Q: A year ago, my company offered me a three-year assignment in Paris, and after talking things over with my wife, I accepted. I like my job and enjoy Paris tremendously, but unfortunately my wife doesnt and, doesnt want to return after our summer vacation in the States. She says she needs to look out for our daughter who is in college, and her mother who is elderly. When I tell her that these are just excuses, and remind her that many marriages break up because of long separations, her solution is that I should ask to be re-transferred back home. This isnt an option for me, but Im stuck on how to get her to change her mind.
A: The story you tell is a familiar one in which, following a move to a new country, the partner in the couple who has a job is happy, while the other person, far from family, community, and his or her own job or activities, isnt! There are endless variations on this theme, and extensive research has shown that it usually takes about 18 months before satisfactory adjustment is achieved.
A persons attitude and personal resourcefulness can, of course, accelerate or impede this process, but so can an understanding and supportive spouse. While I can plainly see how disappointed you are that your wife doesnt share your enthusiasm for Paris, the way you describe your efforts to help her make me wonder about your approach. It seems that you alternate between invalidating her explanations and evoking a possible marriage breakup, neither of which is likely to make her feel very positive about you! If her main reason for moving here was to accommodate your wishes, you need to start by showing her in every possible way your appreciation for her sacrifice. Here are some practical if difficult suggestions, which, if you apply them, are almost guaranteed to change the way you and your wife are currently communicating around this thorny issue.
*Validate verbally and show understanding for all the reasons she gives for disliking Paris and missing home, even if they wouldnt be your reasons.
*Ask her what you have done - or, not done in the past year to make it difficult for her to enjoy Paris as much as she thought she might. Even if you dont agree, dont argue with her. These are her perceptions. Just validate them and apologize when possible.
*Ask her what she would need to have happen in order for her to stay here until the end of your assignment. Dont be satisfied with just one answer, but repeat, what else? until she reaches the end of her wish list. In discussing her ideas, avoid disqualifying them frontally even if they seem impractical, and be creative around the general desire expressed. For example, regarding wanting to be with her mother, offer your wife more frequent visits home, or propose buying them each a computer to facilitate email.
*Finally, if this talk goes well, ask her specifically what she thinks she needs to do for herself for things to change, and what help she will need from you to take those steps
Although your wifes successful adjustment here ultimately depends on her creating a life for herself, there is probably much more you can do to give her a leg up.
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. Tel: 01 43 54 79 25. Questions for the Personal column may be mailed to the Voice, 7 rue Papillon, 9e, or emailed to her directly at JABourdais@compuserve.com