuck with the option of teaching English. It can be tough as a woman to change your narrative of yourself and feel less independent when it comes to finances. Be open to trying new work options and don’t give up as you might discover skills and possibilities you hadn’t considered before. If you are finding it tough to get work due to not having the right qualifications or fluency in the language, consider going back to school here so you can improve in both areas. And if possible, move to France with some savings and think about what you would do in a worst-case scenario of the relationship ending if you needed money to survive or return to your home country.
- Learn the language so you can assimilate, but don’t be afraid to take language breaks as there will be times when speaking and hearing French just becomes a big headache and you long to relax into your native tongue for a change.
- Have a regular schedule of Skype or video calls home and ease your transition by planning trips back, as well as welcoming friends and family to come and stay. Tell them to be prepared for you to feel down sometimes, it can’t all be a fairy tale all the time and that’s okay.
- Don’t be afraid to show the mix of cultures in your home life. There are only so many croissants and baguettes you can eat, and maybe opening your Christmas presents on Christmas eve while you tuck into oysters just seems downright weird to you. It’s okay to negotiate how you bring your own food and culture into the home, just as you would if it was a mixed marriage back in your country of origin. And if you have children, it is good for them to grow up knowing the culture of both sides of their family. I can recall meeting people in America who grew up with an English parent and therefore developed a taste for Marmite for example! See it as an enriching experience to grow your marriage around both of you, and don’t lose yourself and your identity in the heady rush of the new relationship.
- And finally, find ways over time to develop a positive relationship with France. Explore the country and culture to find things about it you enjoy, be it art, food, history etc., otherwise your relationship with your spouse may not be enough to sustain you over time. If you love him but hate France it will only cause you increasing stress, and that will impact the relationship, unless he is also wanting to make a change of country and share a new adventure with you.
At the end of the day, if you are really struggling and realize you can never be a Francophile, then don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about your worries and maybe seek the help of a therapist to help you cope and make some decisions. There are plenty of expats in the same position as you, and you can network with them through social sites such as Facebook which hosts groups like ‘Married to a French Man’. It certainly might help to hear that other people are struggling with the same issues as you. Bonne chance!
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.