Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unsolicited Advice for Accompanying Spouses

Oh, I have lots of advice for the newbie expat.

That the roller coaster of emotions you feel, the thrill of the exotic and the despondency of the reality, during the first three months or so in a new country is COMPLETELY NORMAL, for one thing. I can chart the ride out for you, even. But that's material for another entry.

This topic came to me today because a friend confessed she has been feeling down lately. That when she shared her feelings with her very supportive husband, he began to become uncomfortable with the topic. Because she needs a little more boosting lately than she normally does.

She's not alone by any means.

NO ONE is immune to Expat Overload. I have come across very seasoned Accompanying Spouses at the end of their emotional tethers. Weeping in the Ladies Room. Or a hotel lobby in the center of town. Wives of diplomats who have lived all over the world. In much more difficult postings than the one where they suddenly found themselves having a Bad Day.

And not just women, either. Expat Overload is an equal opportunity experience.

So here is my advice for all Accompanying Spouses, no matter how experienced you may be at schlepping around the world after your Employed Beloved.

Doesn't matter if you are the wife or the husband or the same-sex partner or what. The distinction here is that ONE OF YOU HAS THE GIG THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE (not you) and ONE OF YOU DOESN'T (that would be you).

Actually, the EB will get the expat blues, too, now and then. Stresses at work in general and life in a foreign country combined with general career path angst will mean your EB will need a little cheerleading and TLC from time to time. And that's part of the job description for the AS.

But who do you vent to when you are having a bad day?

I'll let you in on a little secret.

Don't vent to your Employed Beloved.

I know, I know. I can hear you objecting. "For better or worse!" you'll say. "We share everything,"

Don't share this. Or at least never initiate this topic. If EB does, then it is okay to chime in. Share away. But it's not unlike the old saying, "I can pick on my sister, but you can't."

If you have a bad day and find yourself weeping on the Metro or emotionally drained at the Post Office or chagrined at the meat counter--and believe me, I have done ALL of these myself--DON'T VENT TO YOUR HONEY.


I'll tell you why.

The EB will feel guilty for bringing you to this awful place where people mistreat you and make you cry. It's not necessarily logical, I know. If you are like The Spouse and me, we discussed, at length, together, the moves we have made over the years. He has always had my buy-in. I have never felt coerced.


If I have a Bad Day, The Spouse feels responsible, even if he had nothing to do with it. Even if I do not associate him with my Really Bad Day in any way whatsoever, he feels bad if I tell him about my Bad Day.

This is what friends are for.

Call your friend. Go to your friend's house. Or go for a coffee. Unburden yourself. Vent. Weep. Rail. Cry. Get hugged. Have some retail therapy or a glass of wine. Or a bottle of wine. Whatever it takes. Then wipe your eyes, blow your nose, pull yourself together, wind up your soul, and go back out into the world with a renewed sense of adventure about whatever foreign country you're in.

This doesn't mean you should never tell your EB what has happened to you. Just don't do it without testing the waters on the home front first.

We all do it.

We all have Bad Days.

Let me know if you ever need a hug.


MoscowMom said...

Our situations were so different coming here... I did NOT give my stamp of approval to moving here and was coerced into it, albeit my husband was compelled to make some kind of massive change because of the economy as it was after 9/11 in his specific field...

I was so angry that I'd been brought here, when I *KNEW* it would be hard, and w/two kids to boot... It was then SO MUCH HARDER than I could ever have imagined... Our standard of living fell so drastically that first year...

I *wanted* him to feel like crap for having made me go through this, when I'd warned it would be too hard (having lived in Russia before and somewhat having a clue about what it would mean to move here with two very small kids)... And when he was never, ever around b/c the new job was so demanding... His needs were magically taken care of--meals cooked, groceries appeared, house cleaned, laundry done--all while I had no car, none of my old appliances, no dryer to help me in doing so...

Let's just say it's a good thing I wasn't blogging those first two years here. Life was a real mess. It took a long time to move beyond that toxic period.

But for all those who move here as a team, I can agree with what you say--with a caveat. I think that spouses do need to be aware of what this new move means for the family, and not just on occasion. Knowing about it, and being ambushed by the raw emotion, however, are two different things. There's a big difference between blaming and sharing, trying to problem solve as a team.

Chris's knowing about it, about how friggin' hard my daily reality on my own with the girls was, lead us to commit to SOMEWAY, ANYWAY, finding the non-existent spare cash to get me some help... And to replace some of those appliances that don't work in Russia... And to get a dryer... And to eventually get a car after two years. It also then helped us to realize that it was worth it to join a gym as a family.

I would also add that there are a few really good counselors in Moscow who specialize in helping expats (both the employed and trailers) to adjusting to life here. There are even a few who specialize in helping children.

MoscowMom said...

Holy moly! Didn't mean to write an epic novel!

Anonymous said...

don"t I just love you?

Anonymous said...

sorry, couldn"t log in but see you on Saturday

The Expatresse said...

MM: Glad you did. I think it helps people to see these shared experiences . . . what is the same and what is not.

Also very glad to hear there are pros in town who can help. I did not know that, and sometimes people ask me about this stuff. (I'm always the Den Mother . . . which I like, but I have to keep up with the resources out there.)

Kugo said...

Now this is good advice! For every day use, I might add. Husbands tend to want to *fix* things and they can't always. Sometimes we all just need to vent.

BTW, I am sending you a friend request on Facebook!

The Expatresse said...

Oh, that is so true about men wanting to fix things. Sometimes there's nothing to be done.

I also need to add that The Spouse is extremely talented in foreign languages. I am not. I think he was always just ever so slightly cranky about helping me get things done . . . since he deemed me a smart girl . . . I could just learn the languages, too, right? That all stopped when I said one day, "Honey, if you were a world class, concert-level violinist, would you expect me to be one, too? Can't I enjoy the music without having to play at your level?" THAT finally did it.

I also believe that being the accompanying or tag-along spouse is totally different than being Expat With a Job. I've been both. He has not. You can't understand it completely if you haven't done it. And it only ends in arguments when we try to discuss it. This is one topic I definately reserve for my girlfriends.

katbat said...

agreed - I once, after a bad day, slammed a cup on the counter - looked at him and said "this sucks! life here sucks!" (I know - real mature!) - Leo looked sooo hurt - like I slapped him - he looked at me and quietly said "dont say that!" he took it so personally - I knew then, not something to bring up with him. It was a huge decision and I know a heavy load he carries bringing us here. He KNOWs it is hard for me - he knows it is hard for the kids -this card I keep in my pocket and dont plan on pulling it out (I always have the "your mom lived with us for 3 years" if I need some leverage anyway - always gotta have something when arguing with a lawyer!) :-)

The Expatresse said...

Aw, sweetie. Big hug.

Susan said...

Keep those cards close to your chest Kat!! As with everything, there are some things you dont bring up to the close to their hearts.
BTW, Katherine is very lucky to have found you Expat. You all need to stick together:)
The long hard winter is fast approaching!

Tina in CT said...

What about us poor grandparents back here in the US that have had our children and grandchildren move so far away from us? It SUCKS BIG TIME and I HATE IT!

The Flip Side. . .Or Maybe Not said...

I remember a bad day. Slumped over the dining table bawling. complete with snot running down my nose. Movers milling about trying to pretend hysterical lady isn't in the room. Significant Other looking clueless while trying to be helpful (in the most annoying way) between taking calls on his mobile phone...I know it's going to happen again with this move. Maybe even worst. Moscow will be cold and dark. The sun pretty much shines all the time here...Speaking of which, are there service flats there? The realtor suggested a short term lease. But that's not what i am after.

The Flip Side. . .Or Maybe Not said...

btw, thank you for this post. it reminds me that i certainly am not the isolated case.

Anonymous said...

where were you 30 years ago. I needed your advise so much then.
You can not help smashing things ones in a while, I ones tossed the whole table setting into the brick wall to prove my point(lucky for me, we had dinner on the back deck). The only thing it proved, that thing do break when you throw them into the brick wall. I still have one of Dansk plastic dishes with a broken handle. Certainly a keeper.
the card in your pocket is dangerous thing, and mostly dangerous for you. I use to have them in my pocket too. Got rid of most of them over the years. Makes soul lighter.
Oh Tina, I know how you feel, but we did raise our children, did we not?
Expat Moms, you are such a great and courageous bunch.
Best of luck. Ni pucha, ni pera!

hka said...

need I say, this is a masterpiece, one of your best ones? and I really, really enjoyed reading all the comments. I don't know who all the nicks cover, but I have a community. Thanks girls

the varkenkidlets said...

nice advice. i have already had too many of these days. we are in the beginning of a new assignment, so your words are extremely timely. i'm glad i stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago!

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