The Curious Mind, Episode 1: Three typical issues of mixed expat couples

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Speaker 2: (00:07) Hello everyone and welcome to the curious mind podcast. My name is Gabriel Ellis. I'm a psychotherapist and Buddhist scholar and in this podcast I take deep dives into complex psychological topics that affect our wellbeing in general. Today I would like to talk about issues that affect specially mixed ex-pat couples that live abroad, meaning that one partner is a local and one partner is an ex patch. My experiences that this constellation comes with its issues and the decision to live in mixed expert relationship should be well contemplated. One issue is that the expert partner is in constant need of language support. Um, that means that whenever you deal with administration with a official matters doctors and so on, that you either have to pay extra for international doctors, doctors who speak English well or you need the local partner to jump in and to help out. In itself, this isn't bad, but with time the local partner might get frustrated with constantly needing to translate and to take over issues that they first of all don't like.

Speaker 2: (01:20) And second of all, they wouldn't do in a balanced partnership where both have the same language skills and what is in the beginning of sight issue with time can become a major disturbance for the relationship. So when the months go by and the expert in our partner who has vowed to learn the language well starts to Pluto at an intermediate level and it's simply not capable to really take over the, the, the, the tasks necessary, um, which still demand the local partner to jump in at the, with the fluent language skills, then with time over the months, over the first few years, this becomes a constant annoyance. Okay. But what to do about it, my recommendation is don't fool yourself into believing that the expert partner can become a fluent speaker quite quickly. If at all. This will take years or an ideal work environment and friendship environment where the expert would pick up the language fairly well, but realistically speaking, um, demanding language issues will remain with the local partner.

Speaker 2: (02:32) What this means is that I recommend for the couple to renegotiate the tasks and the relationship with the things that have to be taken care of. So if I'm the expert partner, I would admit to my partner that it will, uh, that it's not realistic that I will become a native speaker, uh, in the first few years. And instead I would ask, okay, so if you, my partner are taking on language related stuff, how can I compensate it with things that you are not particularly interested to do? For example, my fixed task could be to cook, uh, take care of the dishes to specific tasks with or for the children. Uh, take out the dog to shopping or doing any other household related stuff. It's really up to you. Uh, it should be something that comes up regularly and where both partners feel that it's a proper compensation for the language related to all tasks that the local partner has to perform, enhance.

Speaker 2: (03:33) We would both continue to invest in the relationship and keep the quality of the relationship high. This, of course needs to be renegotiated after a few months. It's highly important that both partners, uh, feel that they get an equal share out of that, that there is no overburden on one side and to come to a good understanding in general. This is a first example of my general approach, which is don't bottle things up, express them as soon as they come up in a gentle way. Invite your partner into the conversation, negotiate what has to be done and always keep in mind too that the satisfaction of needs for both of the partners and the relationship is in the common interest of both. The second common issue of mixed ex-pat couples that I want to mention is the lack of friendships of the expert partner for the local partner.

Speaker 2: (04:28) It's quite easy to connect to make new friendships or maybe they have old friendships from the past that they just need to reactivate a friend's extended family and so forth. For the expert partners, a completely different situation. They might think at the beginning that they can connect with the friends of the local partner, that the local partner that can help them to make friendships and so on. But with time this resource gets exhausted. Um, eventually the w it will dawn on both that they don't have the same tastes and people maybe. And what starts off as a good intention of the local partner to connect their partner, the expert partner with the people that they like local friends and that it doesn't end up to be a very good idea or they just, the expert partner gets dragged along to friendship meetings of the local partner.

Speaker 2: (05:19) Eventually as it happens, the local friends switch into the native language when to want, when they want to express something more complex. And then what ends up happening is that the expert partner sits around smiling until the air feeling disconnected. Okay. How can we address the issue? First of all, again, don't bottle up. Don't wait until the frustration level is high and the argument comes off as aggressive. I suggest in this situation already when you move, make plans for how to conduct research on the Internet where, uh, groups meet, um, ex-pat groups, sports groups or whatever your hobbies are and immediately don't wait until maybe there is a frustration and the lack of friendships or when you try to keep up your past friendships over the Internet. Start as early as possible with connecting with the local expert community or with local potential friends who are fluent in the language that you speak.

Speaker 2: (06:25) Another thing that the couple should be aware of and should clearly communicate is that the local partner cannot expect the partner to become immediately friends with their own friends. Don't drag your expert partner along if you feel that it's a, you know, a pity ride that you just don't want them to be, uh, alone at home and so on. Communicated freely and openly talk about strategies. Help them to investigate locally what types of, you know, expert networks that are, what kind of sports clubs they are. Help them to organize regular meetings and to attend them and make sure that there is a satisfactory level of social support. And friendships outside of the realm of the local partner in their extended friends and family. The third issue I want to mention is culture clash. This is a classic. What I have observed in my regular practice is that couples met abroad.

Speaker 2: (07:26) The decided to move abroad, but they have not considered what effect the local country has on the local partner. What I mean is this, our country of origin is a place of comfort, but it's also restrictive where we go on vacation, we to a certain extent leave this restriction behind. We feel fomo free. We are a curious and someone when we meet somebody they in a way they meet us at our best. This is why it's so easy to make friendships abroad, to flirt and eventually to start a relationship abroad. Now, what the couple is usually not quite aware of is that when they move to one of the partner's home country, they will eventually change. They will become more of a person that is unwrapped in the local culture. They will be more exposed to forces that make them more grounded and somewhat more conservative and less free than might be exposed to more influence from the family.

Speaker 2: (08:34) In short, they will become a person that maybe is quite different from who the expert partner was abroad and this effect will get only stronger when real life settles them when either one of them or both have to work or when even there's a baby on the way and the a local family gets involved on a much larger scale than both have maybe envisioned before. I've had several cases over the years in my personal practice where I've seen the expert partner being basically squeezed out of the family after the local partner got a baby and the family got heavily involved. The seems more plausible and the case that the expert partner is a man and the local a woman, but if you think about it, it doesn't really make much of a difference. It's even more alienating if a woman is the expert and then sees how much you realize on support from the family of her partner.

Speaker 2: (09:41) The mother-in-law comes in, the system in law comes in and gradually you see more and more alienation that is based on language skills but also on the culture clash that becomes very apparent, apparent in this constellation. And in fact with time this can be quite alienating and very difficult for the relationship to compensate simply because the local partner is not in a mode to clearly be aware of how much they have changed in the eyes of their partner. Of the three issues that I mentioned, this is probably the most difficult to tackle and uh, the standard answer to be empathetic, to be open, to discuss things and not to bottle up. Uh, this is, it's even more true when it comes to this specific issue because here the sensitivities on high, it's much better when you can discuss these things upfront. It is much better if the influence of the local culture and local family is somewhat limited.

Speaker 2: (10:48) It is much better if both partners have a high level of self awareness and if the quality and the relationship and the ability to communicate and to express oneself in a non harming way is sufficiently developed now because all of these three issues, uh, can be problematic for the relationship and they stress the relationship to a certain degree over the years. Um, a standard recommendation that I have is first try it out when you move to another country. Don't just assume that it works. Rather assume that there are forces that will make it difficult for the relationship to work. Assume that the partner will change in the new environment and take precautions to what to do if that ends up being the case. Give yourself a trial period. Discuss openly and reevaluate after a few months if this was the right decision, uh, how to move on over the next few months.

Speaker 2: (11:51)

And what should be the quality of the relationship in order for it to work, have already a very concrete plan. B, if things should not work out as planned. And most importantly, and this is I think, my mantra in general, when I talk about relationships, put yourself into the position of your partner. Imagine what is good for them, talk to them about it, and have their interest at your heart just as much as you have your own. Okay. That's it for today. Feel free to leave a comment and below you can find the link to my website, ls and my Facebook page, Ellis counseling and psychotherapy where you can contact me for online therapy or counseling sessions.

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