There are many reasons why couples decide to make the move abroad: for some it is a new, international career that makes them choose expat life, others are looking for an adventure, more freedom, or better opportunities
Although expatriating with your significant other might seem glamorous at first, many underestimate the toll a move abroad can take on their relationship. Although every move has some stressful elements, in this case, you can add jet lag, culture shock, loss of a well-known social circle, and homesickness to the mix.
We have put together six tips to help you save your relationship throughout the difficult adjustment period of moving abroad.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but throwing yourself into a new adventure is a rather common solution many couples choose to save their relationship. No matter if it is re-modeling their house, having a baby, or moving abroad, big changes are perfect for forgetting any issues or conflicts lingering under the surface. However, these conflicts have a way of catching up and becoming particularly destructive when you are without the support of your family and friends, and battling culture shock.
So make sure that you resolve all major and minor conflicts before you pack up your belongings and have them shipped overseas. That way, you can be sure that when the stress becomes overwhelming and homesickness begins to kick in, old arguments won’t come boiling up again.
Getting settled abroad can take a while. At first you may be surprised to find that not everything is as perfect right away as you had imagined. When you feel unhappy with the situation — comparing everything to how you lived your life back home — that might just be a symptom of culture shock. Before you take it out on your partner, make sure to talk it out.
Sometimes it can really help to say “I’m frustrated because…” or “I miss my friends back home when…” Especially if your partner isn’t struggling the way you are, it may be hard for them to understand what you are going through. If you let them know why you are feeling the way you are feeling and acting the way you are acting it will make it easier for them to find a way to support you and help you overcome your culture shock.
Changes are exciting, but they also come with a lot of hurdles. When your partner is exhausted after a long work day or cranky because they clashed with the new neighbors; when you wait in line at the foreigners office to secure a residence permit and are told that you don’t have the right documents with you; when you realize that you don’t know your way around and buying essential, everyday items takes forever, arguments caused by stress and exhaustion are not rare.
In those moments, it is important to cut your partner (and yourself) some slack. Remember that you are both human and that it is natural to get tired or frustrated. When things get overwhelming, take a minute to be kind to each other: take your partner out to dinner, explore town together and pick your new favorite spot, or just share some ice cream in front of the TV. Sometimes little moments like these can make it easier to get through a rough day and feel like you’re a team again. And maybe you can even come up with a game plan to deal with those neighbors.
Starting a life abroad also means finding a new social circle and trying out new hobbies. If only one of you is working full-time, you may realize that your interests and favorite leisure activities have become very different. One of you might enjoy going out for after-work drinks with colleagues while the other volunteers at the local animal shelter; one of you might prefer spending their free time at home with a good book while the other tries out new sports like rock climbing or waterskiing.
Of course, you are both individuals and it can be healthy to do some things on your own. That way, you will establish a life outside of your expat relationship, make new friends, and learn to feel at home more quickly. At the same time, nothing speaks against sharing your interests with your partner every once in a while.
When working off their to-do list, many expats forget to also take care of their relationship. It doesn’t come as a surprise that between moving, apartment hunting, and the job search, romance often falls by the wayside. Even though those first few weeks can be hectic, try to set aside an hour here or there for some couples time, be it a candlelit dinner, a romantic walk on the beach, or something fun, like hitting a karaoke bar together.
It is worth reminding yourself that love and romance is what brought you together and that it still has a place in your life, despite all those pesky but necessary chores.. Romantic texts or secret messages scribbled on a post-it can help you integrate romance into your hectic work day. This will help you to appreciate your partner even more and the fact that you can share your expat experience with them.
To be fair, some relationships and marriages are just bound to crumble under the pressure of expat life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that both partners didn’t try hard enough to make it work. In some cases, people who once loved each other (or still do) grow apart to a point where the relationship is just not salvageable anymore.
When your love life consists only of frustration and fighting, this can make it even harder to build a new life abroad. In that case, ending the relationship amicably before anybody gets hurt can save you both from a lot of emotional turmoil.
Elena Born studied in Tübingen and Salem, Oregon, and has been working in the Content & Communications Department of InterNations for six years.