Elena Darmenko

Expat Psychotherapist

Family Conflicts and Expat Life.
Get Prepared Before You Go

Communication plays a key role when overcoming any relationship issues.
Living oversees may become an amazing experience. However, you may also experience a roller-coaster in your family life. Leaving or changing your job, changing a location and family roles will make a significant impact on your relationships. Here are some most common problems I work in my practice of an expat psychologist. Let's identify and fix them. And remember, family conflicts are normal, it's the solution and compromise that matters.

When you decide to move, it's a big decision which inevitably changes your lives. So, asking yourself a question "Shall we go or stay?", be honest, because a relocation from Madrid to Paris is much different from the one to Mumbai. How will this new place change your family roles? Are you going to shift from a dual-career marriage to one where a spouse stays at home? How will you organize your life abroad? These discussions will help you to prevent a potential conflict. Communication plays a key role when overcoming any relationship issues. It's important to discuss all your worries and concerns about the move, as the more open you're with your partner, the closer you feel.

Changing Roles

It's on the top of existing issues in family relationships abroad. Imagine, you or your partner was spending years for building up a successful career, and then they've become a trailing spouse in just one day. This is stressful. According to some studies, women who were making careers in their home countries, often feel ashamed when they become "just wives". They may also find it difficult to adjust to being financially dependent on their partner as well as adjusting to unemployment.

What can you do? First, remember that a role of a trailing spouse is very important. They do a big job to settle a family in a new country and make a working spouse be more productive doing their job. However, if you or your partner wants to continue working, try to know as much as possible about the job opportunities in a new country, or about a location independent business. If none of this is possible in your case, think about volunteering opportunities – this will help you to feel more comfortable in a new cultural environment and become an effective coping skill you can use.

"We're Spending Too Much Time Together!"

It's the second most common answer I get from my clients when asking them about the major challenges they face abroad. And I should say, it's the most unexpected problem.

Here I mean spending the free time together. Imagine, you used to have a lot of friends, a wide family circle, and a working team. Meeting new friends as an expat can become a challenge, especially in the new cultural environment. You may say "OK, I'll find new friends in an expat community". However, an expat community is consisted of people with different cultural background, so finding new friends there might also become a challenge. And sometimes, you just haven't enough time to make friends or build a new social circle.

So, it's common to spend the bulk of your free time with your partner when you move. The problem with that is you forget to focus on time apart, dedicating time to your separate interests and hobbies as you used to do before.

What can you do? Focus on intentional and quality time together. Don't expect each other to be your everything – this leads to dependency on each other. Develop an adventure and creative mindset – this will bring new colors and new quality in your relationships.

Separation From Your Family

Our families, and particularly our parents are the strongest support system in this world. And living without it may become a source of feeling alone and isolated, which also can lead to family conflicts.

Living abroad can be tough when you're missing home and comparing your present life with the past one. It's much harder for a trailing spouse who left it all and dedicated their lives to support their partner's international career.

What can you do? Focus on creating a new "support system". This will for sure take time, but it's worth it. Make sure that this "support system" extends beyond just one or two persons, whether it's your mom, best friend, or a former colleague. It's nearly impossible for this one person to fulfill ALL your emotional and social needs, so these new relationships are crucial.

Not Prioritizing Mental Health

Have you ever heard about a trailing spouse depression? "I had no idea that moving abroad can trigger a depression, because no one talked about that", - that's what I usually hear from my clients.

Depression isn't the same as culture shock or homesickness, however these issues can contribute to developing your depression.

One of main principles I have in my work as an expat psychologist is "Self-care first!" and I teach my clients to prioritize it. There are some reasons behind it – one of them is that the more you care about yourself – the more you can give to your partner. And if you're not addressing your mental health issues, they also make a negative impact on your relationships, becoming a source of family conflicts.

What can you do? Start with asking your partner a very simple question – "Do you feel happy?". It's a very easy way to check the situation. And if it's necessary, ask for a professional assistance – this will help you to pass through these tough times.

Summing this all up, I should say that moving abroad can become a great time to bond as a couple. Improve your communication skills, learn to work as a team, and you will find a solution in any family conflict.