During the time that I have been living in Mexico, I have worked with many international families. They were in Mexico City mostly as a result of the husband’s work transfer. The contact with these families, however, usually came as a result of their need for help.
Although each family has been different, there was a pattern quite frequent among those who were having adjustment difficulties. The executive husband was overworked, yet, stimulated by the challenge of working in Mexico. The satisfaction of contributing and being an important member of an international team more than compensated for the long hours and being continually frustrated with the way business was done in Mexico.
The wife, on the other hand, had quite a different experience. Unable to work and confined to her walled-in house, she usually felt isolated from friends, family, and familiar surroundings. She had to struggle to share her intimate space with a maid she couldn’t understand and was unfortunately separated from her husband for longer and longer periods of time. She felt abandoned, ignored, and overwhelmed. The husband, doing his best to keep his professional head above water, became increasingly more impatient with his wife’s constant phone calls to the office. On the one hand, he wanted to be attentive and sympathetic to his wife’s dilemma. On the other, he was angry and frustrated by his wife’s apparent unwillingness or inability to “make the best of things.”
Being conscious of her unhappiness and unwilling to add “fuel to the fire”, the husband would hold back information about his problems as well as stifle his anger and irritation with his wife’s inability to cope. While there may have been some benefit to such a stoic response, the husband’s silence only served to further isolate his spouse. Sensing her husband’s impatience and disapproval, the wife felt that much more misunderstood and cut-off from the love and attention she so desperately needed. There is no wonder why these couples sought out psychological consultation.
While these wives were the most obviously troubled by the transition to Mexico, there was always an assortment of marital and family issues which contributed significantly to their anxiety and difficulty adjusting. In some cases, for instance, the husband had a pattern of ignoring or minimizing his wife’s feelings and problems. Even under the best of circumstances, the marriage was strained. With the added problems of struggling to live and work in Mexico, the wife’s frustrated needs for attention, understanding, and companionship pushed her to the edge. With a more sensitive and attentive husband, such women might have been able to make a more positive adjustment.
Within these families, there was also a tendency for one or more of the children to experience school problems. This only exacerbated the mother’s belief that a mistake was made by coming to this “polluted, strange, and horrible” place. Their problems caused considerable stress for the mother who was left alone to find a way to help them. Problem compounded problem and it soon became too much to bear. One international family after another, coming apart at the seams, would pass through my consulting room.