Expat Marriage Part 1: The Impacts of Moving
Updated: Aug 30
Sometimes google can be really harsh. When you type in: How does moving affect marriage? It will give you the following answer:
"Unfortunately, moving can be one of the most stressful experiences you have in your life, and it can put major strain on your marriage, potentially increasing your risk of divorce."
That is honest. Brutal, but honest. At least for us who are expats. And I am wondering if someone ever told you about this risk, when you were preparing for your move? After all, moving is part of your chosen life.
It is almost impossible to find an accurate number of the divorce rate for expats vs. couples who stayed in their home country. Some writers suggest that companies just don't care and rather live in the unknown than to be confronted with a fact they may not like. Ignorance is bliss. But on one thing researchers are sure and that is that the divorce rate among expats is higher.
But what are the factors that lead to expat marriages ending in divorce? What is it about living in a new country that puts such a strain on relationships? And maybe most importantly, what can you do about it to live happily ever after your expat assignment?
We will contemplate different factors one at a time and we start this series with one that is often overlooked: The Impacts of Moving
Take a look at the 5 most stressful life events:
Death of a loved one
Major illness or injuries
Moving is listed among the 5 most stressful life events and they are not even talking about moving countries, but rather moving from one city to another in the same country.
There is the obvious fact that nobody likes moving. You don't need me to tell you that the move in itself (packing those boxes, etc.) is stressful. But there is something else that moving implies: It messes with our routines. How?
Well, do you remember when you first moved in with your partner? In most cases this is an exciting phase. You rent or buy a place together and then you have to make it your home. You may not be aware but this means making hundreds of decisions and we are generally tired of making decisions. But you have to: Where does the couch go? Where do you put the bed? Where do you put the plates, cooking utensils, the coffee machine, the books, the plants (do you even want plants?) What about pictures? What about the colors for the walls?
You see, you and your partner have to make so many decisions and it is quite normal that you don't agree on everything. And this will lead to arguments.
Eventually, your place is decorated, all the boxes are unpacked and now you and your partner will develop a routine of how to live in your new place: Who will do the cooking? Who does the shopping, the cleaning and who showers first? Who sleeps on which side of the bed? Who parks which car where? Who makes breakfast? The list goes on. You develop a routine without even noticing it and that routine will give you security and comfort.
Imagine you now decide to move to another country, maybe even another continent. You have to leave all of your comfort and security behind and start fresh. You have to redefine how your relationship works and that will lead to disagreements, arguments and fights. And we haven't even talked about how the new country in itself will impact your marriage. Only the fact that you are moving, will test your marriage.
Now what can you do about it?
First of all, being aware goes along way. If you understand what is happening at home, why you have discussions about topics that were solved a long time ago, you learn grace with yourself and with your partner. You know you will have to figure out how to live together in this new place and therefore you prepare in advance. Arguments about where to put the furniture are normal. Arguments about who is doing what in what way are normal. It doesn't mean you don't love each other any more. It just means you are having to make a lot of decisions all at once in an unfamiliar place and figure out a new routine and that is hard work and super stressful.
If your are willing to go the extra mile, you can even use your move to enhance your relationship. You see, on the flip side of having a routine awaits excitement, new chances and personal development. You can use this time to break out of habits that really didn't serve you or your partner. You can create a new home! It all comes down to having a good communication with your partner. What are your expectations? What do you want? What does your partner want? How could you use your move to establish a new routine at home? And suddenly, moving becomes fun and exciting!
However, you have to put in the work and have those discussions with your partner. If it is helpful to you, I encourage you to bring this topic to a coaching session and bring your partner along. One hour of commitment, of having a productive conversation and an action plan will lead to a great start for your marriage in your expat adventure because you took the time to prepare and as many will tell you: preparation is key.
Of course we just have touched the tip of the iceberg with our topic today, but moving is where it all starts and ends. So be prepared!
COACHING because preparation is key!
SPECTACULAR ACHIEVEMENT IS ALWAYS PRECEDED BY UNSPECTACULAR PREPERATION.
- Robert Schuller -