Home Expat Support Couples Counselling

This week, Lysanne Sizoo explores why many couples experience the ‘second day blues’, when one half returns weary from a trip abroad only to be faced with disgruntled grumbles and a list of chores.

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My father was naval officer and my mother a very independent and self-sufficient naval officer’s wife. She told me, “When your father would come home from a sea voyage there would be 24 hours of joy followed by at least a day of bad tempers.” She termed it the ‘second day blues’.

There are many couples that share a similar experience. The online resource, Circle Of Moms, even has a special section for mums with husbands that travel. Today, of course, there is also a growing population of husbands who might experience similar feelings when their wives travel for their work. So what might lie at the base of these homecoming hiccups? Is it just about generosity, or is there some other interplay between the one who goes out hunting and gathering and the one that holds the fort?

Not long ago, I was in the company of four very strong, very capable expat wives.

One of our husbands was due home and the wife in question remarked ”he missed the children’s chicken pox, he missed having to go and do the parent evenings, and now he expects me to be waiting for him with a smile on my face and my legs shaved?”

The next half hour was filled with a chorus of empathic and mirthful moans of recognition. Of course we know we’re not being fair, but we all shared the sentiment that our spouses needed to earn their place back into the tribe. 

So, when we add in the expat factor, we’re not just the partner who was ‘left behind’, we’re left behind in a foreign place, often without a social network, families, or even work to fall back on. Robin Pascoe, one of the internationally renowned expat guru’s says in one of her YouTube lectures; “I know so many women who, (having) coped and coped while the men are away… lose it the minute their men come home and put the cutlery in the wrong drawer.” While she was conducting interviews for her book A Moveable Marriage, she found many couples had similar issues; the travelling partner is not a part of the daily routine anymore and when they do call from abroad to demonstrate their involvement, it is invariably at an inconvenient time for the rest of the family leading to discordance, frustration and misunderstanding.

Group dynamics

From group dynamic theory we learn that whenever a group member leaves or returns, the group dynamics change. My friend, Alice, is part of her local church choir in Boston. Because she is married to a Swede, she divides her time between the U.S and Sweden so, whenever she’s been away for an extended period of time, she has to reintegrate into the choir group as she may have missed out on events and personal dramas. In a way, she feels as if somehow she has let them all down by not being loyal to the group with her time and commitment and is being ‘tested’ again to see if she can still belong to the tribe. 

In the same way, a family unit is a group in its own right and so the same dynamics are likely to apply.

Exploring this topic with others, there seems to be a common experience that before the children came along, absences of the other partner were borne very differently; reunions used to be romantic and happy occasions.

For the one staying home, time apart would be an opportunity to socialize with friends or spend some quality time with our immediate families. But when children come along, a new group is born; a new tribe. And this little tribe develops its own rules and culture, including the role-division between the two partners.

Reactions to absences from the tribe

When an important member of the tribe leaves for a period of time, the whole tribe experiences a sense of loss. On the circleofmums forum there was a long thread about children acting out when one of their parents left for an extended time, putting an extra load of pressure on the one holding down the fort. Other children reacted by shutting out the travelling parent when they came home.  A common way of dealing with this sense of loss is to (temporarily) fill up the absent person’s space. This ‘closing of the ranks’ has been described by some as an almost a purely energetic experience, like water flowing into an empty space to create a new equilibrium.

I myself I would close the ranks by putting my husband’s toiletries away in a drawer until he returned; out of sight, out of mind and therefore not so desperately missed.

So the one that stays at home to look after the tribe experiences and increased workload, while at the same time creating a sort of bubble that allows him or her to be less in touch with feelings of loss. Consequently, when the traveller comes home, it takes time and effort to redirect the new tributary you’d created. While the traveller may feel like the tribe is freezing them out, what’s really happening is that, energetically, your space needs to be inhabited by you again. Some of us have more trouble giving up this ‘territory’ than others, and when the visit back is already overshadowed by the next trip away, it is sometimes easier to just keep the barriers in place. It’s not nice, but it does need to be recognized as part of a coping mechanism that makes it easier for the one at home to maintain self-sufficiency and independence.

Staying connected 

In my parents’ day the only way they could stay in touch was through snail mail. News was inevitably always weeks late, but at the same time, there was a sense that they could digest and enjoy the other’s experience at their leisure. Today, we are more used to having on-demand contact via our various technological gadgets. This brings up the issue of differing needs when it comes to maintaining contact; some would happily let days go by without getting in touch, whilst others feel the need to connect on a daily basis. There is no right or wrong, there’s just their way and your way, and that means finding a compromise. Communication becomes even harder when there are different time zones involved and conversations can end up being very predictable or one-sided, reinforcing the sense that the traveller is having all the fun, while back home it is ‘same old, same old’ except with added stresses.

And yet the partner in the hotel room is probably feeling lonely, out of touch and yearning to be included and involved. But, as Robin Pascoe noted, back home the dinner rush is on and no one seems to have time.

Communication needs to be planned and negotiated, even though it may feel unromantic and lacking in spontaneity.

The travelling partner could help by showing respect for the daily routine and working around time zones, corporate dinners and meetings to ensure there is consistent communication at predictable times.

But what about the one who is away?

The travelling partner, in most cases, is not abroad to party. They are there for their work, which in itself providing for the tribe. My husband expressed that he felt just as taken for granted, in that respect, as I did for not being recognized in the excellent job I was doing at home. So, in addition to constantly shifting group dynamics, there is also the battle of self-pity taking place. 

“All we want when we come home is an easy life, a quiet life… and then all hell breaks loose.”

It made me sad to realize that my husband has felt unwelcome and that he needs to ’earn’ his place back into the tribe. Sure, maybe he’s not a hunter dragging a reindeer off the plane from Arlanda with which to nourish his family, but his travels were part of his care-taking role and a little gratitude wouldn’t go amiss.

Respect and humility

As always, each half of the couple needs to be seen and respected for the importance of their contribution to the family. And each one of us needs perhaps to show a little humility and restraint in believing we had the tougher part of the deal.

So despite him having had a 1500 euro a head dinner with champagne and eight courses while you were sitting there nursing a baby with a 40 degree fever, remember: it was part of his job, which is ultimately benefitting the tribe.

Understanding the way both sides feel is a huge step towards avoiding the second day blues. And, when all else fails, why not apply the ingenious tactic employed by one of my young friends: meet up with your travelling partner for a few days before they’re due home while grandma looks after the children. That way you have a chance to reconnect, share stories, relax, rekindle and come home as a team.

Now I wish I’d have thought of that myself!

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

 

Lysanne Sizoo

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

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Feeling held hostage with children in Sweden? In this article, YLC’s mental health specialist Lysanne Sizoo looks at the pain of international (ex-) partners torn between love for their children and the troubles in their relationship.

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You took the plunge, you moved to Sweden with your Swedish partner, you agreed that life here would be so much better for the children, and you do your best to settle in. Or you were already here on your own terms, your eyes have met the blue eyed looks of a local and before you know it – you move in together and start a family. You experience the regular ups and downs of expat life, but begin to find you don’t always agree on the best way to raise children, and the ‘battle of cultures’ begins.  

Or maybe you miss seeing your own family, such as parents and siblings, getting to know and love your children as well as the Swedish side of the family. Slowly but surely, you begin to wonder if Sweden is destroying your relationship, or whether the relationship is destroying any chance of settling in Sweden. And in amidst all this turmoil, you look at your joint child(ren) and wonder how on earth you can resolve matters without losing them.

Does it really have to come to a separation?

This scenario is sadly one that we see time and again at Turning Point. Our relationship counsellors often find that couples end up being tangled up in issues that are related to unacknowledged difficulties in settling in, in addition to normal relational ups and downs. Sometimes they will help normalize the feelings of the international partner’s about having very little power over the lives of their children. This can cover anything, from language acquisition to social behaviour. Addressing this sense of dis-empowerment often opens up a new way of looking at the host country, and can avoid storing up trouble for later. In other cases, the relationship would have been in trouble, regardless of which country the family had settled in to. But the question of staying put for the sake of the children remains.

Maisie* was recently divorced when she conceived a child with her new Swedish boyfriend. With two grown children in her home country, this new opportunity seemed heaven sent. Her Swedish boyfriend suggested they go back to Sweden to raise the child there in its toddler years and then they would see. Five years later Maisie began to realize that his ‘then we’ll see’ has either been forgotten, or was still being ‘seen’. Her initial arrival in Sweden had been as someone who would be here on a temporary basis, a two to three year adventure, and as such, she’d made a real go of it. But in the back of her mind was always the belief that at some point she would go home and continue life there, now with a new partner, young daughter and reunited with the rest of her family.

It took the better part of two years to accept that the man who had ‘betrayed’ her was still someone she could love.

A temporary separation had achieved nothing, and eventually Maisie made her own, personal commitment to life in Sweden, and in doing so, also freed up good positive energy to fight for a good part of the year to be spent in her home country, with Swedish partner and child.

I use this example because the question about staying or going is as much a question related to the relationship as it is to the geographical location. Can a relationship be rescued if the partner who feels ‘held hostage’ is met with kindness and understanding from the partner who represents the country where they now live?

When separation is the only option

It worked out for Maisie, but in other situations the relationship can’t be saved and you end up single and alone in a country that’s not home. Sadly, this situation happens in Sweden and of course all over the world, on a regular basis. When we hear in the media about child abductions, we instinctively feel for the parent left behind. However, the pain of the ‘trapped’ parent is often overlooked. In fact, very little research has even begun to explore their side of the story; their sense of helplessness, disempowerment, feeling the ‘system’ is against them, and facing a life a never ever feeling ‘home’. These parents often experience economic difficulties because they can’t support themselves in a foreign culture. Men, as much as women, face these dilemmas on a daily basis, and as one client once said ‘someone pushed the pause button on my life, just as it is in the worst place possible’. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and yes, thoughts of ‘heroic’ deeds such as abduction become part of daily life. You’re left feeling alone and isolated, ill-equipped to deal with life in a country that doesn’t feel like home, with no family to support you. But leaving your child(ren) behind feels unthinkable.

Resentment and a sense of failure can build up to such a degree that it takes over your life, and while all these feelings are part and parcel of the desperately sad situation you find yourself in, it also becomes corrosive and takes away all the energy that you need to stay on your feet. Forums and Facebook pages such as ‘expat stuck mums’ can offer a sense of community and support, but they can also continue to feed your anger and resentment. So how do you survive?

Changing your mindset is the only way forward, renegotiating your reasons for staying in the country.

Perhaps with the support of someone who can help you express all the hurt and disappointment of what’s happened to you, but then essentially, the person you renegotiate with is yourself. You have to sit down and ask yourself if you can let go of the old reasons for coming to Sweden. Let go of, and mourn, all the hopeful dreams of making a new life. Try and see your new life circumstances as something you can actively choose, and make a decision ‘for now’. Children will grow up soon enough and make their own lives away from you and so staying ‘for the sake of the children’ is not a life sentence. It is a difficult decision to be taken, but it is not forever, it is ‘for now’. As one friend said, ‘I have chosen anew to be here on my own terms, rather than the terms that originally brought me here, and that gives me a sense of mastery over my life’.

Choosing to go

For others choosing to stay is just not an option and leaving the child(ren) behind a hugely painful, and yes, courageous decision. Courageous as your fears of being condemned by ill-informed bystanders for your decision to ‘abandon’ your child(ren) will have to be faced. Depending on the relationship with the partner in Sweden, a sense of trust needs to exist that your existence will not be wiped out. At least today we have Skype, Facebook and occasional visits to help stay ‘in the picture’.

Harry* went home after trying unsuccessfully for almost two years to make a living for himself in Sweden.

“I was on welfare and could not make my rent payments and was almost homeless..so it turned into a choiceless choice.  I wouldn’t say I was brave, I just felt like I had no other choice plus there were many other signs that were telling me I should leave.”

Harry drew great comfort from conversations with other fathers that lived in another country from their children, and gradually began to feel that he needed to go.

“It was just a feeling that I fought but the feeling was there nonetheless.  In retrospect it was quite obvious but not that easy to see in that moment.”

His fear that his daughter will be affected by not having him around on a full time basis has not abated. And from a psychological perspective it would be foolish to say that growing up with a physically absent father or mother would not make a difference. On the other hand, there are many children growing up with a physically present, but emotionally absent parent, while the ‘parent abroad’ will usually be deeply emotionally invested in the lives of their children.  Harry found his fears are based on core beliefs that may not have any truth or weight behind them.

“My beliefs were constantly being challenged and contradicted.  I was constantly being proven wrong. I just truly don’t know anything anymore and I just have wait and see what happens”.

And for Harry it meant a chance to find love again, and to recover his sense of professional wellbeing by finding a good job that matched his professional capabilities.

“I have more purpose in my life”.

No easy answers

In the end the decision to stay in the country where your children are settled, or to go home and get on with your life will never be easy. There are no easy answers, and whatever you decide, there will always be times that you feel you could have done better. That’s part of being human.

If you feel trapped, or held hostage, then no one can change that feeling for you. But you can choose how you relate to the situation, and try and change your mindset, just as Maisie did.

Couples and individuals can be helped to reframe their experience of being trapped or held hostage, to one where they find a new meaning to staying put, either with or without the mother/father of their children. If possible, it is important for the Swedish partner to be supportive in helping the relationship to develop, be it of a physical local nature, or a more cyber-based foreign nature. So even if that needs to be negotiated through a third party, it is worth the effort.

* All names have been changed to protect the identities of the persons involved

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

Skiss_14

 

 

Dealing with the in-laws can be confusing and confounding and the cause of many arguments around the dinner table. In part 2 of her ‘Love in a Foreign Land’ articles, Lysanne Sizoo explores three ways in which you can help each other to create more tolerance and understanding, whilst also setting clear and constructive boundaries.

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The influence of different family systems

I’ve often wondered why is it that the two people who created the person you love can be so hard to understand. And why our partners change personality as soon as they fly into parental orbit. No wonder the in-laws are a favourite source of jokes amongst comedians while also being of great concern for many couples.

The truth is that when we are back in the heart of our original family unit, the child in us instinctively wants to fall back in line and behave in accordance with the ‘rules-of-belonging’, including the role within a sibling peer group. Even if this person in everyday life is quite independent of their family, they quickly take on their allotted part; becoming the ‘family clown’, the ‘peacemaker’, the ‘responsible one’. Add to that different cultural influences and conditioning (for example, the Dutch preference for strong opinionated discussions versus the British ‘no sex, politics or religion’ at the dinner table) and you have the perfect recipe for arguments about whose family or culture is best.

In this article I will look at three aspects of these arguments. First of all, dealing with parents, whether your own or your partner’s, means tolerating the ‘child’ that your partner becomes under his or her parental roof. Secondly, we must stop expecting our partners to be the communicators of our grievances to their parents. After all, being on the receiving end, we all know how painful it can be when our partners point out what’s wrong with our family, even if we agree. And thirdly, we cannot and should not try and change any family system other than the one we are building with our partner.

 

Let them be the child

A good friend of mine works in the media and conducts live broadcast interviews with steely determination. However, his girlfriend felt that whenever they visited his parents, he would revert back to his childhood self. His father would dictate the agenda for the day and my friend would put up no resistance, not even on her behalf, despite expressing to her that he didn’t really like the day’s activities either. As an adult he was wilful and strong, but back under the parental umbrella, he become passive and accommodating. “It’s just for the day” he would tell her.

Some parents abdicate gracefully, while others never quite accept that their time as the no.1 person in their children’s lives is over. Bearing that in mind, it might be a kindness to let them have their ‘little boy or girl’ for the day or even the week, knowing that you have them for life.

All families have their own set of unwritten rules and codes of conduct. These make absolute sense to them and are often deeply rooted in the unconscious. For your in-laws, their family rulebook is as entirely ‘normal’ as your family’s is to you. My friend’s girlfriend found it hard to see her partner become weak-willed around his parents, but, for him, this was a survival strategy born out of his formative years. To behave in any other way would endanger, at the deepest level of self, his sense of belonging to his primary family. Showing an understanding of that deep need to be accepted is often more helpful than trying to attack it and thus create even more defensive behaviour.

The parental loss of status once our children have grown up is one that I can begin to feel more keenly as I see my own son grow into an adult man. Some parents abdicate gracefully, while others never quite accept that their time as the no.1 person in their children’s lives is over. Bearing that in mind, it might be a kindness to let them have their ‘little boy or girl’ for the day or even the week, knowing that you have them for life.

 

Be your own advocate

To most of us it seems logical, even respectful, that each partner communicates with their own parents. This just doesn’t work when speaking on behalf of partners, especially if it is about deep rooted family dynamics where phrases such as, “your family never talks” or “your family is always telling each other what to do”, are used. If you ask your partner to take ‘your side’, you are asking them to step out of their role in the family system and they may, at heart, not even agree that your way is right. Such communicators make apologetic and ambiguous advocates.

This doesn’t mean you have to accept everything that your in-laws throw at you, especially if it infringes your personal boundaries. Begin by explaining to your partner that you don’t hold him/her responsible for their parents’ behaviour and that you neither expect your partner nor their parents to change. But when his controlling mother decides everyone has to wear a yellow hat to the party, don’t try and make your partner change her mind on your behalf; do the job yourself. Tell her gently and firmly that yellow is not your colour and you will be wearing green. And, most importantly, choose your battles; maybe you can give way on the yellow hat, but stay firm on not spending every Christmas at their house.

This is especially important for international couples. It’s one thing dealing with your own or your partner’s family’s idiosyncrasies on the odd Sunday afternoon visit, but when they come to stay for extended periods of time, due to travel and distance, irritations can grow uncomfortably high. Or when you have married into a Swedish family, expectations to spend more time with the in-laws, speaking Swedish, and constantly reassuring them about how well you’re settling in, can also create additional stress. It’s fine in these situations to make a joint decision to spend more time alone with each family; who knows, maybe the parents will even enjoy having their child to themselves too.

Polite requests, which set out the ground rules and clear and calm management of expectations go a long way to preventing battles. A bit of humour and counting down the days makes the situation bearable, even enjoyable. We stand so much stronger as a couple when we don’t hold one another accountable for the irritations caused by our respective parents. After all, in the end, it’s you and your partner that get to spend your lives together, while the parents will be on the next plane home.

 

Giving up on right or wrong

Many couples end up arguing about whose family dynamic is ‘normal’ and try to get the other to change theirs accordingly. But when it comes to relationships and family systems, there is no ‘one right way’ of doing things.

Each generation deals with changed circumstances and trends, especially in relation to bringing up children. What we can do is take what we think is best from our original family dynamics and use them as building blocks to create our own. Sometimes we need to compromise when our partner’s building blocks differ greatly from ours, but we need to remind ourselves that, unless we’re talking about physical or emotional abuse, there is no objective truth about our own system being better than our partner’s. This is an important process where, through dialogue and understanding, a new and improved family unit can be created between the both of you.

It is important to realise that these discussions are only applicable to the new family unit that you are creating together. Criticising a partner’s parents through comments like “your mum and dad should also learn to…..” proves to be unproductive at best and destructive at worst, since it puts people into loyalty conflicts between their original family unit and their partner’s. You may think that your own family’s way of communicating and relating is the ‘best’ one’; you may have successfully helped your family where things needed to change, but that doesn’t give you permission to try and rewrite another family’s rulebook.

 

In summary

Fights about the in-laws are high up on the list of issues that couples have to deal with. While having your parents abroad may mean less interaction on a day to day basis, the impact of week-long stay-overs more than compensates. Try to accept your partner’s temporary regression to a more ‘childish’ state; stay tight as a team by allowing the other to set their own agenda with your parents, even if it means you visit them less as a couple and more on your own. Finally; reject what you don’t like from your partner’s family system when it comes to building your own, but refrain from trying to change them. After all, they must have done something right to create the wonderful man or woman that you are still in love with.

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific questions about marriage in a foreign land, or indeed other issues that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

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Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

Article: Lysanne Sizoo

Photo Credit: Tino Qahoush

 

In the first of a series of articles on marriage / partnerships in Sweden, Lysanne Sizoo, psychotherapist (UKCP reg.), considers the issues faced by expats when either one or both halves of a couple are in a foreign country. Part 1: At home or abroad.

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What do we really know when we promise undying love to our exotic foreign partner? Or what do we truly expect when we decide to embark on the foreign adventure we always dreamed of? I think we have been given the rose tinted spectacles of love and infatuation for a purpose; if we always could oversee the results of our adventurous impulses, we would never leave all that is safe and familiar. And as we know from loved ones back ‘home’, even that is not a recipe for an uncomplicated life. Let’s face it, relationships are hard, and international relationships are harder still, but the rewards are worth all the investment.

The couples that we meet at Turning Point roughly fall into two categories: the cross-cultural partnerships where one of the two is a Swedish national; and the couples where neither partner is Swedish, who have come here together on an expat assignment. In both cases there seems to be an internal or even socially external directive to make this adventure a glowing success and to never ever have moments of doubt or regret. If those so-called negative feelings do pop up, you suppress them until finally they burst to the surface like a triumphant volcano of resentment, quite out of proportion to whatever the last drop was… and making everything seem a disaster, rather than the normal ups and downs of international life.

The love refugees that come here with so much hope often find that their decision demands a greater sacrifice than they may have thought… You’re constantly being surprised by the fact that even though they walk like us and talk like us, Swedes have their very own way of being in this world. Just like any other nationality, theirs is a way that tends to charm, baffle and, yes, annoy.

 

In this article, we’ll be exploring two aspects of couples here, one related to a cross-cultural marriage and the other where neither partner is Swedish.

 

Cross-cultural marriages: Being at ‘home’ in his or her culture

The love refugees that come here with so much hope often find that their decision demands a greater sacrifice than they may have thought. You miss the familiarity of home, you feel like a five-year old trying to express yourself in your best Swedish, and you’re constantly being surprised by the fact that even though they walk like us and talk like us, Swedes have their very own way of being in this world. Just like any other nationality, theirs is a way that tends to charm, baffle and, yes, annoy. But I also empathise with the Swedish national who feels responsible for every negative experience his or her loved one experiences in the course of the adjustment period. Underlying each complaint, explicitly or implicitly, is the notion of sacrifice and guilt.

Quite often the recriminations don’t appear until after the first year or eighteen months; “you have no idea how hard this is”, “I hate the way they do things here”, “I miss being able to have an adult conversation in my own language”, answered by “but I thought you said you wanted to come here”, “we do have the best way of doing things in Sweden, it’s just different”, to “you can talk to me”. If this is the conversation that you’re in, going round and round, then forget trying to solve things. No one is to blame, but often the incomers do need to be ‘seen’ in all the hard work they are putting in, day in day out, and the homebodies need to be relieved of standing responsible for all the ills of the Swedish community.

Sometimes what’s needed is the opportunity to express that this foreign adventure is harder than either of you thought, each from your own perspective, non-defensive and without recriminations. Usually you can manage to work through these things ourselves as couples, but if the support of a third person is needed, then that possibility is always there as well. Once you’ve cleared the decks of all the previously unexpressed and unexplored emotions, you can begin to make up the balance. Most couples will happily stay, others will move to a third, neutral country and in very rare cases, some couples will decide to split. But whatever you decide, let it be based on an open, honest discussion and an understanding that you both chose to add that extra spice of ‘international’ to your loving relationship.

 

Non-Swedish couples: “We’ve always wanted to work abroad”

Scratch the surface of that statement, and you often find that there is an imbalance in the ‘we’, where it is actually one who wanted it most, and the other who wanted to be supportive. Often, there is a supportive partner and an initiating partner, and if the supportive partner decided to move because ‘it seemed the loving thing to do’, then their investment is more likely to be in the well-being of their partner rather more than the move. If the initiating partner then has a bad day at the new job, or a moment of doubt and a wobble, the whole project feels in jeopardy and it is a heavy burden to bear. In the same way, if the supporting partner expresses his or her frustration about the time it takes to feel settled in, make friends, learn the language, the initiating partner feels it like a personal attack  -  the ‘I did this for you’ hanging in the air – and responds with confusion and defensiveness. I often ask the person who finds it hard to adjust to explain exactly how invested they were in the decision to move, because figuring out how you made the decision and why, and whether you need to revisit it to recommit in a more ‘informed’ way can be helpful for both partners.

You don’t have to be the starring couple in an A-rate Hollywood movie about expats, it’s enough to have a good enough experience, where the extra challenges enrich and deepen your experience of one another as a couple, bringing you closer together.

Often the initiating partners are working harder than ever and are full of fears about not coming up to scratch, and failing at the job that they uprooted the family for.  They spend less time at home, which is the one thing that the supporting partner needs more than ever. Feelings of abandonment are part and parcel of the overseas experience. But just as with the couples where one of the two is a national, the important thing is not to try and solve issues, but to listen to one another and allow the frustration to spill out. You don’t have to be the starring couple in an A-rate Hollywood movie about expats, it’s enough to have a good enough experience, where the extra challenges enrich and deepen your experience of one another as a couple, bringing you closer together. Closer, not by pretending there are no challenges, but by meeting them head on and dealing with them.

 

In part 2 we will be looking at the role of in-laws and family members, as well as other visitors. In an international relationship, a visit from your mum becomes a two week stay rather than a cuppa on the odd Sunday afternoon. How do you set the boundaries?

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific questions about marriage in a foreign land, or indeed other issues that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

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Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

Article: Lysanne Sizoo

Photo Credit: Your Little Family Photography