Our new expat counsellor, Joanna West, BSc(Hons) Psychology, MBPsS, takes a good look at love in the Duchy; how it affects expats and what we can do to help love endure.
Love. We spend a lot of time searching for it; when we find it, we bask in its warmth but often worry about losing it; when we do lose someone we love, we suffer – so what’s it all about? Why do we search for love?
Biologically speaking, scientists believe that love has 3 stages: lust, attraction and attachment, with each stage being driven by the release of different sets of hormones and chemicals.
Psychologists have shown that it can take as little as 90 seconds to decide if you like someone, research shows that 55% of the decision is based on body language, 38% on tone of voice and speed of voice and only 7% on what they actually say.
From an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool – a tool used to engage in long-term relationships and parental support of children, and to promote feelings of security and safety.
Love and Positive Emotions
Positive psychology works towards understanding the factors that allow individuals, communities and societies to flourish. Positive emotions have been identified, not only as indicators of optimal well-being, but also as building blocks of that well-being. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, argues that positive emotions broaden mindsets, building long-lasting personal resources.
Frequent positive emotions can build personal and social resources, transforming people for the better, giving them better lives in the future. Perhaps this is why love is referred to as the supreme positive emotion.
Love and the Expat
Whether we acknowledge it or not, love is scary and fears can manifest themselves in many different ways and at different times in relationships.
When we place our heart in someone else’s hands, trusting them, allowing them to affect us, it can make us feel vulnerable, not in control and exposed.
In Luxembourg, a significant majority of the expat population are ‘love-expats’, following their heart and making the decision to follow their partner to another country. It takes great courage to move away from your home country and is a huge act of trust, but also an act that requires resiliency, adaptability and an open-mind. It’s important for the couple to acknowledge that taking such a step (one for career opportunity, one for love) takes remarkable strength.
Recent research has indicated that living abroad can put as much pressure on a relationship as having a child. Relationship stress is most often evident in the ‘trailing spouse’.
While the person who has moved with a job invests their time and energy trying to get settled in a new workplace, the partner finds themselves alone, often coping with a loss of independence, an unwanted career transition as well as often picking up more of the chores and responsibilities that perhaps were previously shared. This sense of loss can lead to a sense of frustration, inequality and resentment.
Fear of the unknown, that things are changing and of losing love often grows. In an attempt to overcome this fear we may focus on superficial reasons why the relationship won’t work, pick fights or in the worst case simply give up on the relationship. But there are some steps that you can take to create a fulfilling and meaningful life in a new country.
Tips to make sure your love endures
A recent research project Enduring Love?, conducted by the Open University, has been investigating what helps people sustain relationships, focusing on the long-term. The study revealed four key forms of positive relationship practice:
1. Nurture your relationship
It is evident that a relationship cannot survive on its own; it needs the care and nurturing of the two people involved to create a mutually beneficial connection. Find out the small things that matter most to your partner and give it to them. Teach your partner in a kind way what’s important to you too. Love is not just a feeling; it is also an action.
2. Invest in the relationship
It is not just the time together that matters; anticipation, recollection and the creation of a shared positive memory helps keep the romance alive. Time spent together, free from interruptions, will help form a bond that will get you through life’s tough times. Make your time together a shared activity, not just watching television together.
Against conventional thinking, it’s good to spend time apart too. Your partner can be a wonderful source of happiness but it’s not possible for them to provide all of your happiness. This is your responsibility. Having some separate interests and activities can help you come back to the relationship refreshed and ready to share experiences. Schedule time together and apart.
3. Celebrate the relationship
Create your own rituals and meaning together and use them as clear celebrations of your relationship and its progress. This will help you to agree and understand each other’s perspective, identify goals for the relationship and know what your partner expects. Celebrating special events acknowledges what you have been through together, the ups, the downs, the happy times and the sad times. Mark milestones and events.
4. The magic of touch
After the honeymoon period, most couples know they are not going to have sex every night, so it’s important to remember the power of touch. Holding hands, cuddling up on the sofa, hugging and dancing are simple ways to touch. We all dream of hearing the words ‘I love you’, but words are processed in the thinking part of the brain; touch goes to our emotional centres. Touch can communicate love, engaging our senses for emotional and physical well-being. A simple touch can be a powerful way to express what we cannot say.
Here’s another simple thing that I would encourage to help bridge distances between you and your partner.
Find a quiet minute, sit down on the floor opposite your partner and share eye contact for one minute. Do it today rather than tomorrow, open your eyes, open your heart and feel the safety, acceptance and warmth of human connection.
Eye contact is a wonderful peacemaker.
Copyright 2016: Joanna West
Featured Photo: Alejandra Quiroz/Unsplash