I met my husband at university, while he was studying in the UK. He returned to his home in mainland Europe and we had a long-distance relationship for some years before I moved to his homeland, supposedly for a year, after which we were meant to settle back in the UK.
My relocation at the time was the sensible option: I could work anywhere, and he had just been offered a good job. It was my idea, which, of course, he welcomed. Eventually we got married and bought a house.
We have been through some difficult times (our first child was stillborn, our second premature, and, with our last child, both the baby and I almost died in labour). But we have always been united and managed to come out the other side together.
I have been in his country for more than two decades now. My work situation has gone from bad to worse. My husband’s salary is good, but we are very stretched and I worry about the future.
At the beginning of March, I travelled with the children to the UK for a week. We’re still here, and I’ve realised I really miss it. I’ve come to appreciate how wonderfully hands-on my parents are with the kids; my husband’s mum cooks constantly for them, but never really does things with them.
I have been open but not overbearing about how I feel, explaining that I’ve realised how miserable and lonely I am back home. I have now been offered work in the UK and have suggested relocating. He can take a year’s unpaid leave from his job to look for work in the UK. I just want him to try.
Your request is not unreasonable. Your longer letter was full of details of jobs offered and turned down, and salaries, facts and figures. But at the heart of your letter there is a simple, emotional truth: you don’t want to go back “home”.
I think sometimes our bodies – that feeling of dread you experience – do a good job of telling us what we let our minds block. I think being back in the UK has allowed you to feel what you’ve been ignoring for a long time: that you’re not as happy as you could be.
I’m so sorry to hear about your baby’s death and the subsequent traumas surrounding your other children’s births. You may have put these details in brackets but I think they, and the subject of loss, feature far larger in your story. How was this dealt with at the time? Were you both given space to talk about what happened?
I showed couples psychotherapist Duncan Branley your letter. He thought it was positive that you and your husband were able to support each other through those dark times: that bodes well for your current predicament. As for now, he was intrigued by what you and your husband have said to each other and “what you’ve both heard”.
Branley suggested a “communication exercise”, because sometimes we think we’ve explained how we feel but we either haven’t properly, or the other person has heard something completely different. So he suggests that you both find time to tell each other how you’re feeling, and then ask the other to summarise back what they’ve heard. “It’s a really simple exercise, but the hardest part is the listening. It’s not about what comes up for you, or about preparing to rebut what the other says.” Once you’ve done that, you can then ask each other, “What would you like me to do about it?” You never know, you may come up with the same thing.
I asked Branley what happens if you both really listen but can’t agree about what to do. He says, “Then you both need to think about what you’re prepared to compromise on and what you can’t.”
How do the children feel? It’s important you don’t ask them before you’ve had a proper discussion with your husband, and that they don’t think it’s a “UK with mum or back home with both parents” scenario. But are you able to gauge their viewpoint?
You talking about your parents made me wonder if you need looking after, too? Who looks after you emotionally? Because you struck me as someone who thinks that their emotions are not enough reason to ask for a big change like this. But they are, and you need to believe that. Sometimes it’s not about making a giant, practical “for and against” list; it’s enough to recognise a place that, at least at the moment, no longer makes you happy.