To celebrate the launch of her new book, Married With Luggage, our guest contributor, Betsy, shares 5 tips to keep your expat relationship strong and healthy and offers CheeseWeb readers a chance to win a fabulous prize, so read on!
You’re living in a different country, meeting all kinds of interesting people, and can pop over to Paris, London, or any number of famous cities for the weekend. All your friends “back home” think you’re living a glamorous, romantic life.
And you are…for the most part.
But with the glamour comes a great deal of stress from adjusting to the change. You hesitate to shatter the image of your exotic life with a Facebook update about your latest fight, trouble making new friends, or yet another round of paperwork you have to file to do just about anything in your new country.
Being an expat is an incredible experience – especially when you can share it with the person you love – but it can also put a strain on even the healthiest relationships.
My husband Warren and I have discovered a few great strategies for managing the stress of change during our 4 years of travel. During this time we’ve been to 5 continents, started a business together, and even bought and renovated a house in Spain. The lessons we’ve learned about love during this time could fill a book, which is why we wrote Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World.
I can’t do anything to ease the paperwork or bureaucracy, but I can share with you 5 strategies for location-proofing your relationship, creating a strong foundation you can take with you wherever you happen to live.
#1: Fight About One Thing at a Time
Change is coming at you from every angle, from the language to the paperwork to even finding your way around town. Fights can spring up from the most mundane situations, and an argument that starts over where to park can easily escalate into why you hate your in-laws or whose fault it is you’re in this godforsaken place.
A grab-bag of insults and finger-pointing just muddies the issue. When you stick to a rule of fighting about only one thing at a time, your arguments will be faster and more productive.
Then you can get back to enjoying this glamorous, exotic life together.
#2: Always Assume the Best Intentions
Do you ever say, “What did you mean by that?” Don’t go looking for trouble by trying to read between the lines. Accept that your partner is operating from a place of love at all times and you’ll have a lot less stress in your relationship. He or she will never say everything perfectly, and giving them a break when they occasionally disappoint you with their choice of words will reduce the amount of drama in your life.
After all, isn’t it dramatic enough that you’re living in this great new place?
#3: Focus on the Problem, Not the Blame
If you moved for your partner’s work or family, it can be easy to blame them every time something goes wrong. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you!” But that isn’t fair and doesn’t help in the moment. The better option is to focus on solving whatever immediate problem you’re experiencing rather than laying blame for who caused it.
Solve the immediate problems, and you won’t feel the need to blame.
#4: Be the Hero
We all process change in a different way. What causes anxiety for your partner may not be a thing for you. Instead of telling him or her to get over it, put yourself in his or her shoes. Then strap on your superhero cape and help them out get through it without blame or finger wagging. Do what you can to ease his or her stress without judgement.
The faster you can bring your partner back from crisis, the faster you’ll get back to enjoying your life again.
#5: Imagine the Story You’ll Tell
You are going to have some crazy experiences, and they will shock, anger, and confuse you. Rather than give into the frustration of the moment, focus on the great story you’ll have later. It might stay a private joke between the two of you or turn into a convoluted story you share with friends for years to come. Either way, it will be funnier over time than it is in the moment, and it will serve you both well to focus on that.
People are dying to hear your stories from your adventure, so make sure you have enough experiences together to have some interesting ones!
Look at the Big Picture
Remember, even during the stressful and confusing times, you’re on a grand adventure with the person you love. There will be some problems when you choose to experience life in a completely different environment. But you’re a great team together, and knowing how to manage the stress that comes along with it will help you enjoy more of your experience.
Your friends are right; this is an incredible life you’re living. And you’re lucky enough to share it with the person of your dreams. Don’t forget that.
CONTEST: To celebrate their fourth book, Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World, Betsy and Warren have partnered with Eurail to give one lucky couple two first-class train passes to experience the romance of Europe. Could it be you?
Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.