Humans communicate from the moment they perceive each other. It is impossible not to, even if no words are verbally spoken or exchanged. Interested to know what expats say even not saying anything? Keep reading.
According to Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian psychologist who studied communication and its integral role in our lives, we would not be where we are now without communication. We wouldn’t have evolved or advanced this far because communication is more than mere words.
Everything we do and all our behaviors are forms of communication – there is no such thing as non-communication.
Just like how we move around and walk daily or perform habitual tasks like brushing our teeth, humans go most days without putting any conscious thought or effort behind communication. For this reason, we tend to forget its importance and the impact it has.
We learn rules about what to say and how to say it. Even though effective communication isn’t always simple, these rules become embedded in our lives and relationships to where communication is like an automated process.
So, what happens when we uproot ourselves entirely from our routines? How does this concept of communication being inherent in life impact expats living abroad?
What expats say: We cannot not communicate, also in our expat life.
In following along with Watzlawick’s premise, we are still communicating a message even when we do nothing.
There are certain expectations of expat life fitting in this premise, let me give you the most common ones:
1.- Making new friends.
For most of us, the older we get, the more challenging this task can become. This is especially true for expats who might feel alone, shy, and out of social practice.
But when you have the opportunity to be around another person or group of people, doing nothing might convey something more off-putting than any awkward statement or mispronounced word ever could.
When you don’t say anything, it can communicate a lack of interest in what the other person is saying.
2.- Keep in touch with family.
You might be going through a lonely and emotionally distressing time, where all you want to do is talk to someone who understands you. Then again, you don’t want them to worry about you, so maybe you decide not to say anything.
When you do this, you communicate to your family that you don’t need anything.
3.- Communication that lies within romantic relationships.
According to Watzlawick, relationships are where all communication originates. Communication is the fruit of exchanging information, and when information is exchanged effectively, openly, and honestly, our partner can receive that message fully.
The problem is that we often communicate verbally in one way but take actions that follow a different direction.
A lack of consistency in communication as expats can be detrimental to relationships – not only romantic ones.
As an expat couple, certain relationship factors will test you, and communication is the biggest one. Not only that, but with what we know from Watzlawick’s theory, communication is behind all of them.
Making things work as an expat couple includes everything from a willingness to have tough conversations to making compromises. If you don’t say what you mean and mean what you say to your partner, things can get complicated and confusing.
Your communication, verbal or non-verbal, can cause your relationship to collapse gradually because your communication backbone wasn’t supportive enough to withstand these significant changes together.
As you continue along your journey as an expat, allow communication to become a conscious effort in your life.
When it comes to maintaining healthy relationships and making new ones, remember that there is always more to your message than what you put into words.
I strongly recommend you follow Watzlawick’s work, especially 2 books:
If you are an expat and need support in this or other challenges of living abroad, contact me. As an online psychologist specialized in expat women living abroad, I can help you work through these struggles and identify productive ways to manage this significant transition and journey.
Take the reins now and live a fulfilled and happy international life, wherever you are, wherever you are heading!
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By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.