For some expat pairs, it's a reality that one partner is frequently away on travel while the other is left to hold the fort. FIGT2020 presenter Rhoda Bangerter knows firsthand what that lifestyle entails. She shares some practical tips for couples to help maintain their ties.
Interview with Rhoda Bangerter
First, please tell us a bit about yourself.
My husband and I are going on fourteen years of marriage. He is Swiss and I am part Middle-Eastern, British, and French. We are currently living in two different countries as he works in a non-family posting. I am a missionary kid and a cross-cultural kid, a mom of TCKs, a wife of a traveling spouse, and a life coach.
Why does expat partners and frequent travel interest you?
My husband has traveled for work over most of our time as a couple: sometimes into dangerous situations, sometimes to very nice places. There have even been times when we arrived in a posting and he was already off on a work trip.
Meantime, I found a home, transitioned the kids into a new school, and settled in. Or the other way around: he went on to his new job, while I sold the house, organized the goodbyes and shipped us all off to our new destination.
Don’t get me wrong, I was ok with doing it, although it was hard sometimes.
I have had enough conversations with fellow globally mobile families over the years to know that often, a big part of a posting includes a traveling spouse. Indeed, I appreciate my friends with whom I can compare notes.
Can you give any practical tips for spouses who are in this situation?
Over the years, this is what I have learned helps.
As a couple
Saying goodnight and good morning every day. At the moment, we have a three-and-a-half-hour time difference between us so I text good morning to him when I get up and he texts good night to me when he goes to bed. Our neighbors have breakfast with each other every morning on Skype.
Remaining friends. Any couple needs to find time to remain friends but even more so when often in different contexts. We enjoy reading a book at the same time and comparing notes after completing a chapter. A friend regularly plays a complete game of scrabble with her husband online.
Creating one narrative out of two realities. We can’t always fully understand what our spouse is experiencing but taking time to share helps create one compound reality.
Return rituals. This could be a special meal you eat or a game you play that re-includes the traveling parent home. Asking each other Re-entry Questions can also help. This is ours: I will ask him what he needs/wants to do while he is home. After a day or two, I will ask him if he feels included. He will ask me what he can be involved with and what has been planned.
Creating a country profile of wherever the parent is traveling to. This helps give the children a window into the reality their parents will be seeing.
Keeping a home diary with kids’ quotes, photos of school work, anything new that has been bought, to show with the traveling spouse on their return.
Pace yourself: this lifestyle is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Enjoy the times of rest when you can.
Ask for help: living abroad often means that the network of close friends and family lives far. Help in the home may be part of some postings, but in others, the support with day to day life may be missing. Not having brought in help is the biggest regret I hear from people.
Counseling or coaching can bring the professional resources that you need and enable you to share personal details you may not want to share with a friend. They can also help maintain stability for yourself as your situation may be in continuous flux.
Where can we learn more about this topic?
I am currently collecting wisdom from globally mobile families where one spouse travels for work and the other is home, whether for a season or until the children are older, with the aim of publishing a book on the topic in 2021.
I will be presenting the initial results of my research in a concurrent session at FIGT2020, so please find me there, or contact me if this theme has struck a chord with you and if you would like to share your tips and experience.
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You can also find me via my website www.amulticulturallife.com, where I blog about identity, cultural dynamics in multicultural families and global mobility.
Join Rhoda at FIGT2020, where you can discuss this topic directly with her...not to mention meet and engage with the welcoming FIGT community!
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