Moving your marriage abroad

Moving to the Netherlands - or any new country for that matter - can be daunting and most definitely stressful. It becomes even harder when you have a spouse to take into consideration. The situation needs to be handled sensitively otherwise your relationship may become strained.

Main challenges expatriate couples face

A survey conducted by the 2008 Global Assignment Policies and Practices (GAPP) has identified the main challenges that expatriate couples will face when moving abroad:
Feelings of isolation from being far removed from friends and family.
A sense of unfamiliarity induced by living in a foreign country, particularly if the culture and language are very different to home.
Changes in lifestyle, which includes larger / smaller accommodation, domestic help and elevated social duties.
Financial dependency on one’s spouse.
Difficulty in finding suitable and / or rewarding employment. 

It is important that couples who are planning on moving abroad are aware of these challenges and be prepared for them.

Taking charge of the challenges

Communication is key in situations like this. You need to be sensitive to how each other are feeling every step of the way. The relocation process could be affecting each of you differently and you will need to be prepared to handle this - a strong support base is vital.

If problems are arising and you feel that you may need some outside advice then a good suggestion would be to see an expat life coach who can guide the conversation and suggest solutions to problems.

Also make sure that both of you have done your homework. Do lots of research about where you will be moving to. This will ease the shock of the transition. Internet is an abundance of information, from expat guides and forums to social media sites, like facebook and twitter, and blogs written by experienced expats. By sourcing and reading these sites and asking the right questions, you will be able to get a very good idea of what to expect.

Once you have moved, do not forget your friends and family back home. They will serve as a strong support base for you as the familiarity will ease the sense of isolation. Again, tools such as skype, blogs and facebook will make it easier to stay in touch.

Another tip, if you are being sent overseas by a corporation, is to ensure your contract includes periodic flights back home.

Make connections with people

During the initial phase of relocation, it is important to get out there and socialise so as to avoid social isolation. Be proactive; try joining the gym or other clubs that are available. If you are the "stay-at-home" spouse who may or may not be looking for a job, then try interacting with people at your spouses work functions.

Social isolation often leads to couples putting too much pressure on each other when they have no friends to spend time with or confide in. It can only get harder when your spouse is meeting new people through the new work environment. There are many online forums that you can join where you can meet fellow expats who are in the same situation as you. Dutch language classes are also another great way of bridging that gap and will also give you something to do and a place to meet people.

Taking roles in the relationship

If you have moved with your spouse due to his / her job in the Netherlands, then you may very well be finding yourself in a strange new country, completely dependent on your spouse’s income. This can put heavy stress on the marriage and can undermine a partner’s sense of self-worth.

A solution here could be for each partner in the marriage to take control over different areas of their expat life. So while the one spouse is out working, the other could be managing the household, social life and education for their children. It is so important that you work together as a team, not just for yourselves, but for your children too. If you are feeling overwhelmed and "out-of-sorts" in the new country then your children are feeling it too, along with all your tension.

These are all tools to aid an expatriate couple for moving their marriage abroad. These challenges are exactly that, challenges. There is no reason why they cannot be overcome and turn an ordinary marriage into an exceptional partnership.

If a couple can work together through the challenges of moving abroad - rather than against each other - and openly communicate their feelings and anxieties to one another, moving abroad can be a fantastic experience to share.

David Fair


David Fair publishes over 100 online destination guides to help global expats plan their move abroad and optimize their lives on arrival. City-based experts works with the editorial team to produce...

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