Relationships      AUDIO VERSION

Coming to France is a wonderful opportunity to change your whole way of life, but sometimes people forget that if they have had problems in their relationship before, they don’t necessarily go away by moving abroad. Added to which other stresses and strains become apparent because of new circumstances. All of this can put a great strain on relationships.

I have done a small amount of research into how couples cope in France, and it has thrown up some interesting issues. One of these is that there seems to be a definite difference between the sexes as to how people settle in their new environment. Here are some of the findings:

  • Women with school age children build up a network of friends and interests more easily than women who are older, and this gives them a focus outside of the home

  • Women of retirement age also seem to settle better as they are often happy to slow down their pace of life

  • Women in their 40’s and 50’s seem to be the most vulnerable when it comes to coping with life in France

  • Women more than men seem to be affected by emotional ties, particularly if they have left behind a close family and friendship network

  • Men and women who have given up careers often feel ‘lost’ and without status and identity – even though their previous jobs could have been stressful and exhausting

  • Both men and women find the adjustment of living together 24/7 (especially if they are renovating a property or running a business) very difficult. This is particularly the case if they have had separate jobs and interests before

  • Many men enjoy the freedom from 9 to 5 restrictions and throw themselves into DIY and/or gardening. However, they often miss the social life of the pub and sport

  • Women find it harder to get employment in France, particularly if they don’t speak good French. However, those with plenty of interests and hobbies fare better

  • Finances can be a problem. For instance living on a reduced income and doing up a property (which invariably costs more than you thought) can be a strain

  • The second year seems to be the hardest – the honeymoon period is over and reality kicks in. If you can weather this, things seem to get easier.

All of the above can put a tremendous strain on relationships – not to mention the difficulties people experience with French bureaucracy and language. If any of the above rings a bell then you might want to consider some of the following:

  • Everyone needs separate interests and to do things for themselves. Look out for activities that you can take part in e.g. the local petanque team, a choir, village committees etc. It’s a good way to meet others of the same and different nationalities and gives you breathing space from each other

  • Have a night out together once a week or a fortnight, away from the family and the routine of the house. Take it in turns to choose what to do

  • Don’t suffer in silence. Talk things through with friends here and back home – they might be experiencing something similar

  • Subscribe to one of the cheaper telephone companies so that when you use the phone you’re not going to run up massive bills

  • Don’t be a martyr. If you are not happy with your situation then you need to do something about it. Pick a time when there isn’t tension between you and your partner and try and tackle one thing at a time. Use ‘I’ messages when talking things through e.g. ‘I feel as if…’, I am finding this difficult because…’. ‘I get upset when….’. Then move onto ‘we’. In other words try and work out what you can both do to ease the situation. A word of caution though, don’t come out with a long list of grievances in one go – eat your elephant one bite at a time

  • Look at your goals and aspirations. Are you both working towards the same end result? Have the goalposts changed? You need to know what you are each thinking and feeling, and maybe work out a compromise if things are adrift

  • If you are working together either in a business or doing up a property, make sure you build in some ‘treats’. Be realistic as things always take longer than you first thought and be kind to yourselves and each other. Resentment is less likely to build up if you take some time out occasionally

If things have got to the point where you don’t know which way to turn and you cannot see a way out, you may need to seek some professional help. Talking to a third party who does not know you, but who is skilled in relationship issues could help you to work things out. People do have solutions to their problems, it’s just that sometimes they don’t know where to start.

Elaine Douglas, Chartered Psychologist