If you’re moving to London for work and bringing a spouse or partner in tow, ya know, I think I started this series last week with YOU in mind all along…
As an accompanying spouse myself, I’ve been documenting the challenges of relocating to London on behalf of someone else (Part 1), how those challenges result from the toppling of an individual’s hierarchy of needs based on Maslow’s theory (Part 2), how this hierarchy of needs specifically related to my own international relocation (Part 3), how couples can take preventative measures to minimize these challenges (Part 4), and how trailing spouses can reactively cope with them (Part 5). Spouses who are the reason for the London relocation, Part 6 is for you…
To start, take a look at this Maslow pyramid that I keep inserting in these posts. Really study it. Commit it to memory. You’re going to want to be able to immediately recall it whenever your partner comes to you with a problem related to the relocation…or perhaps you’re going to need it to help you identify the signs of a problem yourself—in the event your partner doesn’t openly communicate his/her concerns, you may not realize they’re silently waiting for you to see that they’re sinking. And, oh man, can I attest to the hurt and resentment they’ll feel if you don’t see that while living under the same roof, and a wee London apartment at that, which gives nothing any place to hide. So…
DON’T: Assume everything’s fine just because your accompanying spouse/partner hasn’t said anything. Dismiss any complaints they do communicate as nagging. Overlook changes in their demeanor—e.g., if they seem angrier, sadder, quieter, lonelier, more despondent than usual (depression is a natural result of life change, and its symptoms shouldn’t be taken lightly). Dismiss their rights to a fulfilling life in London as secondary to yours. Underestimate the importance of relationships in their lives outside of yourself, how family/friend/professional networks back home had tremendous value and are now missing. Overestimate their ability to adapt to change—this is a major change that even the strong can buckle under without enough supports in place. Take for granted that you’re getting to do what you wanted to do and your partner isn’t necessarily. Pressure them into finding work if you’d agreed before the move that that wouldn’t be a priority. Pressure them into finding work if you’d agreed that it would be a priority!—which is to say, these things must happen in their own time (see DOs below). Tell them what they should do if they are searching for work, especially if they’re exploring options outside of what they did at home—you might think it’s helpful to research and send them job postings, but it’s really, really not unless they specifically ask you to (again, see DOs below). Assume they’re closed-minded if they don’t want to follow your suggestions. Expect them to instantly become a domestic goddess (and fall in love with serving that role) if they’ve mainly focused on career up until now. State or even imply blame on them if they’re not working and money becomes a crunch—this is something you should have already anticipated and brainstormed solutions to before asking them to relocate. Tease them using phrases like “must be nice” or “lady of leisure” if they’re unemployed as a result of the relocation—it isn’t funny because it’s probably truth in jest, and they’ll know that, and all it does is further squash the self-esteem of someone earnestly trying to find purpose in their day-to-day life again…and who’s in this situation because YOU asked them to be.
DO: Imagine if the tables were turned—would you have sacrificed the same for them? Would it have been easy for you? Consider why perhaps it wouldn’t be easy for you and realize that’s likely why it isn’t for them—then remember it’s their reality, not a hypothetical scenario like what you’ve just imagined. So then, appreciate the hell out of that sacrifice and make sure they know you do. Respect any and all contributions they make to your household. Carry your weight and theirs willingly if it’s what you agreed upon when deciding to relocate. Encourage visits home. Understand that they’re undergoing, to some degree, a crisis in identity and be patient as they feel their way through new roles or try to find their way back to original ones. Understand that job dynamics are different in London—not all fields are easy to transfer within from place to place, commute/salary/resources/etc. could be grossly different than what one had back home, and expats are at a greater disadvantage at finding work than locals. Remember that no one but the individual knows what will satisfy them most in career or other pursuits—if you’re the one who asked your spouse to walk away from something they were already happy with, don’t presume (dare) be the one to tell them what to now walk toward; they’re not going to appreciate that any more than you would. Give your opinion on such matters when asked for it. Support what they do undertake (and if it’s unpaid, don’t undermine your support of it by “suggesting” how it could be flipped into paying work!). Remember that while you’re at the office and distracted by coworkers and projects, they might be sitting alone at home with no one to talk to, wondering what happened to the life they once knew. Bear in mind that self-esteem levels will be lower than normal, so you really must be sensitive in how you communicate. Recognize all the fabulous qualities and talents your partner does possess and trust they’ll have the sense/motivation to apply them with both of your best interests in mind as circumstances dictate/allow. Be there for each other. Be there for each other. Be there for each other.
Really, it all comes down to mutual understanding—feeling it and sharing it. One of my favorite quotations stated by one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite books is:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
— Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
That goes for both of you, okay?
And, in closing, another essential “do” for both of you is to allow some breathing room to follow the international relocation—unless you’re employing the services of a London Relocation agent :), finding a London apartment and getting your bearings takes a lot of time; many expats (myself included) admit it can take almost a year to really feel sorted and at home. So look out for each other and make sure both your needs are being met. Only then can moving to London be the grand adventure you seek together.