Expat Women: 3 Simple But Essential Tips To Keep Your Marriage

*Expat Women: I’ve considered in this article that expat men are the bread earners and expat 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 female expat employees and would love to get in touch with some of them to discuss that matter. Don’t hesitate to contact me!

Living abroad is both exciting and challenging. If you want to succeed in this endeavor as a couple, supporting each other is key.

Hand in hand, yes but how?

Hand in hand, yes but how?

Research work from leading authorities on marriage like Gottman or communication experts like Jacques Salomé point out the importance of daily positive little interactions.

These daily positive little interactions are the frame to build upon and nurture deeper and stronger relationships.

In the previous article, we looked at men and how they could – through 3 simple but essential actions – enhance their partner’s sense of being supported.

And this is exactly the critical point: men and women don’t think alike. “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”: John Gray’s best-seller got the success we know because so many people could identify with the typical behaviors of each gender he described.

Women primarily need care and understanding while men long for trust and acceptance.

If you’re not fulfilling your partner’s most important needs first, chances are that they won’t feel supported at all!

Can you imagine the disaster? You have the best intentions in the world and you’re not reaching your most desired outcome. The result leaves a huge frustration on both sides.

To prevent you from getting close to the edge of this precipice, we’ll explore today 3 actions women can take to make sure their partner “feel” their love.

 

1. Stop giving more. Start acknowledging more.

If you’re a trailing spouse, you already gave A LOT: your professional identity (even if only temporarily), your energy (for moving, settling the whole family, kids included, re-creating a new life, finding new support networks) and your emotional capital (expat grief, culture shock).

Don’t get me wrong: you’ll also gain a lot
“Adversity is the mother of progress” said Mahatma Gandhi
but there’s some hard work to be done to get there.

To support your stressed partner working long hours, you’ll be tempted to take even more on your plate.

Beware: don’t give of yourself until you’re spent and empty, because you’ll be so angry that it’ll just make things worse.

It’s important to pay attention to YOUR needs. What are they?

To feel loved, a woman needs to get a lot of little things done for her and PREFERABLY without asking. Her husband, on the other hand, needs a lot of appreciation for what he does. Of course, nobody ever wants to be taken for granted. Fair enough, right?

What make things more complicated is that men need to be asked, at least initially.

Women struggle to understand this fact: when they love someone, they spontaneously offer their help. This urge is almost irresistible.

Men view things differently. Men assume that if you don’t ask for help, you don’t need it and you’re happy to give more.

This misunderstanding has tragic consequences because a man derives lots of fulfillment from giving and from being needed even if he’s not aware of it!

“Not to be needed is a slow death for a man” asserts John Gray.

 

So stop giving, start asking.

 

If you’ve already tried but got no good results, you’re applying the wrong method!

  • Ask your partner using “would you” and NEVER “could you”

John Gray emphasizes the crucial importance of using the correct wording.

This is a KEY point. At first, you might be tempted to belittle its importance. You may consider that using “would you” instead of “could you” sounds too decisive, too dry. Well, think again.

When your husband asked you about the move, what did he say?

“Could you come with me to the other end of the world?”
or “Would you come with me to the other end of the world?”

Do you feel the difference?

The first question using “could you” leaves several interpretations open:

a. It’s challenging your ability: would you be able to move away from home?

b. or it may sound needy implying something like “I’m afraid you don’t want to come so I’m begging you: could you please come with me?”

In both cases, the feeling you experience when you get this request is not very engaging.

This is exactly what men feel when you ask them to do a trivial little thing like opening up a jar for example. They’re extremely sensitive to this wording which immediately triggers in them a feeling of defensiveness.

It’s a complete turn-off according to John Gray and he backs it up by mentioning lots of men’s testimonials acknowledging how little engaged they feel, when they’re asked with “Could you”. Some of them even mentally think “of course, I could. But I don’t want to’. So they answer “Yes” to the request but don’t do it because they effectively CAN do it but don’t WANT to.

“Would you” is empowering while “could you” is challenging their competence.

 

  • Be direct and be brief.

Don’t explain “I’m in a hurry. The kids need to be picked up at the gym. I’ve got dinner in the oven and my parents want to Skype in 15 minutes. I’m so stressed.”

Just ask: “Would you pick up the kids please?”

 

  • Pay attention to the tone of your voice

Wording is important but tone of voice and body language are essential too. Asking the right question sarcastically won’t work.

Find little tasks to perform. Ask persistently but respectfully the help of your partner.

 

Last but not least: be grateful!

Acknowledge the slightest little thing he does for you, even if you still have the impression (and I know sometimes it’s not only an impression!) you’re doing everything to run the household (except earning money).

The purpose of this approach is to restore the balance in your relationship by reintroducing more and more interactions.

By focusing on this approach, both partners will be fulfilled: you’ll get the reassurance through multiple little actions that you’re loved and worth it and your partner will feel needed and appreciated.

 

2. Avoid giving advice if he doesn’t ask for it

Men primarily need to be trusted and accepted as they are, according to John Gray.

You’ve just practiced appreciation for his actions in the above exercise. Now it’s time to show trust.

When you give advice to a man without him having asked for it, he gets the message that he’s not good enough. You’re challenging his competence. You’re undermining his self-confidence!

The best example is in a car. You’ve got an appointment in town and your husband is driving. In this new country, where the circulation is dense and the driving code of conduct nonexistent, you’re extremely tense. You can’t help but say “Be careful, here! Did you see that car? You’re driving very close to the edge. Did you notice the red light? Keep your distance…”

Even if you find it difficult, refrain from any comment. Close your eyes and breathe.

Trust he’ll get you safe and sound.

In an expatriate life, there are plenty of occasions to practice extending your trust. Those are opportunities to give little gifts of love. Don’t spoil them!

 

3. Leave your partner some time off without resenting him

Men need some time off, alone, to cope with stress.

They engage their mind in all kinds of distracting activities: watching TV, practicing sports…

The process here seems to unfold as follows: you temporarily “forget” the problem, hoping to get the solution flowing from your unconscious. I reckon this method was applied by renown artists, writers and scientists. After intense working sessions, disengaging your mind with other activities enables your brain to establish new connections and fosters the creative process. Einstein himself recognized he made some of his most important scientific breakthroughs while playing violin. His explanation resides in the fact that this other activity would connect “different parts of his brain in new ways”.

There’s another reason why men need to withdraw from time to time: they are uncomfortable when they’re getting too close in an intimate relationship. They’re afraid of losing themselves. This is why they need to take some distance to “touch base” with their own self and be available to engage again.

Being aware of this natural and healthy pattern makes a big difference: you can stop worrying! No need to feel sad, angry or resentful. No need to listen to this inner voice torturing you “What if he doesn’t care? What if I did something wrong? What if I wasn’t good enough? What if he doesn’t love me anymore?”

The difficult part now is to find the balance between men’s needs and the limited time left to you as a couple in a very busy life!

To conclude this analysis, I’d like to underline the following point.

When things go wrong in a relationship, the most difficult step is to get out of the vicious circle of wound-argument, deeper wound- stronger argument, which automatically leads towards a downward spiral.

Blaming and shaming your partner, whether you’re a man or a woman, won’t help. In the end, finding the strength in yourself to communicate lovingly seems to me the only way up, even though it sounds difficult.

You’ve got to get out of this negative and destructive downward spiral. Your future might well depend on it.

Now, over to you:

For women: What do you think? Are you surprised by those tips? Which one is the most challenging to apply?

For men: Do you feel happy with those tips? What would you add?

 

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 flickr, Credit music Piano Society

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Comments

  1. The same book is sitting on my bookshelf 🙂

    While the points all make perfect sense (and the ‘could/would’ one thrills me in its simple effectiveness) they can all be applied to hetrosexual marriages across the board – none struck me as being particularly pertinent to expat couples.
    Expat marriages require greater individual awareness of the effect of shifts in power and responsibility (both real and imagined) and how each partner views themselves (and if their views correspond with each other’s) to withstand the changes external variables inevitably bring to bear.

    • Thanks Aisha for your comment. I agree with you about the greater individual awareness required by expat couples. And this was the purpose of this article: give to expats some tools to better understand/manage their relationship. This is even more critical in times of great stress and roles redistribution as it’s the case when moving abroad.

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