Q: I’ve been married to a Frenchman for about 15 years, and we have a 10-year-old daughter who attends a French school. Though she speaks English, she is far from fluent. I would like to take her back to the US for a school year so that she can get a solid base in the language while she is still young. In addition, I feel a strong need to reconnect with my family, particularly some elderly relatives who are ill and whom I would like to spend some time caring for. Because of our precarious financial situation, regular visits home have never been an option for me.
Unfortunately, my husband is totally opposed to this idea, and has expressed the fear that if I do this, I might not come back. This is the last thing I have in mind, as, despite this and other problems we have, I love him and want us to work things out. But I feel I have done a lot in terms of making compromises and taking care of his elderly relatives, and it really bothers me that he won’t take my needs into consideration. What can I do to assure him this isn’t the end of our marriage? I’m sure you have dealt with this problem many times.
A: You are right, this problem is prevalent in many intercultural marriages. Many people, when they fall in love and make the decision to marry a foreign partner and live far from their original homes, are not in a position to realize at the time that the prolonged separation from their families, friends and culture will eventually be a deep source of pain and conflict. Some marriages do not in fact survive because the foreign spouse cannot overcome the sadness or depression that sets in. Visits home are often a source of discord even when things are going well in the couple, and are even more threatening when the spouse has a strong yearning to return, which seems to be your case.
Your husband rightly perceives that you are discontent and is understandably afraid of losing you and his daughter. Even though you love him, there seems to me to be a chance that, given a good experience in the US, you might well wish not to return. I have seen this happen often. Liberated from the often unconscious but ever present strains of adaptation, surrounded by old friends and a loving family, working, perhaps, in a congenial environment, the partner who has departed for a supposed “leave of absence” does, as the months go by, decide to make it permanent. In your case, I believe this would be a real danger, and I can therefore understand why your husband is so adamantly against the idea. All the rational arguments you muster to support your side of things will never be weighty enough to allay his fears, especially if there are other issues around abandonment that come from his past.
It might be more productive to review your goals with your husband in terms of more connection to the US, enlisting his support in meeting them in a way that would not be as threatening to him as a long visit. What would he be comfortable with in terms of visiting time? Is there anything you could do personally to ease the financial strain to make more frequent trips possible? Most important, define what you really need out of this relationship, besides a trip home, to make it more pleasurable for you.
Jill Bourdais is a psychotherapist practicing in Paris both privately and in a hospital setting. A specialist in couple/family problems, she also teaches PAIRS, a skills-building course in intimate relationships.