This month’s column highlights the distress of a trailing spouse when her partner asks her to move again.
An INSPIRELLE reader writes:
I recently discovered the website Inspirelle and I came across your post offering counselling to “Jane” after the French mistress dies. While the title seemed a bit sensational, I realized the scenario was probably quite plausible and I found your advice sound. Since then, I’ve bought your books.
I now find myself writing to you for some advice. Perhaps you have helped other expat women in my position. I, too, was a trailing wife seven years ago when I moved to Paris with our two young children because of my French husband’s transfer back to his company. In doing so, I gave up a promising career in marketing and communications and devoted my time to raising my kids in a new environment.
While the new adventure in Paris was exciting, I never gave up hopes of returning to work full time. To do so, I began consulting as soon as I was settled in, taking all kinds of odd jobs. Two years ago, I lucked out and was hired by a great international firm and am thriving in my new post.
Just as I’m finding my place here, my husband lost his management position due to major layoffs. The search for work has been slow and difficult. He has, however, really pitched in at home to take care of the kids, which is a godsend for me because now I am traveling throughout Europe to meet clients. I am very grateful for this, but my husband is miserable and he is harboring anger. I can feel it and it comes out in his impatience and his choice of words. We seem to be having cultural clashes for the simplest disagreements. Frankly, we seem to be arguing all the time and it’s like walking on eggshells at home. Now, he is suggesting we move in order to give him a new market to search for work.
How do two people find that balance again ? Does it require sacrifice on my part to ensure my partner is happy and fulfilled ? I can’t help but feel a man has a much harder time dealing with role reversals.
I do not want him to suffer and hold it against me. In your books, you were searching for your identity. What happens when the partner needs affirmation after you have finally found your own?
A Torn Jane
View from the Therapy Chair
Dear Torn Jane,
Your situation sounds hard and I really feel for you. However, it also sounds like some of the issues are bleeding into each other, when in fact, they are distinct problems.
- Miserable and Angry Husband: Unemployment is not for the faint of heart. It must be very difficult for your husband to feel underutilized professionally, not to mention the fact that his financial wings have been clipped, at least for the time being. He is certainly having a major struggle with identity loss and its close friend, low-self esteem. Yet in many ways it is an opportunity for you and he to become even closer, as you can indeed empathize with what he is going through. The question is, did he empathize with you when the roles were reversed? And whether he did or did not, can he consider the parallels in your situations now? Might he benefit from doing so?
- Moving when you don’t know where you are going: Sometimes a geographic shake up can be just what the doctor ordered. But it makes no sense at all for you to give up your income and status, uproot the kids, and shift locations just so that he has a different market to look in. On the other hand, have you spoken openly about how far afield he can extend his job search? Where are you willing to live if he did eventually land a job elsewhere? What about the possibility of having a commuter relationship for a while if he were to secure a contract that had him living away from Paris? All of these are possibilities, and seem to me, as we head into 2017, a very modern and practical model that is increasingly common.
- Ebb and Flow: In any long-term relationship, there will be ebb and flow of satisfaction, harmony, and balance. I do not think that your happiness and success needs to be automatically sacrificed in order for your husband to have his. If it did come down to this, do you think YOU would still be happy?
There is a fabulous book that might be a useful read for both of you at this time: “The Resilent Spirit: Transforming Suffering into Insight and Renewal” by Polly Young Eisendrath. It is not a self-help book in the traditional sense of the word, but illustrates through case studies the unique ways specific people have been able to make lemonade when life gave them those euphemistic lemons. Sometimes the hardest situations do carry the greatest hidden gifts.
All best wishes to you and your family in this New Year.