According to a study by associate scholar, Yvonne McNulty from SIM University in Singapore; “Till Stress do us part: The Causes and Consequences of Expatriate Divorce”, there are numerous unique stressors to marital life for those moving abroad.
Unfortunately, those who are emigrating, or planning on emigrating from South Africa often overlook or ignore the strain they will place on their relationship. The fact of the matter is – after all the warnings and concern from people who really wished you wouldn’t relocate, you simply can’t share any negative experiences with them. Which means that you probably don’t have the emotional support in your new home that you had back home.
Ironically, Dr. McNulty says that being far from home and alone actually keeps most expats married for longer – but unfortunately when divorce does happen, it’s far more devastating. You will find yourself considering whether to stay or go back home, what will happen to the kids, home, furniture, what will happen to your job, and what the financial implications will be.
But wait, wait, wait. Let’s backtrack a little. We’re hoping you are not contemplating divorce and that you are, instead, thinking of ways to strengthen your relationship. The best place to start is acknowledging that emigration is a big deal – and preparing to support each other.
Facing the problem
In a survey by “Expat Expert” Robin Pascoe for her book ‘A Moveable Marriage’, almost half the participants didn’t think of their relationship when considering their move. Their primary reason for this was that the ‘external’ aspects of the move were more important. And as both people in the partnership negotiate their way through a new and unfamiliar move, they rarely have time or energy to discuss their concerns.
She questions how people spend so much time securing their possessions for the move without contemplating securing the most precious freight of all – their relationships.
Identify relationship issues
There are numerous reasons why emigration may place stress on your relationship, including:
- The process of emigration is stressful on people – therefore each person in the relationship is taking a psychological blow as individuals.
- There are often trailing spouses/partners who find themselves at a loss of identity after relocation.
- The lack of a supportive and familiar community means couples have to deal with problems on their own and they may be each other’s only soundboards.
- Long working hours and extensive travel places additional strain on a relationship
- As ‘tourists’ in a new place people tend to loosen their moral standards as the new place may seem highly extravagant, exotic or unorthodox to them. They may also find that they are novel to locals and therefore get a lot of new attention. These factors could lead to possible infidelity or changes in behaviour.
- One spouse often have to give up a job to accommodate the move abroad, then has to look for a new position, settle for a less favourable position or quit working completely – this could lead to resentment or issues of confidence and belonging.
- An enormous, and blaringly obvious, issue – is the fact that expatriates are simply in a new place, with a new culture, religions, customs, climate, political and social systems and so forth. All these new experiences, though exciting, places enormous strain on the body – mentally and physiologically.
The thing is – most people will readily discuss how emigration affects their families as a whole, how they are adapting at work and in schools, the strangeness of the weather or unfamiliar culture – they will even tell you they are lonely – but they won’t readily discuss issues in their private relationships.
This makes it even more important that couples discuss issues with each other, or get into the habit of regularly talking their issues through with a therapist, family member, friend or religious leader.
Which brings us to some tips for surviving an expat marriage or partnership:
- Discuss even the simple issues with each other. You may not have done this at home, but this is something which will help you cope in the long run.
- You will have extra time on your hands that used to be filled with hobbies, friends and family. Try to get some new hobbies to fill the time.
- Have realistic expectations. They say it takes a minimum of 6 months to adjust to all the serious changes in a new place. Make peace with the fact that things will be seriously off-kilter during this time.
- Do a couple of date nights even if you haven’t done this before – romance is a good way to mend what is broken and soothe some disappointments.
- Get to know the city you’re living in – this means becoming familiar with the transportation system, learning where are the landmarks are and trying to memorise as much of the ‘map’ of the city as you can. Being comfortable moving around makes us feel more empowered and less dependent on others.
- Use online resources to connect with expat support groups, finding South Africans abroad and chatting with people back home. This will make you feel less stressed.
Although finglobal.com can’t help you with your marital endeavours, we can ease some of the longing by bringing some local flavours to you! See our events for local artists in your valley.
Of course, we are also specialists in financial planning, so be sure to talk to a finglobal.com consultant about your financial migration needs, including; international financial planning, financial emigration, South African tax services, retirement and converting your pension or retirement annuity to cash. If you need help moving your money offshore, let one of our consultants contact you with a free consultation.