Do you ever feel like you’ve put your own life on hold to support your family in your relocation? Whether it was meant to be just temporary to manage the move logistics, or for a couple years to support your partner’s career opportunity, or if you did so intentionally to support your family in the long run, you may be facing the challenge that we’re talking about today.
One of the main challenges that I see accompanying partners facing in relocations is playing the role of the “supporter” in their families.
This might look like:
– putting your own life goals and career on hold in order to move to a new place for your partner’s career
– taking a significantly larger role in parenting if you have kids (to the point for some people that at times they feel like they are parenting on their own)
– carrying the load of managing the logistics of moving and setting up your life in your new place, arranging schools for the kids, figuring out doctors, where to buy groceries, and all of the millions of other little things involved in settling in a new place.
Yes, relationships involve give and take in supporting one another, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying we should never make a sacrifice for our partners or families. In fact, we may be very intentional in our choice to play the supporting role in our relationships for certain situations, or even on a more long term basis, and I have a lot of respect for that choice. What I think is key is:
- how intentional we are in doing that, and knowing how it fits into our values and priorities and purpose, and
- how we manage that role- how well we’re taking care of ourselves in the process, and making sure we don’t ignore our own life goals and purpose, besides just supporting.
It may absolutely be your life’s purpose to focus on being a great parent and focus on family responsibilities. And if you are aware that you’re choosing to do this as part of your own priorities and goals, you’re on track. But something to keep in mind is that supporting your family may not be your ONLY goal, or purpose, or value in life, and also that being a martyr for your family, being too self-sacrificial, often doesn’t end up truly serving them. So I would argue that it’s important not to completely neglect the other things that are important to you in the process of supporting your family.
So what’s the problem then with playing the role of “supporter” in your family?
The problem is that being the supporter in your family can start to lead to two things: burnout and resentment. Burnout, because we’re giving so much to others and not taking the time and space to refill our own well, and resentment, because over time, neglecting our own life goals and sacrificing parts of our lives that bring us happiness and meaning, will naturally take their toll. It’s a natural human response to look for someone to blame when we’re not happy, so this often leads to resentment of our partner, the company, the country, or various other external circumstances. It’s no surprise then that so many accompanying partners feel burnout and resentment when we start to feel stuck in the role of “supporter” in our families.
So what can we do if we’re feeling “stuck” in this role of supporting partner in our relocation? I have been there. In fact I think I’ve felt it at different points in each of our moves, in Australia before I had kids, when I had left my career to move abroad and wasn’t sure of my next step, and in Switzerland, when I had two young kids at home, and had left behind the support of my strong networks of friends and family in my hometown, and even when we moved to London four years ago, because I was tired of my major life choices being made for someone else’s career rather than my own life goals, or priorities, or opportunities. And this is not uncommon. If you’re feeling resentful, or unhappy, or burnt out from being in this supporting role, please know, you are perfectly normal.
But we don’t want to get stuck in this place of resentment and misery. So I’ll let you in on the tools I’ve found that are the remedy for when we’re feeling burdened by this role of supporter. They are: 1) amazing self-care, and 2) knowing your own purpose. They sound simple, but they are incredibly powerful when you truly live them. Self-care means continually replenishing yourself- physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually, and through time and space for yourself, your priorities and passions. Knowing your own purpose refers to knowing your bigger life goals and purpose, knowing what you value the most in life and living in alignment with that, as well as your specific goals and purpose for this particular period of your life in this particular location.
It’s also important to note that taking responsibility for your own happiness is integral to both of these. No matter what our circumstances, we are each responsible for our own lives, and our own happiness. When we slip into thinking like a victim, we’re missing the hundreds of opportunities that we do have to make choices about own own lives, so that we can live in a fulfilled way, in a way that we can genuinely feel at peace with our lives and our choice, and in a way that’s in alignment with our life goals and purpose.
Now the great thing is that ironically, the better we are at doing this, the more we end up having to give back to our partners and families. It may seem like taking that hour to go to the gym, taking time away from the family to pursue that course or degree, spending time with your friends, or whatever that “something” is that you’re doing for you – if being selfish or self-indulgent. But the reality is that when you are doing things to take care of yourself and pursue your own life dreams and goals, you will actually have so much more to give back to your family. So, this isn’t selfish. This is actually a win-win situation for everyone. There’s that saying “happy spouse, happy house,” and I’m a huge believer in that when it comes to accompanying partners. When you’re happy and fulfilled as a person, you are going to be a million times better as a spouse and a parent, than if you’re feeling unhappy, burnt out, or resentful.
None of us meant to be the “supporting actor,” so to speak, in the story of our own life. We all need to be the “leads” in our own lives (and if you like you could think of you and your partner as being the “co-stars” or co-leads). But you’re not the supporting role. That doesn’t define who you are, as a person.
So I invite you to start thinking of yourself today as the lead in your own life story, and commit to one step, no matter how small, to take responsibility for your own happiness. Do something for your self-care or take one step towards a goal or purpose that’s important to you. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
Shannon Jones, founder of Thriving Relocation, works with relocating partners around the world to build thriving lives in new places. Originally from California, she has relocated with her partner and family to four different countries over the past twelve years, and is currently thriving in London. She’s a certified life coach, relocation expert, and member of Families in Global Transition.