In my previous article, I attempted to separate the different types of an immigrant’s spouse into four groups, according to the degree of support that they give to their partners in regards to the immigration adventure.
I want to reinforce the fact that a spouse is rarely stuck in one group all the time; within a few years, a spouse that starts as an antagonist may become proactive, or the other way around.
As an immigrant who has consciously made the choice to change countries, you hope that your spouse will be as supportive as possible, independent of whatever psychological state he/she is in at the beginning of this adventure.
I know my wife Daniela went from being a passive spouse to being supportive, and finally became a jackpot spouse, slowly becoming an inspired immigrant herself, with her own goals and dreams. And hers is not a rare case; this transformation has happened to many other immigrants’ wives and husbands that I know.
If you are the inspired immigrant in your family, please understand that it is possible that your spouse has not really decided to immigrate! They may have said “yes” with a smile or with tears, but either way, there may have been no internal decision on their part to become an immigrant. Unless your spouse belongs to the jackpot category (if they were an inspired immigrant right from the start, like you), they made their decision driven by one or both of two powerful forces: love or fear!
The love is directed towards you and the kids; the fear is of losing you and the kids.
Because of this, we can safely deduce that, basically, your spouse felt forced into immigration, and so every obstacle will seem twice as big to them, and every victory will often seem almost like a defeat, because it guarantees that they won´t be going back…
• As inspired immigrants;
We need to understand that our decision to immigrate, independent of all the noble reasons behind it, may be the cause of deep internal pain and a feeling of emptiness for our spouse. While, as inspired immigrants, we were consciously willing to feel the pain of leaving our parents and siblings, our friends, our culture, while we were willing to detach our identity from all these things… our spouse was forced into this painful process!
We get so frustrated when our spouse is negative, always miserable, does not understand us, has such a lazy attitude, always talks about “back home”, etc. And on top of being frustrated, we don’t understand why, right when we need their support the most, they seem to want to sabotage everything; and for this reason we resent them, and that causes them to increase their resentment towards us even more. It is a vicious circle!
What to do? Two things!
As the inspired immigrant in the family, we can:
1. Use empathy, compassion and support for our spouse so they won’t feel judged and guilty for the way they feel about the whole subject of immigration. If we do this, we will help them to allow these feelings to surface instead of being dangerously repressed deep inside them. By doing so, these feelings will automatically fade away with time.
2. Stay focused on our goals and dreams, stay motivated and enthusiastic about the new life in the new country and never blame situations, luck or our spouse for our own failures; no matter how much they may influence the process, this was your decision and so you must accept full responsibility for it. If, as inspired immigrants, we stay enthusiastic about immigrating and keep focused on our goals and dreams, sooner or later our enthusiasm will infect our spouses with the same naturalness as a cold or flu.
• In relation to an immigrant’s spouse;
It is important that their feelings are allowed expression, no matter how painful they are!
When invited to speak in front of immigrants, I usually like to chat individually with some of them; and when I perceive that I am meeting what we call in this context an “immigrant´s spouse”, I just wait for the usual poker-face attitude! In these gatherings, the spouse rarely admits hating the immigration move, leaving the loved ones, the difficulties with the language, the cultural trauma, the different climate, etc.… They seem so ashamed of these feelings, and it´s mostly because, as spouses, they are not understood by their partners (the inspired immigrants); they are judged and labeled by them!
As an immigrant spouse, you can:
1. Understand that your partner´s disappointment in you is fueled by ignorance of the details, and so it is nothing personal. Please understand this as a favor to yourself; they compare your reaction to the stress of changing countries with their own expectations, but totally ignore the fact that your decision was to follow them, and was not necessarily made because immigrating was something you wanted! You want this to be appreciated as an act of love, a gift you have given them, but instead you only get criticism and resentment!
2. You are in this new country now; you are an immigrant! Take advantage of the hidden power of immigration; you can improve everything you don’t like about your life and experience hidden sides of yourself that used to be suffocated by layers of other people´s beliefs about you. Immigration can do this to you, if you can understand its possibilities and take advantage of them.
3. Support your partner in the best way possible: have your own goals and dreams, and follow through on them, so that instead of being your spouse’s right arm, you will become their biggest source of inspiration.
I believe that the immigration experience can be an incredible tool for any couple, especially if both partners live it together, supporting each other but pursuing their own individual purposes and goals.