Expat Men: 3 Simple but Essential Tips To Keep Your Marriage

When relocating abroad, we automatically think of cross-cultural training and language courses. Those are fine and necessary.

Expat men and marriage

How was your day?

But far from home, stressed by all the changes, who are you first and foremost going to rely on? Your partner.

And there is one essential topic which is never addressed in this context.

 

The biggest difference between men and women is not what you think (it’s how you think)

 

Men and women are physically different, that’s trivial. What’s less obvious (at least it was to me!) is that they think and feel sooooo differently.

Relationships between men and women is a topic which is not taught at school. If you’re lucky, your parents have been great role models to understand the subtle alchemy necessary for blossoming relationships.
But let’s be honest, most of our parents didn’t have any clue.
So what can you do?

My intention is not to lecture you about what you should or shouldn’t do.

My sole purpose, based John Gray’s bestseller “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and my personal experience, is to STRONGLY emphasize the following point.

If you give to your partner the support you’d like to get, you’ll fail.

 

You’ll fail because men and women don’t have the same needs. To feel fulfilled, we yearn for very different kinds of support.

An international move is a great disruption in life. This major change, which is far more than a geographical relocation, will create a great deal of stress. In the first weeks, months or even years of an assignment, you’ll be more vulnerable than ever.

Men and women cope differently with stress.

 

One possible explanation proposed by current scientific research lies in the hormones. While acute stress triggers adrenaline and cortisol for both genders, it’s the presence of different levels of hormones in men and women which would induce different (and I’d even say) opposite reactions.

Under stress, men need some time off, they want to be left alone. When they’re worried, they choose to engage their mind with something else: watching TV, mountain climbing, running.

They’re NOT receptive to dialogue: neither talking, nor listening.

Under stress, women need to talk, to vent their emotions. They need to be listened to, to be heard, to feel understood.

Now imagine this couple who just moved to a foreign country: hubby is under high pressure in a new position working long hours (or even worse frequently traveling). Wife is stuck at home with no one to talk to. She’s frustrated by her lack of professional fulfillment and the burden of running a household alone without any landmarks.

When they get together, the man has only got one desire: to be left alone while the woman starves for a lending ear.

No wonder expatriates are world champions for divorce rates!

While women primarily seek care and understanding, men want trust and acceptance.

 

If nobody ever told you, if your partner can’t help because he/she’s not conscious of his/her needs, how are you supposed to know?

And don’t think that speaking the same language will wipe off all misunderstandings.

I’m not even talking about inter-ethnic marriages where both partners don’t communicate in their mother tongue!

Let me underline here that it’s not only about words. You can hurt your partner by the tone of your voice, your eye contact, your body language (some of which you’re not even conscious of, believe me!). You might even speak with tact and diplomacy and but it’s your underlying feelings which will be perceived and eventually turn off your partner.

So here are now 3 suggestions for busy male employees* based on women’s needs.

 

1. When coming back home, go and find your wife to give her a hug.

Yes, before doing anything else. Even before kissing the children!

Don’t jump on your blackberry to check the latest mail. Or worse: don’t take a phone call just at the front door.

Do you want her to think that, even after a long day at work, she’s not your priority?

 

2. Assign 30 minutes (yes, put the timer on) of your UNDIVIDED attention to listen to her.

For some of you, it might sound impossible: “Anne, 30 minutes after an exhausting working day!! You’re kidding.”

No, I’m not.

Start with 5 minutes the first week and gradually increase. Be mindful that the more isolated your wife is, the more she’ll have to rely on you to talk and feel better.

Ask her how was her day.

Be prepared to get an unhappy answer: your wife may be tired and upset by fixing the household problems. You know, all those little things that you don’t see but make a house so enjoyable (cleaning up the house, washing the dishes, tidying up the bedrooms, arranging children’s activities, cooking meals, shopping, dealing with paperwork and local administration…). She may be frustrated by an intellectually unchallenging environment and a deep sense of loneliness.

By listening to her, you’ll give her a great gift: the possibility to vent her frustrations.

She won’t expect you to solve her issues, find her a job or go back home… even if she says so and even if you’re sooooo tempted to fix her problems.

She just needs a sounding board to talk through her problems.

Your male instincts will want to help her by providing concrete solutions BUT you MUST absolutely resist this. This step is critical. If you don’t listen and acknowledge her feelings, she’ll get even more upset.

You may also feel guilty because you can’t give her right now the happiness she deserves. You might even feel like you’re a failure. This is a typical male reaction. But it’s NOT what a woman means in that particular situation.

Your most important job here is to LISTEN as best as you can and ACKNOWLEDGE her feelings.

While writing this article, I was tempted to tell you to put yourself in your wife’s shoes in order to empathize. And suddenly I realized how wrong this is!!!

If a man puts himself in his wife’s shoes, he’ll withdraw and he’ll need to stay alone which is NOT what a woman needs.

 

She needs you to care about her and her feelings and show understanding.

This is how women cope with stress.

 

Don’t expect her to feel better right on the moment and forever. Women’s mood is cyclical. It goes up and then reaches rock bottom before going up again. This is a healthy pattern.

Just be patient and persevering. Stick to your focused listening time. You’ll make wonders!

 

3. Do 3 LITTLE things for her EVERY day

Men and women have different ways to give mental credit or discredit to the partner in the relationship.

Men think they score high points when they do something big.

Suppose a man is earning enough to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his family. Say $ 10,000 a month. For him this means 100 points.

He gets a promotion and earns $ 20,000 a month. In his mind, he’ll have won double points: 200 points. At that moment, he’ll stop and wait for his wife to catch up.

Women don’t think like that. Any action a man does, scores one point: emptying the dishwasher, earning $ 20,000 instead of $ 10,000, offering her one rose or a diamond ring, gardening, repairing her bicycle.

AND a woman needs lots of little things to feel loved.

This is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that you’ll have to be more attentive to your wife’s needs on a daily basis. You can’t just do a big thing, then sit back and relax for the rest of the year.

The good news is: you don’t need to do big things all the time. Don’t put yourself under more pressure: a tender gesture, a phone call, preparing a cup of tea, showing that you remember she’s got a dentist appointment, giving a genuine compliment, all these little things can make wonders.

Keep in mind that your wife has got her own struggle with a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence emphasized very often by the lack of professional identity. She had a career but lost it when moving to another country for the sake of your job.

Demonstrate her by tactful little signs (and many of them), the value she’s got in your eyes.

 

For men: what do you think? Do you already perform those 3 actions every day with your wife? What do you find the hardest?

For women: how do you feel? Can you confirm that those actions will contribute to increase your level of appreciation for your partner and the trust you place in his caring love for you? What would you like to add?

 

*Busy male employees: I’ve considered in this article that men are the bread-earners and women the accompanying spouses. I’m aware that it’s a stereotype and that each family is unique. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the same tips for male trailing spouses and would love to get in touch with some of them to discuss this matter. Don’t hesitate to contact me!

Disclaimer: I’m reluctantly using the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” as a trusted source. While I’m impressed by the accuracy of the analysis (even if somewhat stereotyped but how could it be otherwise?) and the real insights the book gave me, I’m disappointed by its lack of references (none!) and John Gray’s further career (extremely commercially oriented).

Credit image Wikimedia Commons, Credit music Piano Society

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Comments

  1. Vincent Actionismymiddlename B says:

    What a collection of sexist stereotypes. Is this the 1960s?

    I confess that I stopped reading half way but I can’t say I cared for reading more of this. I have lived in many different countries and have had the experience of being the stay home dad while my partner went to her new important job and I can tell you that I didn’t care for trust and acceptance, I too wanted care and understanding.

    This whole article reeks of 1960s sexist mentality. It’s ludicrous.

    • Dear Vincent, obviously this article struck a chord for having you so emotionally involved. Thanks for your rant. I like debating. Would you be surprised if I told you that I got at least half a dozen private mails from men and women acknowledging the above description, and finding great comfort in reading it? Your impression is that those behaviors are outdated, stereotypes from the 1960’s. For some people unfortunately, they’re not. But don’t get me wrong: I’m not a feminist or a sexist. I firmly believe in equality of rights between men and women but in complementary of genders. My goal is not to blame men or women. It’s to help people better understand each other. You’ll conceive easily that it’s not possible to cover each and every particular situation in an article. But you mention that you are or have been a stay-at-home dad. I explained at the end of the article that I was focusing on working male employees and wouldn’t recommend the same tips for male trailing spouses. I’m thrilled to write with your input an article specially dedicated to the latter category. Ready for the challenge?

  2. Vincent Actionismymiddlename B says:

    Yes, it is important to remain reassuring, open and caring with your partner, male or female. It can be very difficult for the one who’s not working in the new exciting/demanding job. Gender has nothing to do with this.
    There was no need for this backwards, paternalistic approach.

    May I kindly suggest you join the 21st century?

    • I don’t think this gender approach is backwards or paternalistic. Controversial, yes. What’s the stereotype of the 21st century? Stay-at-home dads? Same-sex couples? Let’s talk about those as well 🙂

  3. I’m an “expat” too – having followed my husband’s career around and now pursuing my own, helping those with perceived difficulties such as these above. Many “challenges” here are not only for the expat relationships, although admittedly, moving to new countries and cultures does add additional stress, and even more when children are involved. The quality of our lives, is based on the quality of the questions we ask ourselves. In order for each and everyone of us to lead more fulfilled lives rather than seeing only the negative, ask a better question and you get a better answer…

    • Thanks for joining the discussion, sharing your experience. Looking for the answers to find meaning… maybe THE most important mission we’ve got in life, as outlined by Viktor Frankl.

      2013/8/29 Disqus

  4. This article is unbelievably accurate in spelling out how I feel. My husband took a job in the UAE, and because of severely limited job opportunities and lack of actual need to work (his salary more than pays the bills), I have been without a job for 2 years, and honestly, bored out of my ever-loving mind. Part of the problem is that I in NO WAY identify with the Arabic/Muslim culture, and much of it repels me (subjugation of women, mistreatment of animals, double standards) I love my hubby dearly (or else I wouldn’t be here) but I truly wish he understood how I felt here, my need to vent, my loss of identity. I also need to work harder, too, on trying to support him more and understand him. I am tempted to show him this article but have a feeling he wouldn’t take it well 🙁 anyway, I look forward to joining this site!

    • I’m delighted to see that this article resonates with you but sorry that you’re experiencing a down time in your host country. We look forward to getting to know you more and to support you. Welcome to our little community!

      • Just wanted to get my two pence in. I’ve been an accompanying partner to my wife for the last 3 years and all what you said applies to men too! We are in the last phase of our mission here and I can’t wait to get out of here. We have a nice expat life but the loneliness of staying at home and making sure everything is ok for both of us is too much for me. My wife sent me this link together with your other one and I really appreciate it, because we feel our relationship is suffering from “living in Paradise”

        • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I hear you: there’s more to life than materialistic comfort. All the best in your new endeavour, back home.

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