Moving Abroad and the Strain on Relationships
At my daughter’s school here in Spain there are children of many different nationalities: there is a large contingent from Morocco and Tunisia, as well as others from France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and, of course, Britain.
The kids’ parents moved here in search of a better life in one shape or another. For many of those from North Africa the work prospects in Spain previously had been a big lure. One of her classmate’s parents, meanwhile, are from Paris. They left though because of the high cost of living there, and saw the prospect of a better way of life in Spain. We relocated for similar reasons.
But now, with Spain’s economy in the mire and unemployment rocketing, the father from Paris has had to go to Switzerland to find work. As a result, he’s only back to see his family one weekend a fortnight. The long absences are hard for all of them. But there’s bills to pay.
Not that this kind of separation, where a partner/parent – and most often the father – works away from home, is anything new. However, in this unprecedented period of global downturn it appears to be getting more common, as people seek out work wherever they can find it. And it is not just lower-income breadwinners who are going out into the world for the sake of a job.
For example, a Korn/Ferry Institute Executive Quiz released in November 2008 found 84 percent of executives were willing to consider relocating, with 55 percent willing to move overseas for their next position.
Of course, people don’t just move abroad from employment necessity. Rather, relocating – whether with an existing employer or a new one – can also be a great way to improve your prospects and climb the corporate ladder, as Stacie Nevadomski Berdan and C. Perry. Yeatman highlight in their book “Get Ahead by Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-Track Career Success.”
Still, whatever the reason for expatriating – whether it’s the opportunity of a big job promotion, the chance to put some cash in your pocket, the lure of a different culture or the thought of a nicer climate – it is important to be aware of the changes and stresses that can put on your relationships.
In the case of the father from Paris – and the millions of others in his position – it is the enforced distance and absence that will be the source of strain in a relationship.
But for those partners or families that relocate as a unit there are other issues to be aware of. For example, moving abroad may mean:
- Leaving your support network behind
- Leaving your job
- Coping with unfamiliarity
Oftentimes moving to another country means leaving behind your extended family and close friends, all those people you could call up when needed for babysitting duties, a night out on the town, or a shoulder to cry on. As a result, that network can act as a valuable pressure release valve in any relationship.
But in moving abroad there’s a good chance you’ll be pushed into closer intimacy – or at least proximity – with your partner, especially when you’re finding your feet in the early days. You may feel more isolated, or claustrophobic. You may end up being more dependent on each other for your emotional, social and intellectual needs than you’re used to. And that can lead to arguments.
Your partner may have a new job to go to when you land in your new country, but what if you’re the so-called ‘trailing spouse’? Will the move mean sacrificing your career, and all the sense of identity, purpose and social position that goes with it?
That can put a great strain on you both, and impact on the ultimate success of your overseas venture.
For example, KPMG’s 2008 Global Assignment Policies and Practices (GAPP) survey noted that 34% of the firms that participated said dual career couples increased the chance that their employee’s expatriate assignment would end in failure.
I remember the first time I used the post office when I moved to New York. It was a completely different system to the one I was used to – and the employee I dealt with wasn’t particularly sympathetic – so just sending a parcel took much longer than it ordinarily would.
And moving abroad means you’ll also have to wrestle with different social security requirements, health systems, utility companies, banks, insurers, local government bureaucracies, tax regimes and a host of other activities that constitute daily life. And if you have to do it all in a foreign language as well then the process becomes that much more complicated.
Then there are the cultural differences you must adapt to – things like social etiquette, timekeeping, the food in the shops, driving behaviour…
Many of these differences form part of the excitement and joy of living abroad – but inevitably they WILL bring frustrations too.
As a result, while living in a foreign country can bring enormous fulfilment and happiness, you’re also likely to get edgy and stressed, at least some of the time. And the people we tend to take it out on are our nearest and dearest. In moving abroad then it’s even more important to put in the time and effort to nurture your relationships.
Article Author: Paul M Allen
Paul Allen is a freelance journalist and writer who has lived in northern Spain since 2003. He is the author of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It’s Right For You,” a comprehensive e-book guide for people seeking advice on whether or not to move abroad. For more details about the book, and to get lots of free information and advice on moving and living overseas, visit his website at http://www.expatliving101.com