LOVE & BELONGING NEEDS
By nature, people want to make emotional connections. Healthy individuals find ways to interact through communication and shared experiences. These connections give us motivation, identity, security and love. It is through friendship, family gatherings, and career status that spouses gain a sense of belonging. Without these connections, spouses can feel isolated, lonely, and even depressed. There are giant hurdles for the spouse to disconnect from the ‘old self’ and the group of friends, family, and work attached to who they once were. Starting a new life, and recreating that sense of belonging is scary and exciting at the same time. Unfortunately, it is something that is necessary on a regular basis. Not every spouse can handle the disconnected feeling and the recreation of their life and identity every 2-3 years.
The Department of State (DOS) recognizes these challenges and does employ several faculty to oversee necessary functions to help make the transition easier. Within the embassy community, the Community Liaison Offer (CLO) is the lifeline for many spouses. The CLO does it’s best to coordinate events and gatherings for spouses to meet, acquaint themselves and start building relationships with each other. The CLO is also responsible for sending regular newsletters to all members, keeping everyone updated on events and other relevant community information.
Within DOS, there are a plethora of resources available through the Family Liaison Office (FLO), and the American Foreign Service Association with it’s publication, the Foreign Service Journal. Spouses can connect with several online Facebook Groups, blogs and other outlets that attempt to build a sense of community, belonging, and togetherness. The challenge though remains, how well adjusted is the spouse to this new environment? How effective is social media at giving spouses meaningful connections with friends and family back home, and at previous posts?
While many people may think the easiest way to jump in is to get involved, it isn’t always that easy. There are several factors that may keep a spouse from reaching out and feeling connected to their new environment and community. If the spouse is already overwhelmed with culture shock and frustrated with the ‘lack’ of satisfactory housing, or stuck in the safety needs by living in a very dangerous place, the idea of getting involved can be very daunting, and nearly impossible. Especially for spouses that accompany an officer to a ‘war-zone’ and are restricted to staying within the walls of the compound. Each post has it’s own ‘issues’ that must be taken into consideration, along with the personality of the spouse and their individual level of comfort to reach beyond the barriers of getting involved.
Many spouses are able to gain a sense of belonging through jobs offered within the embassy community. For some, work may not be an option or a desire, leaving them in search of other avenues to find their group. In addition, many spouses find themselves over-qualified for the majority of positions available. This, in itself, lends frustration to spouses as not only demeaning, but with feelings of suppression. Unless a spouse wants to join the DOS, and work as a tandem couple, the opportunities for advancement are extremely rare. Depending on the post, work outside the embassy may not be available, much less easy to obtain without fluent language.
Finding meaningful relationships outside the insulated American community, however, can offer spouses a very rewarding experience and different sense of belonging – a belonging to a larger group of individuals. Connecting with Expatriates (Expats) can give spouses a sense of identity that is also formed through shared experiences, challenges and overcoming of obstacles.
In addition to reaching out to the larger Expat community, spouses can form relationships with the citizen’s of their host country and grow and actualize through the opening of their heart and mind to another culture. This is common with spouses that have housekeepers, nannies, cooks and/or personal drivers. Even though the spouse employs these individuals, they frequently become the family the spouse needs. The emotional connection is made because they are the ones that are there during crisis and emergencies, there for the good and the ugly days, and the ones that are there to help overcome some of the most simple tasks – like finding the best meat.
To be continued…UP NEXT: The Evaluation, Part 3.