Most of the living-abroad blogs I read talk about the great move from the U.S. to wherever they now reside as if they just happened to pick up and land somewhere glamorous. They skim over mentions of what it’s like to rearrange your life or leave it at a total standstill. They skim over descriptions of tedious, frustrating things like visa applications, packing up and shipping your stuff, and juggling work commitments to fit around the big move. And no one talks about what all of the above does to your relationship with the person you’re moving with (or for).
Since finding out about the Barcelona move, the Professor and I have been excited, nervous, impatient, frustrated and stressed out. Exactly in that order (perhaps I’ll coin the term, “The Five Stages of Oversees Moving”). This is pretty understandable. When you get the bureaucratic run around from a government official, inept Consulate worker, clueless Health Department lackey, you get pissed off and stressed out and you take it out on each other. Your days become less about enjoying your time together and more about making endless checklists of what needs to be done and in what order. You start having arguments caused by miscommunications (“I thought you called the shipping company”) and arguments caused by stubbornness (“I know that’s how you do it but this is the way I pack”) and arguments that start about something little but snowball into the silent treatment.
Some of these arguments are really stupid and are easily resolved (“Fine, I’ll pack according to your method”). But some of these arguments are about deeper issues that don’t get talked about unless they are brought up in a fight about something else entirely. The deeper issues are normally based on unspoken fears that because unspoken, fester until they reach their boiling point. For us, these fears are mostly rooted in uncertainty: What if the visa application drags on so long that we can’t move in time and the university retracts its work contract? What if I can’t find a job over there? What if we don’t make any friends? What if we can’t find a decent apartment for our budget? What if the airline doesn’t let us take our cat? What if the shipping company loses/damages our stuff? What if we don’t like living over there? Note that because I’m a pessimist by nature, these questions normally assume a worst-case scenario rather than for instance, “What if we have so much fun over there we never want to come back?”
The resolutions to the deeper issue fights are harder to come by because ultimately no one can answer your questions and assuage your fears. Your partner can’t tell you that it’ll all work out because they don’t know that and you know they don’t know and it annoys you that they’re telling you what they think you want to hear. But they tell you that anyway. Partly because they want you to believe it and partly because they’re reassuring themselves. And your job, as a good spouse, is to listen and only roll your eyes slightly at your partner’s foundation-less but optimistic assurances, take a deep breath, and talk it out. Be honest. Be calm. Realize that you’re both stressed out, frustrated and afraid. And then, take a step back, put down the phone or the laptop, and do something fun together. Reconnect. And then go eat some chocolate.
(Photo: French by Design)
(Photo: French by Design)