Tag: expat partner

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Separate lives


I was introduced to the concept of separate lives more than fifteen years ago, when my then-boyfriend-now-husband, fresh out of graduate school, took a job as a consultant – in Paris. During the half year that I had left to finish my own degree, I stayed on in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was an interesting, thankfully short time with a lot of transatlantic back-and-forth, lonely weekends, long letters and emails, even a marriage proposal (I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder). When I graduated and moved to France to join him, I was convinced that things would
improve dramatically. I didn’t suspect that this back-and-forth would become a
permanent feature of our common life.
His job meant that between Monday morning (usually at some ungodly hour) and Thursday evening (at an equally ungodly hour) he was out of town. I hated Monday mornings. I was lonely and I missed him. He was often overworked and tired from all  the travel. At the end of his consulting stint of six years, I was, again, convinced that things would improve with the next job. But the next job ended up being in London, while our family was based in Vienna. That became a pattern: while my jobs were stable location-wise, his were not. Somehow it was never possible to have both work and family life in one location. Fifteen plus years and three kids later, our family qualifies for the title of cross-border commuting veterans. Managing our disjointed existence has become a habit; not one any of us is particularly fond of, but one which we have gotten good at.
It is not just our habit. My daily news feed on Facebook is strewn with postings from friends who are not where they are supposed to be – where their families live. Cross-border commuting is a fact of life. Sometimes it’s a good deal, sometimes a necessity. An opportunity may be so good that you are willing to tolerate the commute; or local jobs may be scarce. Often, working abroad is cheaper and simpler than moving your whole family: you don’t have to uproot them, disrupt your children’s education or take them away from extended family. It is less stressful to be able to devote yourself completely to your work during the week, when no one is waiting for you at home, and devote yourself completely to your loved ones on the weekend.
But it is also a demanding life – both for the commuter and for the ones that stay behind. If you are the commuter, your belongings are scattered across two places and a suitcase.
You are neither fully here nor there. You miss your family. You are often exhausted. If you are the “stationary” partner, most of the family responsibilities fall on your shoulders. Add to that a full-time job and career of your own, not to mention what happens when children are in the picture. You have to manage alone during the week and on the weekend you get what a good friend of mine called “a leftover spouse.”
Despite all the nice sayings about absence and its effects, this kind of lifestyle, especially when it is prolonged, can strain a relationship. Resentment and frustration can build up. People can grow apart. Your partner may resent the fact that you are not around when they need you; they may go up the wall when you come back and want to have a say on every decision (don’t they manage perfectly well when you are not around?); you may find being a “weekend parent” terribly frustrating. Sound familiar?
Have you lived the commuter life – on either end of it? Was it a good thing, a necessary evil or something you would rather never have to go through again?
expat, family

A Move for Two


Moving with your partner sounds like a good deal: you have someone to share the load, handle all the arrangements and manage the logistics with you; and you also have someone who can feel your excitement on the good days and appreciate your frustrations and disappointments on the bad ones.

All that is true, but in fact moving à deux also makes life so much more complicated.

First, not only do you have to deal with your own adjustment issues; you have to worry about your partner as well. How well (or how badly) they are doing affects how you are doing. If they are not happy in the new place, it is unlikely that you will be happy there, hard as you try. Worse, if they are struggling while you are having a much smoother ride, they will be difficult and jealous, if not resentful of you.
Then, especially if things are tough and at least one of you has a hard time adjusting, there may be an issue with who initiated the move. If you were not as eager to move as they were, but decided to follow anyway, you will blame them for everything that goes wrong. You may refuse to adapt and settle. According to surveys, the top reason why international assignments fail – basically people pack up and head back to where they came from – is what they call “partner resistance.” Having been both initiator and follower in different moves, I can tell you that the only way to make it work and avoid resentment building up is if even the follower has a serious incentive to move, like being closer to a family member or a potential future career option. As soon as there is compromise or sacrifice involved, but not some kind of reward, we have a hard time letting go. We are human (at least most of us are!).
In addition to all that, when you move to a new place, at least in the beginning, you will be spending a lot of time together. There will be no distractions, no family or friends to act as a buffer, no outlets for when you have enough of each other; it will be just the two of you (ok, maybe you have kids, but I’m talking relationship-wise). Not everyone can handle that under normal circumstances. Add the stress of moving and settling, uncertainty about how your life will be in the new place, job pressures and culture shock – and that’s a lot of pressure. How you go into the move as a couple determines how you come out of it. If you have solid foundations, you will come out stronger; if your relationship was dysfunctional already, you can be sure that any underlying tensions will come to the surface.
So when you least expect it, your relationship is being put to the test. Why am I writing this? Because I think that most of us do not anticipate having to go through such complications when we move. The practical aspects are so overwhelming that we overlook the potential strains on our relationship. We are not prepared to deal with them when they come up. There has to be a better way.
Has moving affected your relationship?