How To Have A Successful Expat Marriage

The advice came from my mother in law, a seasoned expat who’d been happily married for thirty years. Without any dramatics she offered two pieces of advice with a smile. The first was that if it was my turn to cook and I’d got tied up having fun – not to worry, G could be easily fooled by the smell of an onion cooking in a frying pan. She gave me a wink and nod with the tale that G’s Dad had often come home and announced “something smells good!” none the wiser that dinner was going to take awhile.

The second piece of advice was the true winner. In amongst our most stressful expat times: the shipment that was lost, the house that fell through, the anniversary spent apart and the funeral that was missed. “Don’t blame each other, blame the situation”.  So often our expat issues are beyond our control.

I asked you for your expat marital tips and you didn’t let me down. I may have to laminate these and pop them on the fridge. So here they are, twelve tips for a successful expat marriage:

  1. Home is where the heart is. Don’t try to change a country to what you are used to in yours but embrace a new culture and new experience wherever you are. While you may be away from family you’ll make new friends. These friends are your new family.
  2. Don’t expect moving overseas to fix the problems in your marriage. Same shit, different country. Hang on tight – the first 12 – 18 months may be a little rough.
  3. It’s possible not both of you will have a work visa. You may need to redefine the value each of you bring to the relationship – an expat marriage is not just monetary. If you feel you’ll struggle with not being able to make a monetary contribution remind yourself of the value you bring elsewhere to the family and the relationship. Talk about it with your partner. Make sure you’re both on the same page.
  4. Always use the “remember where you are” call and try and laugh together as much as you can. Things are always sent to test, whether it’s a flood in the lounge, water gushing from the light below the bathroom, roaches in the kitchen, weevils in your cereal, snakes in the bathroom etc. It makes life interesting. As awful as it is at the time, these are the stories you’ll tell in years to come.
  5. Wherever in the world you may end up ” it is better together”. Any expat who has been down the separated route more than once due to visa difficulties or the posting being too dangerous will know that they’re stronger together. Be happy that you’re travelling together.
  6. Make the most of babysitters. Be prepared to pay highly for them if necessary. They’re not a luxury, they’re a necessity.
  7. Communication is key. Don’t be afraid to say when you’re feeling unhappy, something that can be hard to admit when you are living comfortably when compared to locals or family back home – getting over expat guilt can be hard, but being truthful about how you are both feeling is the only way to get through it. Be aware of feeling resentful, talk and LISTEN. Turn toward each other rather than turning away from each other.
  8. You are both going to be on the roller coaster of cultural adjustment together but you will not always be in the same carriage at the same time. You may have ups when your partner has downs and vice versa. Have patience with yourselves and each other. Make sure you each have healthy outlets for the inevitable stress you will experience (exercise, faith community, hobbies, alone time, etc.).
  9. Set limits. You don’t have to blindly jump in. Maybe you’re not willing to do a location which involves giving up driving your own car or practicing your religion. Don’t agree to do something that’s going to make you resentful.
  10. If one person is hating the location and you’ve tried everything to fix it you may have to leave.  The priority has to be the partnership, not the job, the money or the experience.
  11. Nothing in the expat world ever goes according to plan. Control freaks need to step back sometimes and say it’s ok. It will sort itself out. 
  12. Don’t forget to unpack your marriage in the madness of the move. We tend to hit the ground running in a new location. Remember to focus on each other. It’s easy for a relationship to get lost in the shuffle.

What would you add? What’s your best expat marital tip?

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