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
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
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
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
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
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
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