Expat couples: Long-distance relationships
Working as psychologist in Amsterdam I often meet people who have relationship issues: long-distance relationships, mixed couples and mutual adaptation, migrant couples struggling to reinvent themselves.
The therapeutic environment is a good point of view to watch what is happening to these expat couples and has prompted me to write this series of articles, hoping to be useful to you as a reader.
Becoming an expat
A good work or study opportunity is usually the main reason for one of the partners to emigrate with the intention to return after a specified period of time (usually one or two years) or to open the way to the other half in the new country.
The economic crisis is pushing more and more people to move out - they take a risk hoping to make a better future for themselves. Becoming an expat and (temporarily) saying goodbye to the partner that stays behind brings unexpected difficulties into our lives.
The physical distance
The physical distance between us and our partner especially changes the way we experience our affectivity. Very often long-distance relationship issues are about jealousy, emotional distress (missing contact) and loneliness.
Skype buffers but does not satisfy completely, and the reduction of sex certainly doesn’t help: basically the couple often just "survive."
If in fact those who remain at home consider the new environment of the emigrated partner a threat, the latter often experiences feelings of deep loneliness and jealousy for enterprising ex-partners ready to attack!
They are part of a mechanism of our mind, always frightened by what one doesn’t know and by all the changes that undermine the security of our habits and comfort, so patiently built over the years.
Often these fears become overwhelming and the couple breaks up, blaming the physical distance:
› "If he / she had not moved!"
› "If I had stayed!"
Something already broken?
How do we figure out if the physical distance is the cause of the separation or if there was already something broken between the two?
Therapy definitely helps, because only if you go deeper you can truly understand if the distance is only physical or if it is also emotional and psychological.
In my opinion, the point is: if there is mutual love and common purpose to build a life together, it is not the physical distance which really separates, nor the possibility of a tempter / temptress that turns the partner into prey.
A true relationship test
The physical distance tests the strength of a couple and it is a stimulus to find a new way to relate and unite. It gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and our relationships from a new point of view, which can help us to grow and merge even in a deeper way.
We often take our partner for granted and forget his / her preciousness, while the distance can teach us to appreciate our beloved again.
Opportunity or obstacle?
I recommend to use this experience as an opportunity and not as an obstacle, because it is how we decide to experience it which determines its outcome.
The distance can be a good opportunity for many reasons: cultivate more friendships, think about ourselves and what we want to do in life, revive old interests and develop new ones, feel a stronger trust for our partner.
As far as I am concerned, the physical distance will never be the real cause of a separation. It can definitely speed up the process, but that means it was already in place and we were not aware of it, or it can bring to light aspects of the couple that were hidden and which are now on the surface.
In short, if the couple breaks up, it is for the emotional and psychological distance, covered by the habits and comfort of the physical proximity and of the fear of being alone and starting a new life again.
Here some "invitations" that I would like share with you. I hope that you find them useful...
› If you feel jealousy, don’t repress it or act it out against your partner, but share your feeling with simplicity and innocence.
› Use the distance as a tool that, paradoxically, brings you more close emotionally. Share what is happening in your daily life and especially what is going on inside you, what you feel.
› Share your new awareness about yourself and your relationship: what you really want and what you really need.
› Do not listen to friends and relatives and their experiences. Each couple is unique, you are unique, but at the same time feel free to share your feelings with them.
› Try to meet each other alternately at least once a month and involve yourself in the new life of your partner, even if it is only for a short time.
› And finally, most of all, be open and create a bridge of communication based on your sincere feelings. You will discover that it will not cover only the physical distance, but it will bring you closer to each other, as never before...
Are you or have you been in a long-distance relationship? What problems have you encountered? What advice would you give to other couples?