Why expat couples face more problems than other couples and how to deal with them


Michael Hochberg

Impact on your relantionship

Moving abroad comes with the excitement of a new job, a new culture, and a new city, but the change also brings a lot of uncertainty, stress, and sometimes frustration.

While having your family close to you is the best option, moving abroad as expats usually changes the dynamic of the relationship between partners. This thing not only has an impact on any of the individuals, but it involves a tremendous impact (usually a negative one) on the relationship itself.

In my experience, many couples I’ve talked to have reported that the move was very stressful, and the partners started to have more fights and misunderstandings. Moreover, some even decided to move back home in under one year since the moment they arrived in the new country and perceived the move as a big failure.

I know from personal experience that uprooting your life, leaving your job, or changing your location will, understandably, impact your relationship. Unfortunately, not even a common cultural background cannot insulate partners from the difficulties they are bound to encounter abroad. 

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Expat relationships are more challenging than having a relationship in your native city.

Why? Mostly because when couples move abroad, a great deal of attention is focused upon the practicalities of moving overseas and settling in, instead of communicating with the partner the emotions, suffering or anxiety they feel.  

Find below a list of the extra strains that moving abroad puts on a relationship to which I will try to come up with some practical tools and insights to overcome them fully. 

So, a major change like moving abroad together introduces new stressors such as:

  • culture shock for the whole family – i.e. suddenly not being able to understand not only the language but all the subtle signals in the environment about the way things are done.
  • separation from one’s familiar support system – extended family, friends, community activities etc.
  • for the employed spouse, the corporate culture shock associated with having to adjust to French or European business practices which may bewilder and frustrate. 
  • for the accompanying spouse (90% of whom are women) the necessity of structuring a whole new life for him or herself. This is often particularly distressing if that spouse has given up a job or career to make the move possible and becomes financially dependent on the partner.

However, it is crucial that you take into consideration your personal relationships and work hard to counter any negative impacts that moving abroad can have. It is important that you work together with your partner through the entire process, otherwise, you could start to drift apart, and arguments will no doubt occur.

If you are completely honest with each other about all your feelings throughout, you are far less likely to find yourself in the middle of a relationship crisis. Remember that it is natural to be scared and apprehensive about moving your life to a new country but getting through it together will make everything much easier. 😊

Here are some tips that I’m sure will help both you and your spouse to stay strong throughout the whole move:

  • The best expat relationships involve strong and open communication between both partners. If you are moving for a job, make sure your partner is fully aware of all contractual obligations, as well as the package you will be receiving, job role and expected duration of contract. Involve them in selecting benefits (where applicable) and in defining your strategy when negotiating your contract. Use every resource on offer for your move.  Accept all help and advice as this will make everything so much easier for both of you. Your moving company will be able to help with the packing and may also be able to provide practical assistance to help you settle into your new life. Friends and family will also be on standby to help with anything that may need it.
  • Expat relationships depend upon mutual help and support. If your partner is giving up a career to move with you, look into the possibility of them finding suitable work in your host country.  Actively help your partner to research potential job opportunities and help them to establish methods of acquiring the relevant work permit or working visa. If working will not be possible, encourage them to consider other alternatives, such as studying or starting their own business. Put as many plans in place as you can before you move, so that you are both immediately occupied with things to do. This will help you both to settle in and will help to avoid homesickness.
  • If your partner plans on staying at home, research the expat community and see what is available for stay-at-home partners. In most cities around the world, there is usually an excellent social network for the trailing spouse (though this is normally aimed at wives). Each Expat Info Desk international relocation guide contains comprehensive information about groups, forums and clubs that expat wives, husbands and partners can join, in order to meet people and create social networks.
  • Always talk through all your problems and encourage the rest of your family to do the same. Remember that your partner is also your friend. Support each other and try and make light of even the most stressful situations. Never forget your sense of humor.
  • When you are both feeling particularly stressed, do something you both love. By enjoying yourself, you will forget the daily stresses that you have been through.
  • Learn a new skill and use this time to focus on something other than stress. There are many opportunities when you live abroad. Make the most of these opportunities and do things that you never would have had the chance to do in your home country.
  • Network with expatriate clubs and other expatriates. They will become your new friends and can offer you both support when you need it. 
  • Ultimately, for expat relationships to stay strong, you both need to listen to each other and talk your problems through. Support each other during the hardest times and make sure you take time out to enjoy each other's company and have fun.

Final considerations

 I hope this blog post will help you see that there is hope even in the midst of chaos. Although moving abroad is not an easy thing to do, it is an experience that can truly bond the partners together if they learn how to communicate with each other and accept that both parties have different feelings and different needs that need to be met.

When in need of a person that has gone through all this, that can listen without judgment and help you with proven tools to have a smoother move and a healthier relationship after the move, just send me an email and I’ll be happy to guide you through a happier future together.


michael hochberg

About the Author

Michael is a Master Coach with over 6 years of coaching experience and +30y of expat living experience - he lived in the US, the Middle East, and Europe.  

He now lives in Finland, enjoying the many countryside living perks, he is a teacher and also a father.