It’s important for expat couples to talk through their struggles with expat life, says internationally renowned marriage therapist Andrew G. Marshall. But what if your partner’s not paying attention to what you say?
Make the first move
Marshall’s answer may not be what you want to hear: “The first thing you’ve got to remember is that people don’t listen to you until they feel listened to,” he says. “So asking your partner ‘what’s going on for you – what’s difficult for you?’ is a very good place to start. Because then they will feel heard, and will have a chance to hear you too. Couples often discover that they are on opposite sides of the bed, feeling exactly the same – waiting for the other person to become the person they always dreamed of.”
Do things differently
“The one thing we can control is ourselves,” emphasises Marshall. “So think about what else you could do differently: What help do you need? Can you ask for help? Rather than focusing only on your partner, there may be other people who can provide support. There may be professionals who can help out. Journaling is very useful for this – it will help you filter out what makes you unhappy and find what you may be able to sort out yourself, and what you need from your partner.
Find time for each other
I’d say couples need to have at least six-monthly discussions about where you are and how things are going. Plan it in. Go away to a spa, for example, just the two of you and catch up with each other. And if your partner is too busy to do anything nice with you at all, then that’s definitely a sign that you have to pull the emergency cord.”
Put in the effort
Simply ignoring relationship problems can be disastrous for expat couples, warns Marshall. “When expat relationships go really bad, they explode in ways that other relationships don’t,” he explains. “Because when you’re unhappy, you want to go home; when you discover infidelity, you want to go home. And for expats, going home to mother is not about going around the corner, it’s going halfway around the world. So the problem becomes huge. Therefore, expat couples need to have better relationships; ‘good enough’ may not be sufficient when you’re away from home.”
This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.