Updated: Sep 23, 2022
When a couple decides to move abroad, it is common that one partner has a job offer and the other the offer to come along. In most cases it is the husband who gets the job opportunity and the wife will become the accompanying partner, the trailing spouse, the expat wife. Some of you are already getting a little agitated, because those words carry a painful meaning. We have reached a sensitive topic.
In part 1 of this series, we established that moving abroad will be one of the most stressful experiences in your life and that it can put major strain on your marriage, potentially increasing the risk of divorce. In this article, we will look at another factor that contributes to this fact: One of you is the expat, the other the expat spouse.
One of you is the expat, the other the expat spouse.
For the sake of clarity and because statistically it is that way: in most cases the husband is the one who is working, whereas the wife will be staying home and if children are involved, she will look after the children. That is the classic expat model. This model comes with its own set of implications and consequences and we will soon see that our two protagonists, the wife and the husband, are on separate roads from the beginning.
A look at their passports provides us with the first indicator. The husband does have a different visa than the spouse. Because of his job he is allowed to stay in the foreign country, whereas the wife is only allowed to stay because of her husband. The wife´s right to stay in the foreign country depends on the husband. From now on almost everything is under his name: the bank account, the house, health care, insurances, etc which automatically leads to him being in charge of most administrative work. It also often implies that she has no work permit and in some countries she cannot even apply for one.
Then there is the actual job. He will go to work, she will stay home. They both experience change.
Work is no longer work like it used to be. Work means working in an intercultural environment, having new colleagues, new routines, new expectations, new challenges. The pressure of surviving in this new work environment on your shoulders.
And home is no longer home. Home is first a place to live, where you know nobody, where most cupboards are empty, where your children seem to be lost and it is your job to be their rock although you might feel like falling apart yourself from time to time.
Furthermore, the married couple will be judged differently from the outside. Very often the husband is admired for working in another culture, whereas the wife is confronted with the question: "And what are you doing abroad?" This leads to questions like: Who are you without your work? How much of your identity is tied to your job? How much of your personal happiness and your fulfillment in life is based on your job? How much of your balance of power in your relationship is based on both partners working? Those are very hard questions to answer.
"And what are you doing abroad?"
Although the wife and the husband are experiencing the same new country, they experience it from completely different sides and angles. Worlds apart.
And the reality of one partner working and one partner staying at home with all the implications can lead to arguments between the married couple especially if one of the two is unhappy.
The wife might blame the husband for having to give up so much for him, which can lead to resentment, jealousy or neediness. And the husband might accuse the wife of having to work so hard only to come home to find a partner who is clearly not appreciative of everything he is doing. A profound situation to get out of.
It really takes effort to stay connected to the other person, to know what is going on in their world, to listen to dreams and fears, the ups and downs and everything in between. To not condemn the other person, because their day to day life is so unlike.
It usually all begins with a solid communication. With listening to what the other person has to say and by being willing to say out loud what is really important to you. However, the problem is that once you are in a foreign country emotions can run high, stress can overtake very easily and the situation in itself might feel as if you are no longer equal partners in the relationship. A recipe for marital problems.
The situation in itself might feel as if you are no longer equal partners in the relationships.
How do you get out of this?
As in most cases, it would be wise to not to get into this in the first place. To have a really honest talk about how you imagine your time abroad. Who is responsible for what. Where are each others struggles and challenges in this new situation. Should you accept this offer after all or will it put too much pressure on your marriage? It really helps to have a third person in the room who digs deeper, who asks those uncomfortable questions so you can come up with a plan to make this expat adventure a meaningful time for everyone involved.
COACHING because it can save you a lot of regret in your expat marriage.
What can you do once you are living abroad and you realize you are drifting apart from your partner, you get more and more angry and frustrated, you fight on a regular basis, you seem to have less and less in common and it feels like you are worlds apart?
Again, this now becomes a race against time: the earlier you act, to earlier you start to have constructive conversations with your partner and potentially a coach or therapist, the higher are your chances to turn this around, to find solutions that will work work for the both of you, to have a shot at a happy marriage abroad.
Will it be worth it to you? Only you can decide on that!
MARRIAGE IS... SHARING LIFE WITH YOUR BEST FRIEND, ENJOYING THE JOURNEY ALONG THE WAY, AND ARRIVING AT EVERY DESTINATION... TOGETHER.
- Gary Thomas -