Yesterday we revealed that the divorce rate of expatriates living in Dubai has risen by almost a third since 2009 and it is clear that, for some expats, living abroad can do more harm to their marriage than good. While many couples may find that living abroad brings them closer, others may experience the opposite and find expat relationships under enormous strain. Today we look at some of the common problems that couples who relocate face and provide some useful tips as to how you can stay strong as a couple.
Common Issues That Expat Relationships Face
All too often expats pour all their efforts into some of the more practical sides of moving overseas, such as finding somewhere to live, managing the move and finding new friends. While these are all important, it is also crucial that you consider some of the ways in which your relationship may be impacted. Here are some of the more common challenges that a couple may face when they relocate:
Anger or resentment about the move: Couples move abroad for many different reasons and it is very common for a move to be more important for one half of the couple than the other. For example, many people move abroad because of career requirements and, while the other partner may willingly accompany them, they may have mixed feelings that can surface once the initial excitement of the move has died down.
Stress: Moving overseas is a very emotionally draining and stressful experience. Some people endure this better than others and if one half of the couple is suffering, it can sometimes go unnoticed by their partner. A move abroad really can put pressure on a relationship and couples are forced to depend on each other far more in a foreign environment, if one partner can’t be there for the other or is not in touch with their feelings then this can cause a serious rift.
Loneliness: It is very normal for people to experience some degrees of loneliness when they first relocate to a new country and it can take time to build the network of friends that you need to support you when you are feeling down or homesick. Sometimes one partner may feel that they are lacking because their other half is experiencing problems.
The realization that moving overseas doesn’t solve old problems: Some couples move abroad for a new start and hope that a fresh outlook on life can help them to deal with any relationship issues that they were facing at home. While this may work for some couples, you should never assume that just because you are in a new location your problems will suddenly disappear.
Financial worries: Many couples find that their new country of residence present financial concerns that they hadn’t anticipated. Perhaps one partner is unable to find a job or the relocation package isn’t covering the style of life you intended.
Spending too much time apart: As revealed in the article we presented yesterday, many expatriate couples drift apart because they do not spend enough time together. One half of the couple may make frequent trips home because they are bored or lonely in their host country or perhaps the new job in the new location involves plenty of travel and one half of the couple is left to fend for themselves in the host country. Whatever the reason, frequent periods of time apart can really impact a relationship; does absence make the heart grow fonder or does time heal?
How to Stay Strong as a Couple After a Move Abroad
1) Concentrate on both the emotional and the practical elements of the move.
Of course all the practical elements of the move will be at the forefront of your mind. Where to live, which school your children should attend, which clubs you should join and what laws and regulations you need to abide by will all be important questions, but the emotional impacts are just as important. Make sure you face any emotional hurdles together, as a couple, and be open and honest about how you are feeling.
2) Ask for external assistance.
Use all resources available that are designed to help families to relocate and assimilate into life in a new country. If you are relocating as part of an internal job move, ask your employer if they have any programs available that are designed to help employees and their families through the adjustment period. If not, consider funding these yourself. Intercultural training, language classes and familiarization sessions can all help new expatriates to settle in more quickly to their new lives and find a support network that can help them through any difficult times. The sooner you feel at home in your new country the lower the strain that will be placed on your relationship.
3) Talk openly about finances.
If you are facing any financial difficulties talk openly and honestly about them instead of ignoring the problem and hoping that it will go away. If one partner is unable to find work, talk about other options that may be available, such as freelancing or opening a business.
4) Face up to your problems.
Whatever problems you are enduring, be it financial, emotional, resentment, anger… face up to them and talk openly about what you are experiencing. Ignoring problems will do nothing but make them worse.
5) Spend time together.
Spending time together as a couple is perhaps the most important thing that couples can do. Set aside time in your diaries to spend some quality time together, preferably without children; even if it is just for one or two hours a week. Using that time to explore new areas of your host country will be exciting and will help you to enjoy some of the nicer elements of expat life. If getting time away from the children is difficult, clear one evening per week where you put the children to bed early, turn the television off and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you can play a game, give each other a massage or simply chat over a bottle of wine, whatever it is, it will help you to find the friendship in your relationship and remind each other of what you love about the other.
6) Do things you’ve never done before
Moving abroad gives you a great opportunity to reinvent yourself and try things that you would never have considered doing in your host country. Use this opportunity well and try to enrich your lives together by doing something completely different.
7) Ask for help
If things are getting really difficult and you are seriously beginning to doubt if your relationship has a future, consider seeing a relationship councilor. For help finding a suitably qualified professional consult your local health care provider.
8) Don’t be afraid to go home
If your once-healthy relationship is struggling after your relocation and you can’t seem to iron out the problems, consider going home. While it may be slightly humiliating to return home after a grand exit and huge excitement about your new life overseas, if life abroad isn’t working for you, you need to accept it and move on.
There are no two ways about it, moving abroad will present some challenges. It is how you deal with these challenges that will impact whether your relationship survives the duration. If you are able to share your feelings, talk to one another and make sacrifices to support each other you will have a much better chance of staying strong as a couple.