You may be in love and consider each other to be best friends and closest allies so you might believe that together you can conquer anything that life can throw at you. But you recently have issues. Issues that you can’t explain anyone living back home because they cannot relate. Living overseas is not an automatic route to divorce, but challenges await for every person who has just left them
Lack of communication
This applies to all relationships facing difficulty but is even more important when you are away from your support system. In many cases, you will both be experiencing the same problem, just in a different way. There’s a lot to worry about when establishing a new life: money, healthcare and more. But refusing to talk about them is a quick way for each partner’s stress levels to increase and to see the other as part of the problem. Set aside time to talk things through, seeking to find solutions rather than place blame.
Living in limbo
Some jobs will come with a definite end date, a contract that stipulates when you’ll be heading home. Whether this is measured in months or years, it means a lot. Having even the roughest plan can do a lot for your state of mind. Living in limbo, unsure of what direction your lives may be heading in, can be a major problem. Remember to make plans together and talk things through before making any changes. You are in this together, even if one of you is the main breadwinner. The feeling of uncertainty is all the more acute for spouses who, due to visa restrictions, are unable to work. I think I will have to write later how giving up a career can be a major cause of upset for expat partners.
Not having fun
It’s easy to underestimate the number of hours you’ll spend in the office, commuting or dealing with expat paperwork. All of which will limit the time you can spend together doing the exciting things you looked forward to. Set aside time to make the most of your experiences overseas, visit the tourist sights and try the food. Visit neighboring countries and get off the beaten track. Remember that your work may be demanding and you may find yourself in a culture where 9-to-5 is just the start of the working day. But also remember the sacrifices that you’ve both already made and make sure you reward yourself with enough pleasure to stay happy.
There’s a lot to think about when you move abroad. There’s plenty of practical problems to solve and a whole host of emotional baggage to carry as well. Where one of you may be working hard on one set of problems, the other may be working just as hard on another. Then on top of all that, you’ll each be dealing with anxiety about the move and a host of ‘what if’ scenarios about things that may go wrong. Even the most composed and organized of us is subject to stress, so show your partner some support and encourage them to talk about how they feel. You’re in this together and the best support you can get is from your other half. Stress can manifest itself in various ways, from sleepless nights and loss of appetite to irritability and mood swings. Identify these symptoms in yourself and your partner as early as you can and head things off before they lead to disaster. Try to manage the amount of pressure you are under. Prioritize tasks and spread the workload so you still get the chance to rest and enjoy your exciting new life.
The temptation exists everywhere in the world, but overseas a taste of the exotic can be irresistible. Suddenly a different set of cultural rules come into play and infidelity may be more accepted or risqué enough to be an exciting risk. Expats may suddenly find themselves fending off flirtatious behavior, contributing to the temptation. Any couple will deal with one partner’s misbehavior in their own way. For most, it is a make-or-break situation that either sees the couple strike out on separate paths or encourages them to talk about underlying issues and strengthen their bond.
Spending too much time together
It may seem unlikely, what with all the errands that need running, furniture to be bought and paperwork to be chased, but you may actually need to spend more time apart. Your partner may be the only person you know in the country, so there is a temptation to stick together and confront culture shock together. This can be limiting as you only visit sights you both agree on and don’t strike up conversations with strangers. It’s important also for you to feel independent in your new country, able to take on whatever challenges the day throws at you. If you and your partner are always within reach of each other, neither of you will develop the confidence as individuals to take on the world. Spending all your time together also leaves you at risk of losing you individual identity. You have been removed from the friends, hobbies and cultural norms that helped define your personality, but now you are just one of a pair.
Being a ‘trailing spouse’
It’s a curious quirk of expat life that a significant portion of the overseas couple has only one partner in work. And in 90% of cases, that’s the male.
In most cases is it a term of the visa that only one of the two can work, limiting the ambitions of the other.
It may be that this works out well, giving you the chance to enjoy a career break just when you needed one. Alternatively, you may need to put a successful and fulfilling career on hold indefinitely.
At first this may seem like a nice holiday, but when boredom creeps in, swiftly followed by money worries, you may wish you could go back to work. It may also affect your self-esteem, having to rely on your working partner for financial support.
Look into your visa terms and see exactly what is prohibited. You may be able to fill the gap by working remotely for a company back home or on a self-employed basis. Failing that, look into volunteering with charities or community groups.
Loneliness and homesickness are common afflictions when you move abroad. Anywhere you arrive that is removed from family, friends and familiar language is bound to leave you rattled. Reach out to fellow expats, colleagues and acquaintances, and cultivate a circle of friends that you are comfortable spending time with together as well as apart.
It’s likely that one of you is the driving force behind the move. You may be heading back to their homeland, or they may be joining you as you start a new job. Whatever the case, make sure you both get a fair deal. If one of you thinks their sacrifices are going unrewarded or underappreciated, there is the potential for a lot of bad blood to develop. Communication is key at all stages to make sure you both understand how each element of the move and life overseas is affecting each other.
Don’t expect a move to solve old problems
For many immigrants, the move abroad is an exciting chance to explore a new country and find new challenges in life. For others it’s a chance for a fresh start, escaping from troubles at home. If this is the case, then bringing your troubles with you is counterproductive. It may be that the relationship is in trouble, for whatever reason, and a move overseas is not going to fix it. Instead, you risk being on the other side of the world, potentially facing a heart-breaking decision to leave your partner adrift overseas. Because of this agonizing dilemma, and out of a sense of loyalty, some expats struggle on. As painful as it is to stay in an unhappy relationship, some will stay together for a variety of reasons, often making the situation worse. Before leaving, make sure that both parties are happy to make the change and are prepared to face the challenges ahead. If the relationship woes are truly a deal-breaker, make the split before leaving and the traveling partner can at least enjoy a fresh start.