Moving abroad can be one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences in a couple’s life. It can also be incredibly challenging and stressful. Most couples would agree that living in a foreign place is a full-bodied experience brimming with new sights, smells, sounds, tastes, traditions, etiquette, and maybe even a new language. Depending on the circumstances of your move, it may be a desirable or unwanted change. Whatever your reasons for living abroad, there are ways to consistently connect with your partner throughout the adjustment period, however long that might be.

What to expect with a move abroad: 

It can be hard to predict what your experience will be like, because that depends on many different factors. For example, you may have already spent time in your destination country, and already speak the language. On the other hand, perhaps this is your first encounter, and there will be a great deal to learn. Either way, it is fair to say that one should expect to go through some amount of stress, whether positive or negative, major or minor. 

There will undoubtedly be aspects that feel rewarding, and aspects that feel challenging. Of course, one hopes that your experience will be overwhelmingly positive, and that the experience will be fulfilling for you as a couple. However, be aware that it is very normal to struggle through the adjustment period, and that most individuals experience some level of “culture shock.” The dictionary defines this as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.”

Signs that you or your partner may be struggling with the move: 

  • Low mood and energy for most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of two weeks or longer
  • Persistent negative thinking
  • Heightened anxiety or tension in your body
  • Feeling so lonely and out of place to the point that you avoid social interaction
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Frequent daydreaming of and longing for home
  • Decreased ability to enjoy familiar activities
  • Decreased appetite and difficulty sleeping

In addition, you may experience stress as a couple. This could be characterized by increased fighting, decreased lovemaking, or a sense of disconnect over your vision or purpose for having moved abroad. All of these are signs that it’s time to prioritize your bond by turning towards one another.

10 Tips to navigate a move with your partner:

  1. Take time to reflect. Begin by taking time to reflect on how you are handling the experience of moving abroad thus far. This could take the form of journaling or verbally processing with a friend. Try to observe your inner experience without judgement.
  2. Take time to connect. The most important piece when talking with your partner is to validate each other’s experience, regardless of how different it may be to your own. There are inherent challenges to being in a foreign culture. Something as simple as asking for a haircut in a second language can feel terrifying. Be compassionate, and let your partner know that his or her emotional experience is valid and understandable. Show your partner that you care through active listening.
  3. Practice curiosity. Set an intention for yourselves as a couple to seek out one new and interesting cultural experience each week. It could be trying a new cuisine, learning a new phrase, attending an event, or speaking with a new acquaintance. Schedule time at the end of each week to talk about what you’ve experienced and enjoy the discovery together.
  4. Develop individual interests. Just as you would in your home environment, make sure you attend to your personal pursuits. This is partly for self-care, to foster the aspects of yourself that make you uniquely you. It will also benefit your relationship when you press into your potential and curiosity, and then share your experience with your partner.
  5. Create comfort. Design safe spaces in your environment that bring you comfort. You might frame photos of family or friends, burn candles with familiar scents, or set up decorative items brought from home.
  6. Practice culture-keeping. Cultural identity is an important part of life. We may begin to feel something is significantly missing if we neglect primary aspects of our home culture, because they are ingrained in us and rich with meaning. Culture-keeping can look like celebrating home holidays, even if your new country does not recognize them. Or it can be as simple as eating ketchup with french fries, even though people in your new country always pair fries with mayonnaise. Whatever it is, invite new friends to join in, and introduce them to your home customs.
  7. Keep in touch. Calling, texting, or writing letters home regularly can help with homesickness. However, make sure you do not miss out on the opportunity to develop new connections as a result of spending too much time chatting with old ones.
  8. Reach for outside support. If you are struggling to adjust to your new environment, it can help enormously to find a local therapist who is of your nationality, or familiar with your home culture. Many cities will have expat therapists who can understand the nuance of your experience. In the age of telehealth, you may even meet with a home-based therapist via the internet for individual or couples counseling.
  9. Prioritize romance. Set your intention as a couple to nurture your romantic bond. This could take the form of a regular date night or romantic ritual, and may also include regular lovemaking. If you have experienced lower libido as a result of your big move, rest assured that this is normal, and that for many partners, it eventually returns to normal levels. The key is to slow down, be patient, communicate, and be present with one another.
  10. Be gentle with yourselves, and celebrate the wins. Remember, there are days that this will feel hard. After all, you have taken a major, potentially life-changing step. Recognize your strength and courage, and notice how you have grown as a result of braving new things!

Wherever you find yourselves, and whatever the context of your move, know that there is daily opportunity to turn towards your partner as you walk through this experience. Many couples grow closer as a result, because it requires deliberate awareness and intention to transition effectively. There are particular aspects of living abroad that cannot be replicated by staying in your familiar home environment. It is both delightful and difficult at times. May your closeness shelter you, and may you discover joy in the experience together. 

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