Working Parents

The Worst Advice You Can Give to an Unhappy Expat Spouse

January 11, 2016

Guest post by Sundae Schneider-Bean

You are on the phone with a friend you’ve known since you were small. Or maybe you’re out for dinner with your partner. You two are close and you’ve been carrying a heavy load on your shoulders for a while. You decide to say something. You reluctantly concede that, while you are okay, you’ve been feeling off track. You explain that most of the time you’re fine with living abroad but deep down you’re sensing a growing hunger for more from your life. Finally, you admit that you are having more moments when you feel unsatisfied but you can’t put your finger on exactly what’s missing.
There is a small moment of silence.
Then the person responds, “You should take advantage of your situation.”
Your immediate thought is, “Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that”, (with extreme sarcasm).
If you are an accompanying partner, you’re probably – as they say in U.S. English – a smart cookie. You’re someone who is really good at finding a solution to difficult challenges. You can bring your children to the doctor with only limited knowledge of the local language and come out with answers to your most important questions. You can orchestrate an international move in your sleep. Expat spouses change continents like other families change tables at a restaurant.

If an unhappy expat spouse could muster up the energy and clear sense of direction to “take advantage” of his or her situation they’d be doing it already.
But sometimes, they’re just a bit stuck.
Asking an unhappy expat spouse to get “unstuck” is like telling a clinically depressed person to “cheer up”.
It is hard to do on your own. And it is hard to explain the problem to others.
I’ve worked with expat spouses from around the world to get unstuck and start living the life abroad they imagined. Although a huge variety of factors affect how satisfied we are with our life abroad, broadly speaking, in order to “take advantage” of your situation, you have to do these three things:

  1. Get crystal clear on what you really want.

A big mistake I see expat spouses making all the time is that when discontentment hits, they start by focusing on what they “could” do before they fully understand what they want to do. This is like eating a salad when you are really craving pizza. It sounds like a good idea, but it’ll ultimately leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Honesty check: What do you really want? If you knew it would all work out, what would you choose to do with your time, energy and talents?

  1. Identify the lies your brain tells you to keep you safe hold you back.

So you’ve allowed yourself to get clear on your big dream or what you really want. But before the feeling of excitement even has a chance to rush in, your chest starts to tighten and your mind begins to race. A combination of these thoughts crosses your mind:

  • That’s going to be really hard.
  • It’s not possible.
  • I can’t do that here.
  • Are you crazy?! I don’t have enough time.
  • There is no way I can do that on my own!
  • I don’t have nearly enough energy to do that.

This sounds a lot like sabotage. Your brain is crippling the power of your big idea before you even get started. But why?! Because your friend the amygdala is trying to keep you safe, but in fact these fears are actually preventing you from moving forward.
Honesty check: What are your most popular excuses? Naming them is the first step in invalidating them.

  1. Take action on your big plan every day.

Once you know what you really want to create in your life, make an excruciatingly detailed map of all of the steps you need to take to get there[1]. We are more effectively motivated when we know something is doable and we know the next steps. It is much less intimidating than looking at the big, insurmountable idea as a whole.
Once you have this, you can hammer out a small portion of that plan every day.
Honesty check: What are the seven biggest steps you would have to take to make your big idea happen? How do you feel when you see these “big chunks” as doable?
If you take these steps with diligence, in three months’ time you will not only be “taking advantage” of your situation, you will be on your way to creating a life filled with purpose and direction. The life you imagined.
Wishing you the very best of luck on your journey!
Sundae
P.S. If you’re looking for someone to help you figure out just exactly what you really want and how you are going to get it, let’s discuss your options! .

About Sundae Schneider-Bean

Sundae an intercultural specialist, coach and fellow expat on a mission to help expats and their families make the most of life abroad. Her professional skills are backed up by deep experience, bucket loads of empathy, and a healthy sense of humor. Her clients range from European multi-national organizations to international NGOs, from West and East African country directors to new and seasoned expat spouses, representing over 40 countries across 6 continents. Find out more at www.sundaebean.com.

[1] For a detailed guide on how to do this, check out chapter 14 of Dr. Martha Beck´s New York Times bestseller: Finding Your Own North Star.

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