Things have gone steadily downhill since my arrival in Paris
Q I met my French boyfriend in the US, and we had a passionate relationship there for one year. Then, as the government wouldn’t renew his visa, he returned to France, and I moved here 18 months ago so that we could be together. I am really unhappy and homesick, and now blame my boyfriend for not doing enough to help me. All his friends are French. I don’t speak the language, and I can’t find work; he yells at me when I complain about France…. I love him but can’t decide to what extent the relationship is worth this big sacrifice I’m making.
A Your situation is typical of what happens when people from two different countries decide to live together in one of them. Someone has to make the move. You came to France only to be with your partner, not because you had any desire to be here. This means that the pressure shoots sky high, and is often more than a relationship can bear. When we first fall in love, all that matters is being together. But slowly other aspects of our lives regain their importance, and when these other areas are unsatisfactory or non-existent for one person and the relationship becomes the sole focus, the latter is never enough.
There is almost always a negative feedback loop which gets activated:
1) A moves to a new place to be with B, but has trouble adjusting and is unhappy
2) B makes efforts at the beginning, but can’t compensate for all the missing elements in A’s life
3) A, evoking the sacrifice he/she has made, puts pressure on B to do more for him or her, begins to complain regularly and becomes blaming/negative/depressed
4) B feels unappreciated for his/her efforts, weighed down by the partner’s negativity, and begins to distance
5) A becomes even more demanding, pushing B even further away
Both parties feel the other isn’t doing their best to make things work, and begin to wonder if they are “with the right person.” At this juncture, many relationships founder, either because person A can’t see the point in building a life so as to stay with someone who doesn’t seem to care, or because person B can’t take the pressure anymore of feeling responsible and would rather let their partner go.
The person who transfers countries has to do a whole lot more to ensure the success of the enterprise than the other partner and needs the latter’s support during those early months. But besides the frustration another element can jeopardize the undertaking. If the person who has moved is desperately homesick and yearns to return, he or she might unconsciously further sabotage the relationship so as to ensure its disintegration and therefore justify the return home.
My advice is to work with a friend or a counselor to assess if you have done everything that you need to do in order to build a life for yourself here, which doesn’t focus on your boyfriend. All of us need friends and activities outside our couples to give meaning to our lives, and you cannot in all fairness make your boyfriend responsible for that. Take steps to fill in the gaps. Make it a point to learn the language. Be honest with yourself about what you might be doing to sabotage your relationship – i.e. literally “looking for trouble” as a way to make things worse and justify your decision to return. Try hard to connote positively the efforts he does make as a way of bringing back a little more resilience into your couple. Give yourself at least six months to do this, and if things are still as bad as you describe them, it would probably be best to move on.
Jill Bourdais is a psychotherapist practicing in Paris both privately and in a hospital setting. A specialist in couple/family problems, she organizes workshops dealing with improving relationship skills and building self-esteem. Tel: 01 43 54 79 25. Questions for the Close-Ups column may emailed to her directly at JABourdais@aol.com