For love-pats and partners hereof: bringing your loved one home...
... unfortunately, isn't always the adventure that you had hoped it to be. This blogpost will explore why and what to do to prevent difficulties and/or turn the ship around, if damage has already been caused.
Most, if not all of us, love a good love story. Since the making of films, love has been one of the most featured themes in this billion-dollar industry. However, for most of those films, the challenges depicted are around finding love or overcoming whatever challenges that need overcoming to be united with your loved one. Rarely, in traditional love films, do we see what happens after the honeymoon.
Being a love-pat and a partner of one is like those films: you are focused on making living together happen and have little, if any, clue about what lies ahead.
Now, what is a love-pat?
A love-pat is someone who has moved to - and is living in - a foreign country to be with their loved one. This could be a trailing spouse following their spouse for a job/education/posting overseas; but as in this blogpost, it could also be someone who has fallen in love with someone originating from another country and moving to said country to be with them.
What challenges do love-pats and their partners experience?
Navigating a relationship is difficult enough in its own right! However, doing so on foreign territory with a spouse from your own culture/language/religion is more challenging - and, relevant to this blogpost, doing so, with a spouse from a foreign culture/language/religion on their home turf .... well, even more challenging as the discrepancies are many and can seem insurmountable.
One partner is at home amongst friends and family, is likely to have a job to attend, has an income, is familiar with the culture, understands the system and its costums, speaks the language, subconsciously picks up the unspoken - the other one, the love-pat, not so much, if at all!
Alongside being faced with the task of setting up life from scratch and the strains that most love-pats go through in relation to their own identity, sense of self, and sense of agenda whilst doing so, these imbalances are bound to create frustrations in the couplehood.
Everyone who marries or is in a committed relationship enters a new culture in as far that all families have their own way of being with each other. As such, both partners and their families have a certain amount of learning and adjusting to do. When one moves to another country, this isn't balanced - plus there is a lot more to be learnt. Below, you will find a list of examples of challenges for the love-pat - and further down, for the local partner.
From the perspective of the love-pat:
Loss of identity and everyday/professional competencies.
Lack of competency in expressing oneself if not fluent in the local language.
Dependency on partner/spouse for pracitical issues like banking, taxes, doctors' appointments, social life, income if not able to work, shopping, transportation etc. etc.
A sense of helplessness and plain stupidity.
Erosion of self-esteem.
Loss of potential to fulfill ambitions and dreams.
Lack of belonging.
Lack of deeper rooted friendships.
Lack of access to family, friends, and home country/culture.
Alination from own children as their cultural upbringing is foreign to that of the love-pat's.
Guilt for not making any money and being able to chip in financially.
Grief for loss of country, culture, identity etc.
Shame and humiliation for not feeling good enough.
Guilt for allsorts! In the new country as well as back home.
Resentment that their spouse doesn't have to go through all this.
For many, the erosion of self-esteem, lack of sense of agenda, and general dependency on the partner/spouse instigate identity crisis, hopelessness, isolation, loneliness, homesickness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Add to this, a general sense of feeling lost and out of sorts, of not being able to connect to one's language, culture, nature, people, and of not being able to find comfort anywhere, but constantly having to work hard to understand this, investigate that..., not to mention the often obstinate challenges of obtaining residency and work permits, it is not at all unusual for love-pats to go through phases of mental health issues and to be doubting if moving for love was the right decision.
The sense of going through all this alone can be overwhelming, the sacrifices seem endless and irreparable. And alongside not being on equal terms with their partner/spouse, the grief, shame, and humiliation often lead to isolation and resentment on the love-pats behalf - and it becomes all too easy to blame the local partner for having what one is yearning for.
From the perspective of the partner of the love-pat:
Nervousness for how one's family, circle of friends, and country in general will like and welcome one's loved one and visa versa.
Pressure to make everything as good as possible for the love-pat to feel that their enormous sacrifice has been worth it.
A sense of having a parental responsibility for sorting out matters such as registration, bank accounts, taxes, communication around children etc. if the love-pat doesn't speak the local lingo.
Pressure of the dependency and the possible isolation, loneliness, and homesickness of the love-pat.
Pressure of being the only breadwinner.
Guilt for "having put" their loved one in this situation.
Guilt for seemingly having their own life in check.
Frustrations for not always understanding the position of the love-pat, witnessing them grapple, and not always being able to alleviate their struggles.
Concerns about the relationship and the mental wellbeing of the love-pat.
Shame for not feeling good enough.
Exhaustion and resentment from the chores resting on them.
Just as well as the situation strongly affects the love-pat, there's a risk that the local spouse will be mentally affected by the imbalances in the relationship, that they will worry about it's future prospects which might lead to them tip-toeing around to accommodate every single need and wish of their spouse in well-meaning, but often failing attempts to make their lives easier. Furthermore, the responsibilities can lead to loneliness and not feeling understood in all that they contribute with.
Risks to the relationship
With the above in mind, it's easy to imagine how resentment can build and fester creating an emotional void in the couplehood. Once established, such void can be difficult to bridge, and in an attempt to not risk making matters worse or hearing the truth from one's partner, many people refrain from having much needed conversations about the state of their relationship. A vicious circle has been created, both partners are miserable and at a loss of what to do to turn things around.
If it's a childless relationship, many may choose to go their seperate ways allowing the love-pat to repatriate if they wish. This comes with a whole host of challenges on its own, but at the time, these might seem more manageable than fighting for the relationship and new life together.
If there are children involved, splitting up is more complicated as it raises the question of where to live so that both parents have access to the children, and the children to both parents. For many, this is a most painful situation to be in - and for some, it involves limitations for the Hague Convention.
So before such drastic meassures are taken, be mindful that things can be done.
Tips for how to prevent/solve these matters!
Every couple is different. Partners come into relationships with different experiences from childhood, adolescence, and previous relationships meaning that different patterns emerge, different traumas are triggered and attempted resolved in different manners. As such, there's no one-size-fits-all- solution, but below follows a list of things to be mindful of and discuss to alleviate and minimise the risk of growing apart due to circumstances of the imbalances in couples where one is at home, the other one trying to establish a home in the former's home country:
C O M M U N I C A T E! All too easy to say, sometimes really difficult to succeed with. However, keeping the lines of candid communication open is vital for the growth and wellbeing of any relationship. When two partners come from different backgrounds, with different experiences, cultures, languages, traditions, values, and expectations, communication becomes paramount. You cannot take anything for granted and must open your mind for the world looking and feeling totally different from your partner's perspective.
When communicating, try to emotionally regulate yourself enough to not blame your partner. Try to listen to listen and understand, not to reply. It's easy to only see your own positive contributions to the relationship and neglect those of your partner. At the same time, for many, it's difficult to acknowledge and take ownership of their own "shortcomings". Both are of paramount importance to mend the void between you. Remember, that it was a mutual choice to set up life how and where you chose to - and in all likelihood, you are both working hard to make it work.
Be as open as you possibly can around your vulnerabilities - if one part of a couple struggles, the other one is also struggling. Learning that there's also a lot at stake for your partner may be soothing and bring you closer together.
Learn about attachment styles and how your style may prevent you from going into deeper emotional connection to truly meet your partner. If necessary, seek therapy - either individually and/or as a couple.
Have a discussion about values and traditions. How can you merge your two cultures/languages to enrich not only yourselves, but also your children, friends and family members? For the love-pat, it helps with the sense of belonging if some of their home culture can be incoorporated into daily life and annual traditions in their new country.
Continue to have conversations about how to support each other in your quest to set up and further grow your life together. Though you are faced with different challenges, ultimately, you are working towards the same goal: being together, loving each other.
Try to refrain from seeing life together as a competition: you each contribute with what you can, when you can. As the love-pat settles in, they will be able to carry more and more of the everyday tasks, but do not forget, that the loss of home country and lack of belonging might continue for years - and in all likelihood will be brought to life with every crisis there is to overcome. This is perfectly normal.
Read this article to better understand the villian in many relationships and how conflicts are potential for personal development - for both partners.
Remember, it's not about fitting in; it's about creating a sense of belonging in the relationship for both partners.
Lastly, I would like to draw your attention to this heartfelt account from Anna Smith where she openly writes of her experiences with moving to Denmark for love.