I was in a great state of indecision about our relocation before I met Shannon but she held my hand and led me through the decision in such a clear and logical way that I was buoyed with confidence to take the first step. We are now enjoying family life in a new place! If I plan to move again, I will certainly seek Shannon’s support!
Do you ever feel like you’ve put your own life on hold to support your family in your relocation? Whether it was meant to be just temporary to manage the move logistics, or for a couple years to support your partner’s career opportunity, or if you did so intentionally to support your family in the long run, you may be facing the challenge that we’re talking about today.
One of the main challenges that I see accompanying partners facing in relocations is playing the role of the “supporter” in their families.
This might look like:
– putting your own life goals and career on hold in order to move to a new place for your partner’s career
– taking a significantly larger role in parenting if you have kids (to the point for some people that at times they feel like they are parenting on their own)
– carrying the load of managing the logistics of moving and setting up your life in your new place, arranging schools for the kids, figuring out doctors, where to buy groceries, and all of the millions of other little things involved in settling in a new place.
Yes, relationships involve give and take in supporting one another, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying we should never make a sacrifice for our partners or families. In fact, we may be very intentional in our choice to play the supporting role in our relationships for certain situations, or even on a more long term basis, and I have a lot of respect for that choice. What I think is key is:
- how intentional we are in doing that, and knowing how it fits into our values and priorities and purpose, and
- how we manage that role- how well we’re taking care of ourselves in the process, and making sure we don’t ignore our own life goals and purpose, besides just supporting.
It may absolutely be your life’s purpose to focus on being a great parent and focus on family responsibilities. And if you are aware that you’re choosing to do this as part of your own priorities and goals, you’re on track. But something to keep in mind is that supporting your family may not be your ONLY goal, or purpose, or value in life, and also that being a martyr for your family, being too self-sacrificial, often doesn’t end up truly serving them. So I would argue that it’s important not to completely neglect the other things that are important to you in the process of supporting your family.
So what’s the problem then with playing the role of “supporter” in your family?
The problem is that being the supporter in your family can start to lead to two things: burnout and resentment. Burnout, because we’re giving so much to others and not taking the time and space to refill our own well, and resentment, because over time, neglecting our own life goals and sacrificing parts of our lives that bring us happiness and meaning, will naturally take their toll. It’s a natural human response to look for someone to blame when we’re not happy, so this often leads to resentment of our partner, the company, the country, or various other external circumstances. It’s no surprise then that so many accompanying partners feel burnout and resentment when we start to feel stuck in the role of “supporter” in our families.
So what can we do if we’re feeling “stuck” in this role of supporting partner in our relocation? I have been there. In fact I think I’ve felt it at different points in each of our moves, in Australia before I had kids, when I had left my career to move abroad and wasn’t sure of my next step, and in Switzerland, when I had two young kids at home, and had left behind the support of my strong networks of friends and family in my hometown, and even when we moved to London four years ago, because I was tired of my major life choices being made for someone else’s career rather than my own life goals, or priorities, or opportunities. And this is not uncommon. If you’re feeling resentful, or unhappy, or burnt out from being in this supporting role, please know, you are perfectly normal.
But we don’t want to get stuck in this place of resentment and misery. So I’ll let you in on the tools I’ve found that are the remedy for when we’re feeling burdened by this role of supporter. They are: 1) amazing self-care, and 2) knowing your own purpose. They sound simple, but they are incredibly powerful when you truly live them. Self-care means continually replenishing yourself- physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually, and through time and space for yourself, your priorities and passions. Knowing your own purpose refers to knowing your bigger life goals and purpose, knowing what you value the most in life and living in alignment with that, as well as your specific goals and purpose for this particular period of your life in this particular location.
It’s also important to note that taking responsibility for your own happiness is integral to both of these. No matter what our circumstances, we are each responsible for our own lives, and our own happiness. When we slip into thinking like a victim, we’re missing the hundreds of opportunities that we do have to make choices about own own lives, so that we can live in a fulfilled way, in a way that we can genuinely feel at peace with our lives and our choice, and in a way that’s in alignment with our life goals and purpose.
Now the great thing is that ironically, the better we are at doing this, the more we end up having to give back to our partners and families. It may seem like taking that hour to go to the gym, taking time away from the family to pursue that course or degree, spending time with your friends, or whatever that “something” is that you’re doing for you – if being selfish or self-indulgent. But the reality is that when you are doing things to take care of yourself and pursue your own life dreams and goals, you will actually have so much more to give back to your family. So, this isn’t selfish. This is actually a win-win situation for everyone. There’s that saying “happy spouse, happy house,” and I’m a huge believer in that when it comes to accompanying partners. When you’re happy and fulfilled as a person, you are going to be a million times better as a spouse and a parent, than if you’re feeling unhappy, burnt out, or resentful.
None of us meant to be the “supporting actor,” so to speak, in the story of our own life. We all need to be the “leads” in our own lives (and if you like you could think of you and your partner as being the “co-stars” or co-leads). But you’re not the supporting role. That doesn’t define who you are, as a person.
So I invite you to start thinking of yourself today as the lead in your own life story, and commit to one step, no matter how small, to take responsibility for your own happiness. Do something for your self-care or take one step towards a goal or purpose that’s important to you. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
When you’re living in a new place and the world outside feels unfamiliar, the value of having a comforting haven to come home to is more important than ever.
Here are five tricks to help you feel the comforts of “home” even when you’re living in a new place.
1. Reminders of home. Make sure to put up photos of your family and loved ones- this helps us feel connected even when we’re far away. If you’re preparing for a move, put a couple framed photos in your suitcase or air shipment so you can make your new dwelling feel like it’s yours from the start. Also, items that reflect your culture, the place you come from, and your favorite hobbies contribute to personalizing your home and helping you feel comfortable in your new space.
2. Your favorite foods. One significant aspect of adjusting to a new place is getting used to the local cuisine and having access to different foods and ingredients than you’re used to. Try to stock your kitchen with your favorite items and cook a few of your favorite meals from home. Enjoying the tastes and smells of a favorite dish can be a wonderfully comforting way to recover from the stresses of navigating a new culture, language, and place.
3. Prioritize comfort. Make sure your home is inviting and allows you to relax in the ways you like. That might mean a comfortable couch with a warm throw blanket, your favorite tea cups and mugs for tea and coffee, or a nicely set kitchen table. Little touches can make a big difference too. Andrea Puck, Feng Shui & Wellbeing consultant, offers “two tips that immediately lift up the energy of your space no matter how small or spacious your home is: a fresh bouquet of local flowers and candlelight for daily dinners. It always works.”
4. Tidy up. Though it can take time for all the boxes to be unpacked and every picture to be hung, make sure you have a few areas that are free from clutter with boxes out of sight. A tidy space helps our minds to feel calmer and allows us to relax rather than be constantly reminded of all that you still have to do. Once you’re settled in, it’s a good habit to regularly declutter so you can keep your space feeling good. I’m always motivated by the fact that decluttering now will make my job easier when it comes time for the next move!
5. Make new memories. Nothing makes a house feel like a home more than filling it with people, laughter, and great memories. Enjoy family traditions, celebrate holidays, and consider getting a pet. Invite people over even if you don’t feel your house is perfectly set up yet- whether it’s having your kids’ friends for playdates, hosting your local mother’s group or book club, having a neighbor over for tea or new friends for dinner. Be bold and offer to host even when you’re the one who’s new in town… you’ll make friends faster and your new home will start to feel like a happier place.
What tips do you have to make your house feel like a comfortable and happy haven? Join the discussion on Facebook.
These tips refer to your physical dwelling- for more on the psychological aspects of adjusting to a new location, see How to Feel at Home in your New Place.
One of the most frequent topics that I hear from clients is that they have been living in their new location for a few years, yet they still don’t feel “at home.”
Feeling at home is a really interesting topic, because not only is it very personal and meaningful, but because “home” can mean so many different things.
Objectively, home is a place, but it’s also a feeling. Home is where we belong. It’s where we are part of a community that we know and where we are known. It’s a stark contrast to the experience of moving to a brand-new place- where we literally know no one and no one knows us. Rather than feeling known, we may feel invisible or completely anonymous.
Home is also a place where we have a role in the community. Where we contribute something and make a difference to the people in our lives either as a friend as a daughter or son, a sibling, a colleague, a professional, a neighbor. It’s a place where we feel valuable and valued. A place where we have a sense of purpose, and feel we are making a meaningful contribution in some way.
Feeling at home in the context of a particular place is another aspect of this topic. We usually consider home to be a place we feel comfortable, familiar with, and have a fondness for. That kind of connection with a place can take years to build, as we gradually accumulate experiences and memories in this new landscape. This topic is covered in depth in the wonderful book, This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. The concept of home as place, as people, and as a feeling, is also discussed in one of my favorite books about relocation: A Great Move, by Katia Vlachos.
If you don’t feel at home, it can be helpful to examine what that means for you.
Is it a lack of familiarity with the place itself, the culture, and the landscape?
Is it a feeling of not belonging; not feeling known?
Is it not feeling comfortable authentically expressing yourself in this place?
Some combination of these? Or something else?
For many of the clients I’ve worked with, they’ve discovered that feeling at home is about learning how to be themselves in their new environment. It sometimes means finding a few trusted friends that they feel seen and understood with. Sometimes it’s figuring out how to express themselves or their culture authentically in their new context. And sometimes it’s finding ways to be involved in hobbies and activities that they are passionate about, or finding a way to contribute meaningfully to their community.
There are many layers to feeling “at home” in a new place, but I think that the powerful psychological impact of these aspects makes them incredibly important first steps. In time, as we make deeper relationships, expand our network of connections, form positive memories, get involved in local activities and become more integrated in the life of the local community, our new place will begin to feel more and more like “home”.
This sense of home we get in a new place doesn’t replace or even attempt to replicate the original “home” that we come from, but rather it can be an additional place that we feel “at home.” In my first experiences living abroad, my inner feeling of being a foreigner was at the forefront. But as I spend more and more years living out of my country of origin, I have started to feel that the world is my home. I’ve developed a sense of home in new places and I know that it’s possible to do so again. There’s more than one place I can feel “at home” and that’s a wonderful position to be in.
What about you?
To what extent do you feel “at home” in your new place?
For the first year that I lived in London, almost every time I got in a black cab, the driver would often greet me with the words “Are you okay?” I would suddenly become very self-conscious that I must look like I was ill, hurt, or having a terribly bad day. I was really confused by the whole interaction, especially since it happened so regularly!
Much later I learned that this is just a common greeting that in my American translation simply means: “How are you?”
Imagine how much calmer and more confident I would have felt being able to understand this basic greeting for that first year in my new country!
Getting to know a culture is a gradual process. But when you first move to a new place, it’s smart to do a bit of homework. Get to know the basics of the politics, geography, culture, and language of your new place. At first, it’s fine if this is just the bare minimum. You will learn more in time, and that’s part of the fun of the adventure. But covering these basics will both help you feel more confident in navigating this new terrain.
Understanding the interpersonal style of people in your new place will also help you in the process of making friends and connections. For example, many Americans in the UK who are eager to make new friends end up feel rejected in the first few months, or longer, in getting to know their British peers. However, this is often just a cultural misunderstanding. Unlike Americans, the British rarely talk about anything personal or controversial when first getting to know someone. After many conversations about the weather, the traffic and other non-threatening, surface topics, they may begin to trust you enough to discuss their families, their opinions, and more meaningful or personal topics. The reluctance to discuss anything more personal is not a rejection, rather just a deeply ingrained cultural practice. Understanding the interpersonal style of the culture you’re living in will help you to understand social cues and norms so that you can build relationships more easily.
If you’re living in a place that speaks a different first language to your own, make an attempt to learn at least the basic greetings and niceties of the language upon arrival. The rest can come later, but the impact of “hello”, “please” and “thank you”, and the fact that you’re making an effort, can go a long way.
What about when you’re a bit more settled and ready to delve more deeply into getting to know the culture of your new place? Here are some ways you can be intentional about getting to know your new place:
- Meet. Talk to and befriend the locals. Nothing will help you get to know a culture better than the people of that place! But meeting other expats is equally valuable as they can guide you through what you need to know as a newcomer.
- Experience. Try the local food. Learn to cook it. Go to the local festivals, theaters, beaches, and parks. Take up a new hobby that is popular there. Do what the locals do.
- Speak. Find a way that works for you to learn the local language, whether it’s online or in person. Successfully using my very beginner Swiss German at the local butcher and baker was one of the highlights of my time in Switzerland.
- Read. Read books that describe the culture of your new place. These are often funny, entertaining, light yet fascination reads that can really enrich your enjoyment of getting to know a new culture. Some of my favorites are Swiss Watching, Watching the English, and anything by Bill Bryson. Ask other expats what books they recommend for your location. Read about the history of the place you live as well, or novels/memoirs set in your location.
- Learn. Take a course or training that introduces you to the local culture. These are sometimes offered through employers and language schools. I loved the course I took on British culture with Perfect Cuppa English. There are also great courses available to improve your intercultural skills. My comprehensive program, Adapt & Succeed Abroad, includes cultural competence skills.
- Immerse. Be part of the systems of your country, whether it’s through business, school, renting a flat or learning to drive. Preparing for my driver’s test in the UK is helping me to get to know the culture in a way I never expected.
What are your favorite ways to get to know the culture of your new place? I’d love to hear about them.
For a detailed list of the cultural basics that are most important to focus on when you’re starting out in a new location, the Get Smart About Country and Culture Checklist, from my Adapt & Succeed Abroad program, spells these out so you can start off in your new place on the right foot and get a boost of confidence in a challenging and disorienting time.
When we first moved to London, it was the darkest point in winter. The sun started to set about 4 p.m. and it felt like the sky was cloudy and grey every day. We were staying in temporary housing in an urban area with almost no green space, and we didn’t know anyone in our new city. As our Vitamin D stores from sunny Switzerland started dwindling, we were all getting depressed. You can imagine why I started to question whether we had made a huge mistake in moving here!
What I wish I had known at that time was that it’s totally normal to feel a sense of disillusionment and even crisis in the process of adjusting to a new place. The image below depicts the stages of intercultural adjustment- people’s degree of psychological and social adjustment over time in new cultures.
Subsequent research shows the nuances: there are actually many smaller ups and downs in the process, and the journey is different for each person depending on context, personality, etc. In fact, many accompanying partners skip the honeymoon stage altogether and go straight into crisis. But the basic points remain:
- Adjusting to a new place is HARD- it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed, lonely, incompetent and out of place. Going through a low point of disillusionment or “crisis” is a natural part of the adjustment process.
- And most importantly… IT DOES GET BETTER!
Over time you will learn how to adjust and then how to thrive. But I think it helps to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it feels dark, hopeless, and lonely. You’re not alone and it is natural to feel this way in such a major life adjustment. I wish I had known this when I was going through my low points!
It takes time to adjust to a new place and it’s not all roses in the process. If you’re struggling, give yourself a break. There’s nothing wrong with you- in fact it’s psychologically normal. You’re grieving what you’ve left behind, you feel isolated because you don’t have friends and a support system yet, and you’re exhausted from having to learn how to function in your new place- how to get around, where to get groceries, how to set up wifi, where to go if you get sick, and sometimes even how to communicate in a language you don’t know. It’s going to take a while for life to feel normal again.
The good news is- it does get better, and there are steps you can take to make the transition smoother, easier, and quicker.
That dreary December over three years ago feels like a distant memory now. My family now loves our life in London, we regularly enjoy the gorgeous nature preserves in our area, have a great network of friends, love getting to know British culture, are having fun traveling Europe, and take a Vitamin D supplement to avoid the winter blues. You’ll get there too!
Shannon was terrific to work with and I hope to do so again. I didn’t know how much I needed these coaching sessions until I started working with her.
I feel so much less alone! And things generally feel more manageable–finding my way, finding myself again, taking care of myself, making friends.
If you’ve moved to another country or city, you’re used to having to put effort in to keep in touch with family and friends from back home. Now with the social distancing regulations arising from the COVID crisis, the whole world has to do the same. And we have to find new ways to connect with our local friends too.
Here are some creative ideas for connecting with family and friends, both near and far.
Record a 1 minute video message– If it’s tricky to fit phone calls and video calls into your day, or you’re on different time zones with your loved ones, grab your phone and record a one minute greeting to your parents, friends, or anyone you want to stay connected with. I got this idea from a friend who’s been doing it with her mother locally, and I’m now following suit with a small group of friends that I would normally see in person!
Send photos from your phone- Sending a spontaneous photo from your phone capturing a moment can be a wonderful way to connect.
Make a mini-book club– For adults or kids! My mom invited her grandkids to do a book club with her- they each pick a book and then discuss with her over VC or phone…. or by exchanging written notes on the book and writing book reviews at the end. Such a great idea especially for kids who may not feel 100% natural on video calls. Adults can do it too… set a time each week to meet to discuss the book, and BYO nibbles and drinks!
Coffee / Happy Hour / Lunch Date on VC- Friends still need to connect. Set a time, get your beverage or food of choice ready in advance, and have a social date from the comfort of your own home.
Short messages and chat groups– Short and more frequent messages can do a lot to strengthen relationships. Whether it’s with one person or a group of family members or friends, just a few words are all you need. A simple “How are you today?”, sharing what you did that day, or telling them about a moment that you were thinking of them, can mean a lot and help you feel connected.
Take up a shared hobby– Whether it’s making nature crafts, learning a language, knitting, coding, or gardening, it’s twice the fun when you share the experience with a friend. Send each other photo updates of your projects, share ideas, videos and resources on the topic, have language practice sessions together, and laugh about your mistakes along the way!
Get out a pen- Sometimes the best conversations can actually happen over pen and paper- through an old-fashioned letter or card. Get comfortable and write a letter to someone you love, or a good friend that you haven’t connected with in a while.
Call someone you wouldn’t normally call- There are many people I used to interact with casually that I wouldn’t necessarily call on the phone…. but different times call for different measures. For instance, parents of your kids’ friends at school, your fitness instructor, or a small business that you were a regular at. Just picking up the phone to say hello and check on how they are doing can mean a lot to someone and provide an enriching connection for both of you.
“Be there”- A friend of mine ordered toilet paper for her elderly parents on eBay from across the world. She couldn’t be there in person to help them with these practical needs, but she still found a solution to “be there” for them in a way that mattered. Whether it’s organizing grocery help, asking someone to check on a housebound relative, sending flowers, or arranging a care package, these little actions can mean a lot and make your love felt no matter how near or far you actually are.
Social distancing social dates– Depending on the laws and guidelines where you are, it may be possible to go for a walk with a friend, exercise at the park together, walk/drive by their house and have a conversation between the driveway and the window or front door, have a neighborhood happy hour with everyone in front of their own house, sing from your windows together as they did in Italy…. with a little creativity, the possibilities are endless.
Be friendly with the people you see- Especially in big cities, it can be easy to ignore the humans right in front of us. Just because we have to keep physical distance, doesn’t mean we can’t look people in the eye and say a friendly word to the person passing us at the park, the delivery driver, or our neighbor. It might be the only social interaction they have all day. Spread some human kindness and you’ll end up benefiting too.
What else? I want to hear your ideas! Join the conversation in the community to discuss!