When a person moves abroad to work and their partner tags along, this often takes its toll on the relationship. In addition to the balance between the two of you being disrupted, you are also both faced with the challenges that come with building a new life or a new network. Read on to learn couple’s therapist Maj Wismann’s advice on how to make your relationship survive life as expats.
It can all seem quite rosy and fairytale-like to begin with: one person gets a job abroad, and the other person chooses to tag along as their partner. You’re now free to start this new life in a new country, and you’ll have new experiences together, and it’ll all be a bit of an adventure.
The thing is, it’s not a given that it’ll be all rainbows and butterflies.
“The reality is that a lot of couples will experience their ups and downs – also when moving abroad – and this is something you need to remember. Therefore, it’s a really great idea to talk about this before departure; make sure to voice how it’ll all be a lot of fun and a great experience but how it can also be challenging. If you don’t voice this, you’ll start to panic if things don’t run along smoothly right away”, couple’s therapist and sexologist Maj Wismann shares.
A big change
So what is the challenge in moving abroad? Well, first and foremost, you’re both creating a new life for yourselves – and for your kids too, perhaps – and this will always be somewhat challenging.
“More often than not, starting a new job is, in itself, rather straining: you’re facing new tasks, new ways to do things, new faces, and a whole host of other things. And when things at home change too, the things you need to deal with and learn how to do differently, just piles up, and frankly, this can be really exhausting”, Maj Wismann says. She continues: “I think it was the actress, Hella Joof, who pointed out that you shouldn’t divorce for the first four years after having a baby; you’re just not yourself during these years. It’s sort of the same thing when you move to a different country. Talk about this, voice your thoughts to each other, and be a bit forgiving during this process; remember that this move is a big change for both of you.”
Responsibility both at work and at home
Luckily, to a lot of expat-couples, the change to a new and different life is fine, despite the fact that you can experience both good and bad days. However, to some, it can be a problem that the partner tagging along is having trouble finding their feet. He or she often doesn’t have a job lined up for them, and it can be really tricky to find new friends in a foreign country.
“When the partner at home is having a hard time settling into the newness of it all, things can become really hard. For the partner already working, they’re very likely to feel exhausted from the new job, and it’s not a guarantee that they have surplus energy to handle a partner who’s not entirely happy.”
“A good piece of advice for the partner who’s working is to remind yourself that just like you have tasks at work, you also have tasks at home, and you have a responsibility at home as well. If you need to wind down after work, give yourself a 15-minute break to do so. This will help you clear your head before walking in the front door, and it’ll give you a bit of energy to remember to ask your partner how their day has been. This might sound like a small thing but it can mean so much”, Maj Wismann says.
Acknowledge one another
A partner choosing to follow their partner to a new country is a massive thing to do. It’s a huge declaration of love, and the partner working abroad needs to remember this and to acknowledge it. They need to appreciate it and to voice how much it means to them, and that they realize that this move affects both of them. However, you don’t want to make the partner coming along a victim either.
“It’s important to remind yourself that you’re an adult who has chosen to come along on this journey with your partner, and so, you share the responsibility of making things work. One of the great dangers you might encounter, moving abroad, is the loneliness you might feel if you don’t know anyone in the new country. And if this is the case, well, then you need to start meeting new friends. Contact expat groups, they’ll definitely help you, or you can find other ways to meet new people”, Maj Wismann suggests.
Create your own happiness
“Bottom-line, feel into what it is that you need. Happiness researchers tell us that having a meaningful life is what makes us happy. So what does it take for YOUR life to become meaningful? Think about this and then go out and search for whatever it is you feel like you need – if anything. At the end of the day, this is your responsibility. You can often find yourself trapped somewhere, spending a lot of time and energy feeling sorry for yourself, thinking about how awful you feel. Turn this around and say to yourself: “Hey, if it was up to me, I would….” And then take action”, Maj Wismann says.
The key to a successful relationship is being able to talk about the things that are bothering you. Voicing it, listening to each other, and taking your partner’s feelings seriously.
Remember to talk to each other, acknowledge each other, and respect that while all the newness is really exciting and filled with wonderful experiences, there might also be a bit of a grief inside each of you for having to leave behind ‘the old’. This is just part of the game. Accept it, respect it, and consider your joint journey abroad a partnership, and remember that you both own the responsibility of making this a success. Then I’m sure it will be exactly that!”
You can read more of Maj Wismanns blog post here.