Elena Darmenko

Expat Psychotherapist

Marriage Counseling.
Psychological Assistance to Expat Couples

Marriage counseling is an insightful and empowering experience
If you decide to live an expat life, it means you're going through a huge transition which, for sure, has a significant impact on your marriage. As an expat psychologist providing a marriage counseling, I know that the potential stresses may include feelings of isolation, separation from friends and family, the unfamiliarity of living in a foreign culture and language, and lifestyle changes such as new accommodations, an elevated social status, etc. Some couples thrive in the stress and excitement of an adventure living abroad together. However, many don't.

What Factors Make a Significant Impact on Your Marriage While Living Abroad?

From my experience as an expat psychologist, I see that expectations of each spouse are a major determining factor of marital success during your overseas experience.

For example, military, or diplomat couples tend to adapt faster and better to the mobile than the average couple, because they expect to make this move at some point in their life. On the other hand, an unexpected move abroad can be very disruptive and straining on a marital relationship.

Another important factor comes if a couple moves abroad with children. In this case, the main problem occurs when a couple divides into a working and a trailing spouse (depending on the age of their children).

Next factor relates to the previous one, and it's a role change. As I've mentioned, the couple may divide according to the new roles. The working spouse may struggle with new job responsibilities, adaptation in an international team, etc. On the other hand, the trailing spouse is obliged to cope with the new environment at home, or perhaps, they left their job in the home country to follow his/her spouse abroad, and don't have any idea about job opportunities.

Expat fatigue is a factor which isn't usually anticipated in a cross-cultural move. This can zap the energy you used to invest in a romantic side of your marriage. However, if you feel tired physically and emotionally, any desire for physical intimacy can be also zapped. This produces an additional stress to your marriage.

So, moving abroad may become a real and unexpected shock in marriage relationship.

Why Marriage Counseling is Effective For Expats?

Marriage counseling helps couples in all types of their relationships. It typically brings partners together for joint therapy sessions. I teach my clients the new skills to improve their relationships. First, it's an open communication – when your problems aren't hidden, when you're ready to listen to each other – it's the important step to improve your relationships. Then, problem-solving – you will learn how to see the things from different points and become more open-minded. This is particularly important for expats living in new cultural environment. We will also discuss good and bad parts of your relationships to understand the sources of your conflicts, and you will learn how to identify problems without blame.

Some Important Things You Should Keep in Mind When You're Thinking About a Marriage Counseling

It might be hard to discuss your problems with a therapist. You may feel angry over some topics, or start arguing during sessions, or even keep silent. This all is OK. I will help you to cope with any of these emotions.

You might have assignments. Depending on a case, I may suggest exercises at home to practice what you've learnt during sessions. For instance, this may be a communication exercise.

You or your partner may need an additional care. If one of you coping with behavioral disorders, anxiety, or any other issues, I can suggest working with other mental health providers for more complete treatment.

It's also important to know that a marriage counseling is often short term. It typically includes both partners. However, I sometimes work with each partner separately. Remember, changes in one person will have an impact on the whole relationship and improve the situation. We'll discuss all possible options on our first session, I'll create a specific tailor-made plan for your particular case.

Making the decision to go to marriage counseling can be tough. However, if you have a troubled relationship, seeking help is more effective than ignoring your problems or hoping they get better on their own. Sometimes taking the first step by admitting the relationship needs help is the hardest part. Most individuals find this experience insightful, helpful and empowering.