For a few months now I’ve wanted to start a series of guest posts about how the expat experience can impact a relationship. With all of my medical and life drama, that ended up on the back burner. However, today I’m going to kick off the series with the story of how our expat experience has affected my marriage.
Namely the story of how becoming an expat saved my marriage.
Ravi and I first started dating in early 2005. Our relationship weathered my first back surgery a few months after our wedding. It weather the loss of a wanted pregnancy. What almost broke it was the aftermath of Elanor’s birth. SHE is not to blame. But the experience of almost losing her and the medical drama we went through as a couple did push us to a point where our marriage very nearly ended.
Elanor’s medical care and the strain it took on us as individuals bled over into our relationship. We lost what had drawn us together, and who we were apart from our roles as Ellie’s parents. Sadly, this is not an uncommon phenomenon-parents of very sick/chronically ill kids have a higher divorce rate than average. Having a child as sick as Ellie was is a huge emotional drain on you as a person. It impacts all of your relationships-I was fairly absent from my friendships, and I didn’t write very much during that time. When Ravi got home, I just wanted a break after all the non-stop parenting (which is par for the course, but I can speak from experience now that it’s a bigger strain when you’re trying to be the liaison for a giant team of doctors and trying to decide which of the 10 different courses of action that 10 different doctors advocated for will be the one your family goes with), and to be alone for a while. It was a lot like when nurses change shifts-we’d update each other but didn’t give care and attention to our relationship. Date nights were extremely rare. Ravi getting laid off did not help things, nor did the stress of a job hunt.
Ravi and I eventually sought counseling, as neither of us wanted a divorce. At the same time, we didn’t know what to do to fix it.
In the midst of all of this came the job offer. Did we want to take the local job and keep our support system, and hope that things would get better? Or did we want to take what was likely the riskier move of moving to Asia where we would only have each other?
It is an oversimplification, of course, to say that becoming an expat was the sole savior of my marriage.
But having a helper at first, which enabled us to have a weekly date night helped. Having to count on each other helped. Having things that were not Elanor to discuss helped. Having new personal challenges helped (especially for me–I’d lost almost my full identity other than E’s mom).
Were there aspects of being an expat that were problematic? Absolutely, especially being here on the same “dependent’s” pass that my child was on-that was a sting to my sense of self. Ravi works a LOT, which can make connecting a challenge.
The difference is that we have realized that we need to reconnect as a couple. We have prioritized our date night. We try to hang out daily, even if it’s just to talk for five minutes (or if we’re really tired, we can watch Daily Show). We touch base via text or instant messenger.
We waited to feel confident in our relationship before we chose to have Rhiannon. While the pregnancy was a challenge, we were able to ride it out. One of the differences between the two children is that we walked into the second pregnancy knowing how crucial it was to stay connected with one another as Crystal and Ravi and not just the girls’ parents.
I think that we would be okay if we moved home in the future. I don’t think that the US is toxic to our relationship. I think that we needed to learn how to be a couple again, and that needing to count on each other in such an intense setting as an expat posting was key to us getting there again.