David Fair advises couples on the risks, rewards and remedies surrounding this important transition.
With all the packing and planning that goes into moving abroad, many couples forget to prepare for one of the most important changes of all: the change to their relationship. Studies show that moving abroad places stress on a marriage; stress that can either make or break the relationship.
The 2008 Global Assignment Policies and Practices (GAPP) survey showed that the main challenges to expat couples, especially where one partner follows their spouse abroad, are:
Meeting these challenges may not be easy but it is possible. By far the most important strategy is also the most simple: communication. Talking to one another openly and frequently is crucial if couples are to fully understand how the relocation is affecting each other at all times. Expat life coaches suggest scheduling a weekly meeting where one sets an agenda to discuss the ‘business matters’ of the move. The key is to be open and honest, and to adopt a problem solving mindset.
It is also vital to have realistic expectations and objectives concerning the move. Gather as much information together before you go so the shock of the transition is less severe. Read detailed expat guides, visit forums and read relevant blogs to give you a sense of how other people have met and overcome the challenges of an expat life.
Another important tip is to keep in touch with people from home; the familiarity will ease the sense of isolation. Tools such as Skype, blogs and Facebook now make this much easier to achieve, of course. If you are being sent overseas by a corporation, another tip is to ensure your contract includes periodic flights back home.
A key stress factor is social isolation during the initial phase of relocation. This often leads to couples putting too much pressure on each other while they have no friends to spend time with or confide in. You can overcome this by joining clubs or the gym, and interacting with people at your spouse's work functions.
As a spouse, it is essential to be active in this regard, especially if your spouse automatically meets plenty of people in their new work environment. If you have children, for example, you might become friendly with the parents of their classmates. There are expat forums and groups that you can join to connect with other people in your situation.
And take a language class: in addition to meeting people in a similar position, you can also get a grip on the local language and start to connect better with local people.
Another frequently reported stressor is when one spouse becomes financially dependent on the other as a result of relocation. This upsets the dynamics of the marriage and can undermine a partner’s sense of worth.
One solution is for each partner to take control over different areas of their expat life. While one spouse works, the other can be responsible for managing the home, social life and education of the children. The key is to work together as a unit, meeting and overcoming challenges together.
Making it a success
The adventure of expat life involves a range of relationship stresses to go along with all the positive experiences. Yet many expats report that moving abroad turned an ordinary marriage into an exceptional partnership that lasted long after the strains of relocation were over. If a couple can work together through the challenges of moving abroad—rather than struggling against each other—and openly communicate their feelings and anxieties to one another, moving abroad can be a fantastic shared experience.
Globe Media Ltd
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