In a new column TLC, a sex therapist and expat relationship expert for over 9 years, answers readers’ questions
How do I get out of my rut?
Dear TLC: Back in the UK, I used to be a confident and independent woman. I don’t recognize myself. I should be happy with my new life and I feel miserable and isolated. My husband is often away and we’re growing more and more apart when he’s back home. He thinks I’ve got the best deal: free time and money! We’ve been expat in the South of France for over six months now. I never thought it would be that hard to settle on the Côte d’Azur. I feel helpless with the situation. What should I do? Marian, Cannes
TLC: You’re writing that you left a job you loved to be with your husband. It just adds to your resentment towards your partner. And if you combine that with the frustration of being by yourself most of the time, more than you planned and wished for, you have a good recipe for currently experiencing anger.
It seems to me that you find it difficult to recognize this, thus express it and talk about your emotions. There is also a sense of guilt as if happiness is a must have. Expat relationships put a big strain on couples. It takes time to settle in a new environment, to adjust between the projected dream life versus the reality, and to start feeling comfortable. It’s all the more reason to come back to the basics: open communication between both partners, talking about your feelings (using “I” rather than “you”), and making quality time for the two of you. It’s also time to be active rather than waiting for your husband to return home at the weekend and start developing your own core interests and social circle: join a local (expat) club, go to French classes, learn a new skill and bring back structure into your day by doing something useful for you or to others. That way you’ll regain some self esteem.
Finally, find ways to surprise yourself – after all, you’re in the perfect place to do so – and share it with your partner. He has things to learn from you!
The French lover, what a myth!
Dear TLC: I’m an American woman working in the tourist industry. I met a French guy and we’ve been going out for a year. I must say I was curious to find out if their Latin lover reputation was justified. Well it’s not; I am terribly disappointed in the way he shows his love to me. How can I tell him without upsetting him? Amy, Nice
TLC: For starters, nobody is psychic. Essentially, what you would like is to have your boyfriend read your mind, guess your likes and dislikes and how you would like to be loved. Well, that doesn’t exist in the real world. It’s up to you to take your share of responsibility by saying and/or showing what turns you on or not. I agree, adding intimacy to cultural differences can change the game of how we express sexuality, making it more difficult to express one’s true desires and aspirations. It seems to me, though, that you primarily engaged into this relationship not with the man but with the “French” man in order to test his sexual skills against your own fantasized set of criteria. Generalities and stereotypes tend to overload people with unnecessary burden.
If you were in front of me, I would ask: “How exactly would you like to be loved?” And most likely you would not know yourself. To figure out what you want, I think you would find it helpful to use what’s known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC). This is a method that clarifies your emotions by really listening and observing, and asking what you want of yourself and your partner. This in turn allows you to pinpoint what you need from a relationship and to be able to verbalise it (no more guessing games). Try this and let me know how it works, as you may learn a lot more about yourself and your boyfriend now than over the past year.