Jennie Linton is a certified life coach, about to complete a clinical mental health counselling program, she is a mom to 4 daughters and married to a US diplomat. She’s lived on 4 continents and in 7 countries. She is part of the team on the Big Purple Blob, an online platform for US Diplomatic community and she is also the host of her own podcast, The Expat Mom. She is passionate about helping moms feel emotionally healthy so they can be the kind of mom they want to be.
In This Episode:
- Jennie’s journey as an expat and her struggles related to her children’s mental health, and the importance of a positive mindset in how we perceive the world and our situation
- How to identify the narratives in your head and transform them into a constructive thought process
- Different practical tools to improving psychological and emotional health
- Jennie walks us through a series of common beliefs about the expat life and holding down the fort abroad, and how to process the thoughts and counter them with facts and encouraging truth
Resources in the Episode:
‘Myths That Threaten Split-Location Marriages’ free cheat sheet: https://forms.aweber.com/form/25/1425643925.htm
Rhoda: Welcome to Holding the Fort Broad, the podcast for expats with traveling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter. I'm a certified coach and the author of the book Holding Afford Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have traveling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience.
Rhoda: I also invite experts to apply their expertise to this topic. Today, my guest is Jenny Linton. She's a certified life coach about to complete a clinical mental health counseling program. She's a mom to four daughters and married to a US diplomat. She's lived on four continents in seven countries. She's part of the team on the big purple blob, an online platform for US diplomatic community, and she also hosts her [00:01:00] own podcast, the Expat Mom.
Rhoda: She's passionate about helping moms feel emotionally healthy so that they can be the kind of mom they want to be. Jenny, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, Rhoda. Thank you so much for being here. You and I were introduced by a friend that we have in common, a colleague that we have in common.
Rhoda: Karrie, who's doing a study on expat moms, right? She's doing her PhD thesis on it and becoming a mom abroad, and specifically highly sensitive moms, and then seeing the traits potentially that come out when you're combining. Being highly sensitive and moving abroad. Now, expat moms, this is something you know well being an expat mom yourself and also with the training that you've done, the clients that you help, and the community that you work in.
Rhoda: So, I'm curious, first maybe can you explain a little bit who you [00:02:00] serve, what kind of challenges they face? I think a lot of people listening will recognize some of the challenges and sometimes it's helpful to know you're not alone. Right. Um, definitely. And then we'll move on to the idea of how on earth can we feel like we're not constantly underwater?
Rhoda: When we are living specifically with a partner who travels a lot, who's away from home when we are holding the thought, when we're juggling a lot of different things. And I think even for those who aren't holding the thought, this is gonna be a useful conversation. And I know that you have some very specific points to make today, so I'm, I'm really excited to hear them.
Rhoda: But let's start maybe first with your own experiences. What you see in
Jennie: mom. Sure. Yeah, so I came to this work pretty organically. My husband and I have lived abroad for many of the last 20 years and have [00:03:00] always loved, you know, the experience of adventure.
Jennie: And it was when we went overseas with children for the first time that I experienced. All sorts of really unique challenges. There's always challenges living abroad, but especially living abroad with children. Introduced a lot of new challenges. My children circle with a lot of anxiety and you know, kind of a combination of factors.
Jennie: My mother passed away and multiple transitions and some postpartum depression. I wasn't doing well. And not only was it challenging to find good mental healthcare in general, but to find somebody. Who not only find somebody, but somebody who understood the unique dynamics of my life was really challenging and I wanted to create a resource, the resource that I wish I had had 10 or 15 years ago as I was an expat mom, trying to figure out life and how do I stay emotionally healthy despite, you know, [00:04:00] as you talk about Rhoda crises, right?
Jennie: That come up. And you're not expecting them. So you know, my daughter having anxiety or my mom passing away, or political unrest in the places we're living or whatever it is. I wanted to be able to provide a resource to help moms become more mentally and emotionally healthy. And I've had some amazing mentors along the way, but one of my most powerful mentors was a life coach who taught me how.
Jennie: To recognize the stories and the dialogues that I was telling myself and how to shift those. To a much more useful dialogue and story that changed everything for me. And just to give one example of this, my children, like I said, struggle, a lot of anxiety. And I assumed that that was from moving frequently.
Jennie: And the truth is it probably had a very big impact on them, and I felt a lot of guilt about it. I felt a lot of anxiety [00:05:00] myself about helping them address it. And that then made me feel like they were victims and not even realizing it. I treated them kind of that way. And we were able to get them some great help and support and a therapist and medication, but there were some really unhealthy dynamics.
Jennie: And this coach was able to help me totally shift the way I saw it. And she said, you know, Jenny, is it possible this is the perfect life for your children? Not necessarily the thing that's causing their anxiety, but, and I was like, what are you talking about? Like how could that even be possible? And as I.
Jennie: Thought about all the research I had done on anxiety that the way you conquer anxiety is doing difficult things in the context of a loving, supportive relationship over and over and over again. And all of a sudden it was like this light bulb moment of like, oh, Maybe this is the perfect life for my children, and it didn't mean that anxiety went [00:06:00] away.
Jennie: My kids still struggle with anxiety, but they have learned to be so much more resilient as my mental health has improved. Not feeling all that guilt, not feeling all that pressure of I am ruining their lives and all these things. I have been able to empower them rather than victimize them in my own mind and give them the empowerment they need to navigate these issues.
Jennie: And my daughter, who at one point was so anxious she couldn't go to school for a couple of years and had to do homeschool, is now the lead in the. You know, high school play and thriving and has a large group of friends and is doing fantastic and, you know, getting ready to apply to college. And not to minimize the challenges in our life, but I think the way that we choose to see them has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional health.
Jennie: And as we all know, our own mental and emotional health ripples out to our relationships with our partners. To our mothering of our children or our fathering of [00:07:00] our children. And so I just have become so passionate about learning and teaching these tools to navigate mental and emotional health in the context of our expatriate life, which is so transitory and gives us a lot more layers of challenges to navigate through.
Jennie: So, well, I think
Rhoda: what you're saying is so powerful because what. I think what you're saying is the circumstances stay the same. The challenges stay the same. And the difference is our thought process, what we are thinking about and how we think about it. And it's that that then changes how we react to the circumstances.
Rhoda: And that's huge because oftentimes our default reaction is, The circumstances need to change. You know? Yeah. We need to stop moving. We need to stop living this life. This is what's causing its external things causing it. And you are showing that the [00:08:00] power of how we think of a situation can actually not only change how we view it, but then change how we live it.
Rhoda: Totally. Is that what
Jennie: you're saying? Yeah. I'm saying that the way we feel comes from the way that we think, the way we perceive the world, the way we interpret what happens to us and what's around us, right? And the way we feel drives how we act. So it's a chain reaction. The way that we see the world, the way we think about it, the stories we tell ourselves about.
Jennie: How we interact, what's happening around us, create the way we feel and the way we feel drives the way we act. So all of it's a chain reaction and so much powers in our thoughts. There's a lot of power in the way we think, especially when we're not able to change the circumstance or when it's has to do with relationships with other people where we cannot change them.
Rhoda: But it's not. Positive psychology in the toxic way, in the sense of like, I'm feeling angry, I'm [00:09:00] feeling sad, I'm feeling exhausted, but I'm not. It's not that, is it? Yeah.
Jennie: No, not at all. And in fact, one of the really most powerful ways that we can address our story is actually to learn how to recognize what we are feeling and process that and allow that.
Jennie: Gosh, I'm feeling grief. We've just been through a transition. I notice I'm really short with my family. One of the most powerful ways we can shift our mindset is to stop resisting all the negative emotions. And instead just feel them, uh, have a somatic experience of allowing yourself to feel some of those feelings.
Jennie: What happens as we do that is those feelings are able to dissipate rather than continually grow bigger and bigger as we repress them or distract ourselves from them or whatever else. And when we shift our thinking, if you notice in the example that I shared, I didn't decide that my kids having anxiety was fantastic and I didn't decide [00:10:00] that moving.
Jennie: Didn't impact their anxiety and I didn't decide that I could control their anxiety. All I did was shift the idea from this life is ruining them to this life has the potential to bless them. That's it. And as I did that, my brain, our brains are such amazing organisms. My brain. Then had a whole new feeling set, rather than when I thought the thought, Ugh, this lifestyle's ruining my kids.
Jennie: I felt guilty, I felt sad, I felt victimized, resentful, all these things, right? Which then drives behavior like feeling bad for my kids or being frustrated at my husband or worrying all the time or feeling, you know, all of these things. Those are behaviors, and that drives a relationship with my kids and my spouse and myself.
Jennie: Whereas when I shifted to, it's possible this life could be [00:11:00] perfect for my kids and help them address the very thing they struggle with, suddenly that drove feelings like hope. Curiosity, excitement, connection, and gave me the power to sit and listen to my kids. So instead of my daughter coming and be like, mom, I was bullied at school.
Jennie: And me immediately feeling worried, guilty and sad. And they were like, oh sweetie, I'm so sorry. That's so hard. You know? And then trying to figure out how to solve it. I was like, oh, that sounds really tough. What do you think you're gonna do about that? And she is brilliant. She thought of an idea, she thought of, she could take a kind note to this person, try to be kind to them, you know?
Jennie: And surprise, surprise, they were able to become friends. Obviously that's not the solution to all bullying, but in this case it worked. But the difference is, rather than me feeling sad for them and victimizing them and then not perpetuating whatever's going on. I can empower them. So that behavior's so powerful.
Jennie: I like to think of it like your brain is like a camera, [00:12:00] and now we all have phones, right? That you can zoom in or zoom out, or you can put different color filters or different shutter speeds, or you can blur the background. And it's the same with our brain. You are not changing. The actual picture or what you're taking a picture of, but you're changing how it looks by whether you blur the background or zoom in or focus on one different thing or put a different color.
Jennie: And that's what we can do with our brain and it changes everything. The way we change, the way we look at it changes the experience of that picture.
Rhoda: Hmm. Putting that lens. And saying, I'm gonna put the lens of, let's focus on what we can do about it. And this shift from this life is bringing us misery to this life could potentially be a blessing.
Rhoda: How do you go from one to the other because you cannot force yourself.
Jennie: It's so true. And actually what I find is the biggest, one of the biggest challenges in mental health is [00:13:00] that. We try to Pollyanna our way through life and you know, we're angry at our partner and we're like, I shouldn't be angry. And we tell ourselves it's fine.
Jennie: At least I am, you know, have a partner. You know, we try to Pollyanna our way, and that is actually one of the worst ways to improve your mental, emotional health. It's like slapping a bandaid on a gushing wound. It actually makes it worse. It doesn't help. There's actually all sorts of amazing ways to shift this, but one of the most important things is to actually identify what it even is that you believe Most of us mix up facts.
Jennie: And what we think about the facts or you know, what actually happened and how we perceive it, we confuse them and think they're the same thing. One example I like to use is somebody might say to somebody else, Hey, you look nice today. And one person receives that as that person is trying to butter me up.
Jennie: Maybe they want something and the other person thinks, oh, [00:14:00] how lovely if that person. And it's because of the filter they passed it through. It was the same circumstance, right? But the filter they passed it through totally changed how they experienced that. It's just the way they interact in the world and it comes from our personality.
Jennie: It comes from our value system. It comes from what we've seen, modeled, it comes from our cultural influences. It comes from all sorts of things. We don't even need to worry about all of that. All we need to do is identify what it is we believe. The very first step of this is even just identifying. What are those sentences in your mind?
Jennie: What? What are they? One of the tools that I like to use with people is something called a thought download. So we're all familiar with you open your email, there's an attachment, you press the download button, and this document downloads with all this information. We have, our brains are just like these complex computers, and I don't know about you, but it's so much easier for me to read a printed document than to read it on the screen.
Jennie: It's like printing it out. When we actually get out our thoughts on [00:15:00] paper, it helps us recognize what we are thinking and we think we know what we're thinking. But the truth is, and Zelle Hurston has a great quote about this, like how our thoughts are like these kind of ambiguous things floating around in these basins of our mind, and we often don't even realize what we're thinking because like I said, we're mixing it up with just, this is, this is the reality.
Jennie: And so what I do is a thought download, so like the other day, My family had been home for the weekend and we had just watched a show together and we got up and I noticed I was feeling really irritated and I don't even know why I was irritated. We just had this lovely weekend and I started snapping like, everyone pick up your stuff.
Jennie: And I was like, what is going on with me? Right? And I just went in the bathroom, I took a couple deep breaths and I like grabbed a piece of paper and I was like, what is going on? And started writing these down like the house is mess. Like we didn't get done this accomplished. I'm worried about this deadline, whatever it was.
Jennie: I didn't even realize I was thinking that. But just downloading it helps you see what your thoughts [00:16:00] even are.
Rhoda: That is brilliant. So what did you do after you've written down? So after
Jennie: you've written down, then you want to question your thoughts. So there's a difference between facts and thoughts. For example, the fact was, I had had this.
Jennie: Weekend with my family. It was 3:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon and there were things lying on the floor. Those were the facts, right? But my brain, me made it mean I have to do all the work around here. Nobody cleans up after themselves. Everybody's fighting, right? These were the things my brain was making it mean in the moment.
Jennie: Those are thoughts, and thoughts are always optional. Always. And so when we realize the difference between the facts and the thoughts, then we can go in and we can challenge those thoughts. And there's all sorts of tools that we can use to do that. And I actually have a great webinar that I'll send you the link, which teaches you some of the tools to do that.
Jennie: But the most simple tool that I think we can always use with any thought is, is [00:17:00] that really true? And so I can ask myself the question, is it really true that I have to do all the work around here? Well, the actual answer is no. My kids slept with dinner jobs. We have a helper who comes and helps during the week.
Jennie: My husband's actually fantastic. He will do a lot. My brain was offering me that in that moment because I felt overwhelmed, right? The answer is it's not really true that I have to do all the work,
Rhoda: and if the answer is. Actually, I am doing most of the work here. Is that right? Mm. Yes. Maybe I could do something about that and ask someone to do it.
Rhoda: Get the kids involved. Then there's the other pathway if you are doing all the work, and that's what happens to me often is I'm taking it somehow that's, I'm like, why am I taking on all this work by myself and then getting overwhelmed and then having that thought, right? So, Very good. Yes, I like it.
Jennie: And that's, that's actually kind of the next follow up after asking yourself, is it true now what?
Jennie: Right now what do I [00:18:00] wanna do with that thought, right? Mm-hmm. So maybe I do think I'm doing it all now. What do I wanna do about that? Do I wanna keep doing it all? Do I wanna delegate it? Do I wanna. Stop doing it. Do I wanna leave my family? Right. I'm not obvious. That's a very hyperbolic example, but it's something that I offer to people because we trick ourselves into thinking that we have to do all these things that we are doing everything these like extremes of always nothing and telling ourselves that we have to do all these things.
Jennie: The truth is we choose to do what we do every day. We tell ourselves we have to. But the truth is we don't. And when we can take back the ownership of that, we lose the victim mentality, and that is really powerful.
Rhoda: Yes, I can see how this is so applicable to somebody who is at home potentially with children, potentially also working part-time or full-time a lot on their plate.
Rhoda: Their partner is in and [00:19:00] out, whether they've gone Monday to Friday or a few weeks at a time or a long time. At a time, and I have been there where I'm like, they don't love me. They don't love us. Why are we doing this again? This is awful. I feel overwhelmed. I don't wanna be here. I hate this life.
Jennie: That's a great thought download. Exactly.
Rhoda: So tell me, you know,
Jennie: h how can they apply? Like you said, I mean that's, those are very common thoughts. That we have in this situation. Let me just address some of those thoughts directly and let's talk a little bit about once you've identified them right in your thought, download how you might.
Jennie: Work through those and shift them in your mind to have a healthier mindset. Just like you would like a camera lens, right? Mm-hmm. One of the thoughts, um, that I hear a lot is I have to carry most of the load, right? Like it's all on me. [00:20:00] I'm the one who has to do all the things cuz my partner's away and I'm the one who has to, to do everything.
Jennie: And it's almost said like a victim, kinda like we talked about just a minute ago. So when we were living in China a few years ago, when Covid broke out, we were required to evacuate to the United States within about two or three days. So we packed a suitcase, moved to the United States. We didn't have anywhere to go, so we were staying in this very tiny apartment, a two bedroom apartment.
Jennie: We had four children in one bedroom. We were doing online school with four different children at four different levels. I'm trying to manage my business. My husband is working from home. And you couldn't imagine. We had people in the bathroom recording things. We had people telling each other to sh, you know, we have wailing and crying and all these things.
Jennie: That feels really overwhelming. Well, my husband was asked to return to China after a couple of months and I'm left by myself. I'm not even in my home. We don't have any of our things. I've got all these kids at different levels. I don't have family nearby. It was really stressful. [00:21:00] I'm wondering when we're even gonna be able to return to China.
Jennie: After several months, we do get the notification that yes, it's time to return. Well guess who's left after eight months there with all of the packing, the cleaning out, the figuring out how to get everything where it needs to go. You know, like I don't have a car like I. I'm, I'm feeling a little bit resentful here, thinking the thought I have to carry all of this right?
Jennie: And my husband's fantastic and amazing, but he's over in China on a completely different time zone. I'm feeling pretty righteous, thinking the thought I have to carry most of the load, right? But when I stopped and looked at that thought, what is it creating for me? Resentment, irritation, victimization, and then how am I showing up in my life?
Jennie: Well, I'm walking slower. I'm kind of snapping at my kids. I don't really wanna talk to my husband. It's not creating a good life for me, even though I'm justified in thinking it, it's not helping me out. As I thought about it, [00:22:00] I had to really question, is it true that I carry most of the load? So I had to pull back and just be like, wait a second.
Jennie: I don't have to do all of this. I could tell my husband to quit his job. I could choose to leave my family. I could walk out of this apartment right now and never come back. I could decide to pack up my bags with my kids and go back to China and not do anything with the apartment. I could decide to move in with my family in Colorado right now.
Jennie: These are all. Extreme choices, none of which obviously I wanted to make, but I had to show myself that those were options to prove to myself I did not have to do those things. Now, there would be consequences for all those things if I asked my husband to quit his job, well, he's the sole breadwinner in our family.
Jennie: Suddenly we don't have a job. So actually I kind of wanna do it because I don't really want him to quit his job, right? Number two, I could walk out of that apartment and leave my family, but I don't wanna do that. I want to have children. And, you know, I could [00:23:00] walk out of that apartment, but A, I'm gonna have a cleaning fee from the apartment and b, I want some of those things with me.
Jennie: And it's a terrible model to my kids of how to be a good citizen. Right? I mean, so you get the idea, right, is just reminding myself, look, I don't have to do this. But even though I don't want to, I kind of do. I kind of do wanna do this stuff. And just that shift in orientation and deciding I actually do wanna do this, me choosing it shifted everything
Rhoda: because you look at the other choices, you said, actually this is not the only choice.
Rhoda: There are other choices and I don't want the other choices, therefore I choose this one, therefore it's my choice.
Jennie: Yeah. So that is one of the tools we can use is looking at alternative choices. Now, obviously I'm never gonna suggest to a client to leave their spouse or tell 'em to quit their job, but just reminding ourselves that those are options helps us recognize we actually do wanna choose what we have because we forget [00:24:00] when we become so complacent in what we have, we start feeling resentful about it.
Jennie: I think
Rhoda: it can also throw up options we hadn't thought of. Like, I could just take the stuff that I want. I could leave the apartment and pay the cleaning fee Totally. Or get a company to come in. Right. I don't actually need to clean it all out. I could find an alternative middle ground and actually pay a consequence that I'm prepared to pay.
Jennie: a hundred percent. Exactly. Yes. So that's one tool we can use then is to compare it to other circumstances, right? Yeah. Other options that we have, this one is
Rhoda: a biggie. A lot of people who are holding the foot feel this.
Jennie: Yeah. And it's justified and, and that's what I'm saying is it's not that it's not a lie that you're doing a lot of it, you probably are.
Jennie: There's a lot of creative ways to navigate that. But I think whenever we're talking about [00:25:00] the mental load, it is just that it's a mental experience. What the way that we perceive all the things we have to do. And the truth is there's a lot of them we don't have to do. We don't have to make dinner. We now have food delivery.
Jennie: We have in many countries, places you can buy pre-prepared meals. There is cold cereal that you can pour in a bowl with milk. You know, like you don't have to make dinner. You may want to make dinner because maybe you value that, but you don't have to. And I think just stepping back and reminding ourselves that allows to own our choices.
Jennie: Totally. Yes. I think another really common, um, belief or thought that we have, I don't have time to pursue the things that are important to me, or a version of that that's similar is I shouldn't pursue the things that are important to me because it will just add stress to my family. There's not bandwidth enough to do it.
Jennie: I think that there's a lot of reality and the, the reason that partners feel this way, It's based in a [00:26:00] lot of reality, right? Like there's added strain on a family when you have one partner who's living in a separate place, and there is, I think many partners who are holding the fort feel this sense of, I need to be the emotional anchor.
Jennie: I need to be the one who's consistent for the kids, who's showing up, who's pulling everything together? Who's looping in the partner who's away. So there's no question that. There is reality in this belief. Another way we can shift our emotional health, right? Our mindset is to shift what we're focusing on.
Jennie: So rather than focusing on the potential of you pursuing something as creating stress in the family, we can focus on is it possible that this. Actually might add benefit to our family. So here's an example. Again, we're in the same apartment. My husband's in China, and I had wanted for a long time to launch a podcast as part of [00:27:00] my business.
Jennie: I'm thinking this is for sure not the right time. Like this is a crazy time. And it would've been fine if I decided. I didn't want to, but there was something, I wanted to do this, and I found myself feeling a little sorry for myself. I decided I'm gonna make this happen. Well, in the evenings, my husband and I used to spend time together.
Jennie: We would chat, we would watch a show together, whatever. And I realized, you know what? I have these evenings when my husband's not here. I have time, and in fact I have more time than I used to have because my husband's not here. But because our time zones were different, I wasn't even talking to him in the evening.
Jennie: So once I got my kids down, I had time. I had to shift the idea in my brain that I shouldn't do it to. Maybe this can be a benefit for my family. So I went ahead and launched my podcast. I now, a few years later, have like over a hundred episodes. It's going great. The other day, I asked my daughter, What has it been like for you?
Jennie: Having me as a podcaster and working and doing all these things and you [00:28:00] know, here's my mom guilt coming up. I'm like, she's gonna be like, mom, you're never around. You're never focused. And she's like, oh, it's been so much better. And I was like, what? Hold on. Stop the horses. What?
Jennie: It's so much better having you work. And I was like, what? What do you mean? And she's like, mom, when you work, you're so much happier and you focus in on our family so much more when, when you are like, Not working. You're like a hundred percent on the family before you were kind of like distracted, like doing your projects like Ah-huh, okay, sounds good.
Jennie: You know? And of course I had good focus moments before, but she's like, mom, it's so much better. Isn't that fascinating? We often do not predict, well the impact of these kinds of things on our family. So I would invite any of these partners who. Question the idea of A, I don't have time cuz my partner's gone, or B, I'm gonna add strain to my family.
Jennie: Yeah. It does shift the dynamic and I'm not in any way minimizing that, [00:29:00] but slowly adding in purpose for yourself in a way to contribute or, you know, work on your hobbies or whatever it is. Can add so much value to your own mental and emotional health and to your kids and to your partner, and I found that the more I did this, the less resentful my resentment has gone down correspondingly, almost exactly with my own sense of purpose.
Jennie: About this lifestyle and as my resentment's gone down, my excitement about this lifestyle has gone way up. And my husband's and my connection has improved because suddenly he's pursuing his dream and I'm pursuing my dream and they work together. Yeah. And it's so exciting. We want to support each other.
Jennie: So I would just really question that belief. I don't have time to in pursue things that are important to me. It's gonna into my family to what if this is the perfect time to pursue it, and maybe not only. Might it not add strain, but this might be the very thing that helps my family right now.
Rhoda: I love that.[00:30:00]
Rhoda: So good. So good. Have you got
Jennie: more? I've got more. If you want me to keep going. I have more.
Rhoda: What are the other thoughts? Yeah, go ahead. And then I, I've thought of one. Let's see if, if, um, if it's, if it's on your list.
Jennie: So this one is my partner and I can't be as connected as we could if my partner was here.
Jennie: Right. That's a big deal. Let's be honest, like when our partner is physically there, we have the gift of physical touch. We get to see them in all these different moments. We're having a hard day. They can give us a hug, we can support. I mean, there's just so many things. They can actually physically make the lunches for the kids.
Jennie: They can go pick up child A when they need help with whatever, while we're helping child be at home, right? Like, There's a lot of things that help us feel connected when we're in person, so I'm not minimizing that. And there's so much that happens. You know, you make pancakes together and you have fun and you laugh, and it just feels like, how could it possibly be as good?
Jennie: And [00:31:00] I wanna offer the opposite perspective, that it is possible that you could feel even more connected to your partner. Them living away than if they're with you. And I don't mean that on a long-term basis, but I mean, maybe you have a two or three year assignment that you're apart. It is possible that you can feel closer to your partner.
Jennie: Yeah. And let me offer a few evidence points of why. One is John Gottman, who is a well, a very renowned researcher on marriages, teaches a very powerful principle, which is that. Couples who turn toward each other. And what he means by turning towards is do you respond when your partner says something, do you listen?
Jennie: Do you remember things about their life? Do you turn toward them when they talk to you, when they reach out to you, when they, you know, whatever. And what is so fascinating is so many couples when they're in person, they get so used to being together. One couple's like, oh my gosh, look how nice it's outside.
Jennie: The other couple doesn't even say [00:32:00] anything. Yeah, right. But when you are apart and someone texts you and is like, oh my gosh, it's a beautiful day today, you are much more likely to turn toward that partner. And say, oh, I'm so glad it's actually, it's raining here. It's very simple. But that is turning toward, and the statistic on this are fascinating couples that turn toward each other even less than 30% of the time, the prediction is that they will very likely get divorced.
Jennie: Couples who turn towards each other at least 80% of the time, stay married almost a hundred percent of the time.
Rhoda: Yeah, that's, um, that's incredible. And that is something that distance cannot stop. No, that is totally
Jennie: feasible. Even enhance is what I'm saying. It, it almost forces us to connect in a different way.
Jennie: Another thing that shows that in intimate relationships, novelty is something that builds it, right? It creates, when we go on a trip with our spouse to a new place, it creates these new neural pathways and [00:33:00] creates. A lot of those, not only physical, um, neurotransmitter, sorry is the word I was looking for, that create that connection, but also creates new neural pathways that we, we learn different things about each other and when we're living away, novelty is.
Jennie: Often part of our experience, your partner may be having a different experience and you're learning from that. You're having different experiences. You may meet up in a new city. There's all, you're learning new ways to interact. When my husband and I, um, during the time that we were dating, he lived in Spain and I lived in the United States, and it was during that communication that we built so much emotional intimacy.
Jennie: In totally different ways than we had when we were in person, or even did when he came back. Writing creates a very different emotional experience. Being separate from each other allows that in different ways than you know. How's your day? Oh, it's good. One thing my husband and I did when we were separated is we would watch a movie together.
Jennie: And we're sitting [00:34:00] there across the world from each other. But just the experience of watching a movie virtually was new and it was kind of fun. It was like, oh, this is, this is funny. Like even just creating new experiences, even just doing them differently is fun and it creates different connections.
Rhoda: I think it comes back to this mindset.
Rhoda: Yes, exactly. Saying, Hey, Let's make this fun. Let's use the distance to ex and explore what we can do and how we can get closer despite it. And I think that comes back to what you were saying about the mindset. Exactly. So it's, you're not suggesting an alternative thought that's completely impossible.
Rhoda: It's no mentally, and it's backed by research in the sense that. You don't need to be physically connected. Yes, we need physical connection, but my husband and I experienced this that we actually got closer and we talked about topics that we wouldn't have talked about if we'd [00:35:00] been in the same room.
Jennie: That's so interesting. But if you're telling yourself the story over and over again, oh, we're so disconnected cause we live far away, your brain isn't looking for those and you don't actually even receive the same impact of those exchanges that could be connecting because you've already decided time.
Jennie: It's not gonna work. So the next one is, my partner's the lucky one, and I'm stuck with the lame end of the deal. Oh yes. So right. So. I remember, I'm sorry
Rhoda: I'm laughing, but it's because I think a lot of us, this is what we think. Yeah, of course. Very
Jennie: genuinely. Yeah, and, and it's not because we don't love our partner or want them to have a good experience, it's just when you're the one who's stuck with the kids melting down and all of the stress, and your partner sends a picture of some amazing dinner that they went to with a colleague, that looks delicious.
Jennie: It sounds hard. So when I was in. This tiny [00:36:00] apartment. My husband sent me these pictures of him going to Junk Ja Jay. It's like this gorgeous place in China where Avatar was filmed with these beautiful cars, formations, right? And he's exploring with this friend, and it's just the two of them, and they're having amazing dinner.
Jennie: And of course I am so happy for him. I want him to do this. And that same night while I'm looking at this text, one daughter is sobbing. They've just had this big fight. We're all over each other. It's covid is at its height. We're feeling like we can't go out into the apartment. We're all stir crazy. You know, like I have a client who's having a really difficult time and wanting to get extra sessions and like, you know, like I'm exhausted and I'm seeing all this and I'm just like, Well, I got the lame end of the deal, right?
Jennie: Like that's what I'm thinking.
Rhoda: So how did you, what did you think?
Jennie: Once I recognized that I had to step back and I had to remind myself that I am comparing my worst part of this with his best part, and we [00:37:00] do this all the time, is a good one. Every situation is 50 50, right? Bless his heart. He's coming home to an empty house every night.
Jennie: He doesn't have the kids there. He's not getting to see them grow. I mean, it's now been, what, three or four months and the kids are growing and he's not getting to see them. He loves being with our family. He's in China. It's crazy. Everything's locked down. He's getting covid tests every day. You know, like it's not like it's fun.
Jennie: The stress, the envi stress at his work is so high. Although when I see that picture I'm thinking, oh, his life's amazing. And I'm comparing my terrible moment. Yeah, to his amazing moment. It the night my kids and I all snuggled on the couch and ordered pizza and had a wonderful movie night. And that, I mean, I could also compare my best moment with his crappy time of coming home to an empty house, having an empty refrigerator, and nobody's delivering food because of Covid, so he's gotta somehow go and forge for food.
Jennie: Right. So I think, you know, just like. In a camera, you can [00:38:00] blur the background and focus on one thing. Sometimes it's helpful to unblur that and, and think about what is the whole picture? What is their 50 50, what's their 50 negative and 50 positive, and what's my 50 negative and my 50 positive? And let's not compare the good to the bad because that's so rarely the case.
Rhoda: That is beautiful. Thank you for sharing that because I think that that, that's it. That's spot on. You put the needle on the head or whatever the expression is. These are wonderful. These are wonderful. I think you, you've got two more.
Jennie: Well, I have one, one more. And that is the idea that this is hard. This is gonna be hard to be separate.
Jennie: And there is no doubt, and especially you and I in this industry, we hear the challenges. We know it can be isolating, we know it can be overwhelming. We know that, you know, it's it. You sometimes have to work harder to keep [00:39:00] those connections and be more creative and there's no minimizing. There are challenges, but I think that it's like putting a blue filter on your camera.
Jennie: When you think the thought, this is so hard. What happens is, We suddenly see all the things that are hard. Our brains are like magnets. The minute we decide something is true, we see all of those things and we see the heart, and we feel the heart, and we notice all the things we're doing, and we see how the kids are struggling because the partner's not here.
Jennie: It drains our mental health. When we believe that we make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, that it will be hard because what we do is we see the hardest, and when we're able to shift the filter and think to ourselves, This is gonna be fun. This is gonna be the exact thing to help me change my mental health, right?
Jennie: It's like putting a yellow filter or a red filter on, and we see things totally different. We suddenly start noticing the things. So I had a friend one time who was like, oh my gosh, I love it when my husband's outta town. And I was like, what? [00:40:00] Whatcha talking about? Do you, you guys have a good marriage, like how are things going?
Jennie: Right? And she's like, oh no, it's so great. I feel totally less stressed about dinner. And she's like, my husband doesn't even care if I have dinner, but I feel pressure to have some amazing family dinner when my husband's home. And she's like, when he's gone, the kids and I, we just eat cereal, or we just order pizza or we go to McDonald's.
Jennie: It's so much easier. I love it. And I was like, that is so interesting. I've never thought that before. And it doesn't even mean that has to be your priority, but hey, this is a fun chance for me to connect with the kids. So when my husband's gone, I'm like, Girls night, let's do nails. My husband's so darling, but like that's not gonna be fun for him.
Jennie: This is a great chance to have fun with my kids in a different way. Or, Hey, you know what? The thing that my partner and I kind of have friction over with the kids' parenting, guess what? Don't have to worry about that, right? My brain can just as easily focus on all the ways that this is fun, this is easy, this is helpful.
Jennie: As it can, the ways that it's hard, I might be thinking like, this is gonna totally drain my [00:41:00] mental health. There is no way I can do this. I don't have a, you know, a good support network here. I'm gonna have to stop all the things. What if you decided that this was gonna be the perfect thing to force you?
Jennie: To take care of your mental health. So most of us, when we have a partner around, we can kind of hobble along and do stuff. We don't have to ask for help. But you know what? When you're by yourself, you either sink or swim. And one of the best things is when you are in a position, you have to ask for help.
Jennie: You ask for help. And what if this is a perfect opportunity to practice asking for help? People are gonna feel a lot more willing to help too when they know you're on your own. Like this is a perfect chance to exercise those skills. Mm-hmm. This is the perfect chance to practice self-care. Right? So you could say to yourself, oh, I don't have time.
Jennie: There's no way I can do self-care. It's too stressful with the kids. Or you could say, I. I have to do self-care. I'm gonna fall apart for these kids. So that may look like locking the bathroom door while the kids are pounding on it and turning really loud Music on and taking a bath. It may look like getting a [00:42:00] babysitter, I don't know.
Jennie: You know what I'm saying? Yeah. So, yeah. Yeah. But take what you believe and question it and put a different filter on. Could the opposite be true and look for evidence that it could, and what's so amazing is when I put my magnitude, this is gonna be fun. I can't wait for this, my brain immediately finds evidence of that.
Jennie: And it's, it's, I love this quote by Sarah Ben Breathen, knock, she says, We always have two secret gardens that we contend. A garden of lack and a garden of abundance. Yeah. And whichever one we spend our time in is the one that grows. It's not that it's, it's not that either one isn't real. It's totally true.
Jennie: There are things lacking. Yes. Things are. It can be harder, but it's also true that things can be easier and more fun and it can be the perfect time. Yeah, that's a great
Rhoda: question. And you know, as you were explaining about the True Gardens, I was thinking you could move yourself, but you'd still have the true gardens and, and if you are habitually [00:43:00] tending the Garden of Lack, You're gonna be doing it in another circumstance too, you know?
Rhoda: So I think that's also a warning you have given us so much to think about. I think that's a pun. Um,
Rhoda: but I. Definitely it's an encouragement to notice what we think about, to write it down and to question it. Is this actually true or is it just what I'm thinking is happening? And to really question that within, and you've given us some five or six really important ones that that come up for a lot of us, and I think it's could be really useful for people who are listening.
Rhoda: If they thought one of these, or if they have another different thought to look at their life and say, is this really true? Is there an opportunity here where I'm actually seeing obstacles? Uh, so thank you so much for [00:44:00] sharing this with us. Also from your own experience. And, um, I'll write down in the show notes the different questions and uh, I'll also write down how people can be in touch with you.
Rhoda: And then you mentioned the webinar.
Jennie: In the webinar, I actually teach you three specific tools of how to shift those thoughts. And that is what I do in coaching, is I help people examine what's in their minds. And h is, is it useful? And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. And how do we shift that to be more useful and help them accomplish their goals?
Rhoda: I love that. Thank you so much, Jenny, for being with us. That was lovely. Thank you so, so much.
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.