Relationships take a bit of a hit when you move and live abroad. Prior to the move attention shifts to working through the uplift process and then setting up a home at post. Once things begin to settle, cracks will appear. Suddenly both partners are dependent upon the other to fulfil emotion and social needs and this is particularly true for the stay at home spouse. So let’s focus on them. Oddly, I have found that this occurs at the beginning, around the midway point and again as the post draws to an end. And these periods are tough for both individuals.
The officer does not have a easy life at post, however they do enjoy the benefits of routine, working in an environment similar to that at home, interacting with others and escaping the confines of home. The trailing spouse has none of those things and must strive to carve out some sort of normalcy for themselves with little support. Initially, the isolation and lack of confidence combine to make a formidable force that psychologically inhibits the spouse to leave the house. You know little of the language, have no clue on the layout of the city and feel scared to venture out in a taxi alone, anything could go wrong.
So what happens? You stay within the confines of your new abode and beat yourself up because at home home you are a bubbly, independent woman with interests and hobbies. Your partner returns home from a busy day of work and asks the dreaded question – ‘what did you do with your day?’ And in that moment you feel like you are merely a shell of your true self. This is where the pressure emerges for the working spouse to be your everything. And it becomes tiresome very quickly. Suffocating even.
Below are a few tips to work through these trying periods at post:
Communicate – have honest and timely conversations with your spouse about how you’re both coping and how to best support each other moving forward. Talk about ways to use your time at post be it through study, volunteering or work. Make travel plans together to have something exciting to look forward to and as means to reconnect and create positive experiences and memories together. Discuss how to give each other breathing space or time apart to recharge.
Utilise every support available to you – visit the doctor, chat with trusted confidantes at home, use the company counselling service, keep a journal.
Tough love – force yourself out of the house. Sit in a communal area and smile at those around you, strike up a conversation at a cafe, wander through a mall. Accept social invitations and actually attend. Tough love remember!
Exercise – exercising releases endorphins and feeling good about yourself physically will transfer to a better frame of mind and may contribute to improved mental wellbeing. Attend gym classes, if offered, as a means to meet new people.
Join an expat group – many cities have chapters for the American Women’s Association, British Women’s Association, Australian and New Zealand Women’s Association and other groups. Most of which accept membership from all expats and regularly host social events including seminars, excursions, morning tea and luncheons. Check it out and remember that not all groups will be a good fit and that’s ok.
Be bold – when attending work events with your partner mingle and hand your phone number out like candy. Some will share their contact details and get in touch, others won’t. You’ll meet some friendly and not so friendly people but you are actually meeting people and you may meet the first person to meet out for lunch or a coffee. And one friend leads to another..
Relationships are never easy and expat relationships have added pressures. You will find a happy balance and create a dynamic that supports the needs of both spouses if both give 100% effort, and extend patience and love towards the other.