A Happy Spouse = A Happy House.....Becoming a Desperate Housewife ?? I'd heard the phrase 'A Happy Spouse = A Happy House' in the run up to our first move. We were having dinner with some of my husbands colleagues who had been re-located to London. At first I dismissed it as rubbish dreamt up in an HR dept where they constantly heard the cries of misery from their relocated employees. As the discussion progressed I became more aware of the responsibilities that would fall on my shoulders and also how I had underestimated what my role in the overseas assignment would be.
I learnt that my husbands company actually made financial commitments to the spouses of their employees. They would contribute to the cost of language lessons in Hong Kong for example. They also hired a relocation specialist who would drive us around for a few days and help out on a practical level. She helped us to find a new home, told us how the transport system worked, took us to supermarkets and gave us great information about English speaking doctors and dentists. So they did take the Happy Spouse = Happy House seriously. I was however, still a little reluctant to embrace the Expat Wife title, after I had spent years working hard and retaining my independence. I didn't want to be reduced to being a 'housewife' I had so much to learn !!
Let me say that with or without children the role of the Expat Wife is neither a small nor an easy one. Its challenging, sometimes stressful, often frustrating but actually quite rewarding.
I'm sure there are lots of people out there with books and or therapy sessions to dissect the issues. but for me it was simple. I just had to stop resisting the inevitable, I was a housewife and a 'dependant' and it even said so on the visa page stuck in my passport!! There was nothing I could do about the situation, or my new 'title', but there was something I could do about how I dealt with it. I embraced it.
I thought about the times I had spent sitting in my office in London wishing I had more time to learn to take better photographs, wondering how hard it would be to make pasta from scratch, wanting to spend more time playing golf and dreaming about studying for a Batchelors Degree. When I found myself in Hong Kong, I realised I actually had the time to do all of these things. Why was a wasting time complaining about being a 'housewife' ? I now had the luxury I had so often dreamed of. This is one of the first bits of advice I give whenever I meet new expats struggling to come to terms with their new status. EMBRACE THE LUXURY OF TIME.
I started to take Cantonese lessons, I joined the YWCA and took some cookery classes, I volunteered at a local dog rescue as a dog walker - I later became involved in fund raising for them also, during the time we lived in Hong Kong and Singapore I completed a Social Science honours degree with the Open University. This expat lark wasn't too bad after all.
I did of course meet many women who were desperately unhappy. I met a woman who drove herself (and those in earshot) crazy trying to recreate America in Asia, and always complaining that she couldn't find a particular brand of breakfast cereal or cookie mix, and a woman who gained kilos as she spent most of the day on the sofa eating crisps and biscuits watching British TV shows. What most of the unhappy women I met had in common was their lack of desire to embrace their new lifestyle. One woman in particular who was from Chicago. She hated that her husband worked such long hours and travelled a lot. He was a lawyer and earned LOADS of money. I reminded her that he didn't get paid his big salary for nothing and that it was his long hours that enabled her to live the lifestyle she had. My words fell on deaf ears. She was miserable, and when he got home from the office or back from a trip, she nagged him and cried. He was committed to a 3 year contract, there was nothing he could do, she was adding to his stress. He dealt with it the only way he knew how - he worked longer hours to stay away from the drama at home. She was in a terrible cycle. She was negative about everything in Hong Kong, and consequently the new friends she made didn't stick around for long. She stayed in Hong Kong for about 7 months before she left the island and her husband and returned the USA
It was then that I realised the importance of Happy Spouse = Happy House. And it has a lot to do with attitude and your own self worth. I see my role as the person who keeps the wheels of the household turning as vital to our marriage. I don't complain that I have to collect the dry cleaning, I see this as one of the tasks in the job description 'Housewife'. What I do is I try to make sure I have something nice/interesting to do on a daily basis or at least something to look forward to. It might be as small as lunch with a friend or it could be as exciting as flying to New York to spend time with my husband while he is working there. These things give me something to smile about and something to focus on when I am mopping the floors, and also give me endless things to chat about and giggle with my husband over when we sit down to dinner together.
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