5 Tips From Couples’ Coach Tali Lichtenfeld To Help Expat Couples Get Through Relocation With A Smil
Note: I use the word Relocation loosely, same as I do with the word Expat, but I am aware there are many of us out there that are here to stay, or maybe they came for just a couple of years, but that was 15 years ago :-).
Did you know? 87% of international transferees are men, 70% of them are married, and 60% or relocated couples travel with their children (Source: A Moveable Marriage/ Robin Pascoe)
Most of these women to whom these men are married might go through some sort of crisis during this relocation period.
The main reason (33%) for failing overseas assignments is family related issues. 49% or the accompanying spouses have been working before the assignment but not during it, and that could be one of the reasons for the unhappiness and resulting family issues. (source: Global Mobility Survey, 2016).
Many accompanying spouses experience negative emotions, such as grief, frustration, loneliness, disorientation, isolation and depression in some degrees.
They go through the cultural shock stages, many times feeling like a sacrificing victim. I come across many times in my work where clients feel like: “I left everything behind for YOU! You need to pay for my unhappiness!”
Cultural shock is a term coined first in the 1950’s by an anthropologist named Kalvero Overg. The 4 stages of cultural shock include:
Honeymoon Stage – like a tourist visiting a new destination, everything looks exciting and magical. I might sound like: “How beautiful and quiet, people are so polite and kind, food is amazing, I love it here”.
Crisis Stage – after a few weeks I find myself in some more complicated situations, having to deal with a late handyman, rude movers, the grumpy lady at the supermarket who can’t speak a word of English and the complaining neighbors… honeymoon is over frustration, anger and disorientation take over.
Flight / Fight / Freeze stage – I want to run back home or at least under the covers, or I get annoyed, angry and constantly complaining, or a just “freeze” – do nothing, avoid everyone and everything and wait till it’s over and I can finally go back home to my life.
Acceptance Stage – a year has past, we’ve gotten used to the house, learned the language a bit, been through birthdays and anniversaries, got to know new people – some like us, some different, we’ve gotten used to the culture and the local habits, it’s still hard sometimes but… so is life, at any place, in any language.
When only one of the spouses is earning the money, speaks the language or has any other advantage – the other spouse can’t help but feeling weaker, insecure, unequal, needy or dependent.
This shift in the balance of power is what causes most clients to come to me for couples’ coaching.
Here are a few tips I believe can serve as “first aid”:
1- The first step is to acknowledge and give space to these negative feelings, to name this shift of power, since many times it stays only under the surface.
2- Second step is to renegotiate the division of power and labor in the house. Make a huge list of everything you’re both doing and assign tasks. It might help with feeling of inequality, consider also giving up some tasks to outsourced help (e.g. cleaner, babysitter) .
3 –State of mind: Think like a team! Come on people, you’re on the same side!
4 – Restoring mutual respect! Make a list of what your spouse likes and do at least one from the list today!
And: do fun things together, just the two of you. Communicate respectfully, listen supportively, be brave to share your dreams and desires, you might be surprised!
5- Take away responsibility for your happiness from your spouse- it’s your job to make yourself happy, not anyone else’s.