The other day I was speaking to someone who had arrived on his assignment in another country about 1,5 year ago. He told me that it was so much more difficult than he had anticipated and that although the thought that he had spoken about everything with his wife before leaving - they actually were not well enough prepared for what happened.
Here is his story.
I was very excited to start a new job in a new country. My wife and I arrived in the summer. It was very hot. Almost 45C. Thank god an airconditioned car was waiting for us at the airport. Our home was beautiful. With a big garden. We knew the assignment was coming and we made all the practical arrangements. We had discussed this. My wife was a bit apprehensive as this would be the first time for her as a trailing spouse. But we were open and excited. From day one, I worked for long hours. Wanted to make a great start. Getting to know as many people as possible. Weeks like ‘ eight days’ a week. My wife started to redesign our home, she took care of the move and set up everything at home. But how many time can you redesign a home? So after a few weeks the house was done. What next? She was used to have a full time job. Now suddenly she was a partner without work. I left home early in the morning for an exciting day. She stayed at home, wondering what to do. For me the days were too short, for her far too long. We spoke about it. But not much changed. I felt guilty. Shouldn’t I have accepted this job? Was I selfish? There was no balance at all anymore in our lives. I did not know how to address this. I saw that my wife who was always very active and energetic became more and more depressed. I did not know how to help her. I also did not dare to talk about it. Because I did not know what we could do about it. We were stuck. We were in this situation for months and I felt more and more guilty. This is not what I wanted. If I had known this I would
have never accepted this assignment.
Then one day after a few glasses of wine we finally did have a real conversation about this. I was actually shocked about what she told me. I had never realized it was so hard for her, never realized she felt so lost and lonely. She avoided telling me earlier because she knew I loved my job so much and did not want to burden me with this. She did not want to get in my way, or get in the way of my career. She shared with me how she felt a failure by not being able even after so many months to find a place or something to do for herself. She shared even that she feared that I would not love her anymore as much because she did not have an interesting story anymore. Her days were boring, she felt a bore. How could she still be interesting to me. I was baffled. How could she ever think that way, how could she ever think that I would not love her less just because she did not have a paid job at that moment. How could she have been afraid of that?! I felt sad and happy at the same time. Happy that finally we had this difficult conversation. But very sad that we had not had this much earlier, sad that she had felt so bad for so long and I did not really realize it because I was so busy with my work. We did not dare to share our true feelings earlier because we wanted to protect each other. But by not sharing this we were actually making things much worse.
Slowly things improved - my wife started her own business, started to work in committees, making some friends, finding a new role and purpose. A more balanced life came back. Both having things to do and more fulfilled days. Free time was now real free time for both of us and thus we enjoyed it much more. It felt much better. But it took us more than a year to find this new balance. Could we have prevented this from happening? Probably not completely as some things are so hard to imagine and can only be felt when you actually are in a certain situation. Could we have prepared ourselves better for this situation? Yes! Knowing what could happen, talking to people, discussing how to deal with an unbalanced situation would have made a big difference. And a big difference would have made daring to be really honest to oneself and to your partner and by not avoiding this difficult conversation. Managing your own expectations can make a difference. It would have given us a better start of our expat adventure. We are now much more aware. That makes handling difficult moment easier now.
They learned the hard way….
There are ways to better prepare, there are ways to adapt better and quicker and to deal with overwhelm, there are ways to have these good and honest conversations in a constructive manner. If you got curious and want to know more please drop me a message and we can discuss further.