Protect your relationship as an expat

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Pressures on your relationship and how to avoid them

When you move abroad you don’t just leave your country, you leave behind your entire world. This lack of support, in the guise of friends and family, can have a number of effects on your relationship with your partner, and it’s these we are discussing in this Valentine’s Day post.

Avoid dependency on each other

Having left behind your support system back home, this means you are likely to be much more dependent on each other than you were previously.  For some couples, this can completely change the nature of your relationship so whilst it’s normal to rely on each other for emotional support, don’t make the mistake of getting all your emotional support met by your partner. You are both going through the cultural shock of moving abroad so it’s about supporting each other here and getting some of emotional support from other sources.

Be aware of the changing dynamic

The dynamic in your relationship will also change because of your changed circumstances. All your points of reference have gone, your support system has gone and you’re doing different activities and jobs. You might have been working previously and now you’re living abroad, you might not be.

Because you’re doing such different things, you’re also going to discover new likes and dislikes about each other that you didn’t know about previously. This means as well as adapting to a new country, you’re also learning lots of new things about each other. For example, I had a client who moved to an area where the cultural norm was to depend on your family network for support. In England you can rely on both family and friends to look after your children so when they moved abroad, she wanted and needed more support from her husband as she didn’t have this family network to rely on. This new dynamic put pressure on their relationship as he was working long hours and in addition to this, was asked to do something he’d never previously done. They talked about it and both adapted to the new dynamic, so he did end up helping out.

The way to avoid any potential friction is to be proactive about what is happening between the pair of you.

Recognise any changing dynamics and support each other. Don’t fall into the trap of having one of those discussions over who has had the worst day or the worst moving abroad experience as this is not constructive at all. As a partner, also be aware that if you’ve had a day where you’ve been home alone then you might be desperate to have a chat when your other half walks in.  But he might have had a really tough day at work and just want to unwind for a little time when he gets home.  So it’s about the balance.

From personal experience as a very sociable person, I find it hard to be by myself all day so was (in hindsight!) probably a bit too demanding of Rog’s time when he came home at night!  If you are struggling with being at home, then try to find other sources of conversation and companion even if it’s just a quick Skype call with a friend or something.

See it as an opportunity to bond

One of the nicest things about moving abroad together is that it’s actually a fantastic opportunity to bond and grow closer as a couple.  I don’t mean just spending time together at home either, it’s a chance to go out as a couple and try new experiences, to do things together that you’ve never done before.  In previous posts I’ve suggested how to find an activity which is unique to your new country – maybe a form of dancing or music class. Or maybe it’s about joining a hiking group. But the key here is to do these things together.

Remember to find mutual friends

There may be a tendency to develop individual social lives when you move abroad. If you’re busy trying to do stuff during the day and he’s at work then it is important that you go out and do things as a couple and meet people together. It’s great to have individual social lives in place but it’s also important to have a shared social life. This might have been something you took for granted before you moved abroad so it’s something to actively cultivate now you live overseas.

If there are children involved

If there you have children and are moving abroad, new issues might come up because the cultures are so different in your new country compared to your old country. For example in some countries they have 11 year olds babysitting and in others it’s more like 14 years old. You might find that you don’t agree with that particular custom but your partner does. So be aware of differences arising around cultural positions and remember to talk about them as grown-ups!

Moving abroad is an exciting time for any couple but like anything new, it comes with its own set of challenges. Be aware of any potential pressures which might come up, don’t despair if they do, talk them over and overall, use this opportunity to grow closer through this shared experience.

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