Supporting your partner when you move abroad

Being a relocation spouse can be difficult. They’re probably not the one driving the decision to move abroad and will have fears, concerns and doubts that could be very different to those of the person in the driving seat. So how can you make sure that you’re doing everything you can to be supportive and keep them positive about the relocation from the passenger seat?

My experience was based on my wife being the passenger (as well as my 3 year old daughter). My wife continued to be a stay at home mum and my daughter was at an age where she was just about to start pre-school. I’ll be honest and say it was very difficult to maintain a positive feeling about the the move and looking back I can understand why. A lot of my wife’s fears and worries materialised quite early on and adding that to the fact that we had challenges elsewhere in the experience (check out the ‘My relocation story‘ page for more details on this) it was a pretty bumpy road.

Were there things I could have done to avoid some of this? I reckon so. To try and help you plan for some of this I’ll cover off each area of concern my wife had and what we could have done to avoid them happening once we relocated.

Moving away from our family and friends

Being there for your partner when you move abroad is essential

Being there for your partner when you move abroad is essential

Probably no surprises here. This was a really big worry for both of us, but more for my wife. We have both always lived in the same town as our family and friends so moving abroad was a huge change. Not only would we lose the closeness of our network, but also all the emotional and physical support they gave us. The people who popped in for a cuppa when passing and helped out with our daughter if we were all ill. The people we spent the majority of our time with, had dinner with on a Saturday night and spent Christmas with. To then rip this out from under our feet was a massive change. I’m a bit more removed from my family so it wasn’t as bad but we’re very close to my wife’s family. If we’d lived on the other side of the country already then it may have been different but we’ve always been 10 minutes away from them.

This may not be a big problem for you if you’ve already made some steps to move further away and have already had to build a support network, but this will obviously be more of a challenge in a foreign country, particularly if you don’t speak the language.

Our solution here was regular trips home for my wife and daughter (we planned a week each month) so that they could get their fix. This seemed like a good plan but it’s a real hassle travelling regularly (particularly with the 3 year old) and can be as stressful as feeling isolated. It’s worth considering this though as I think it can help if done in the right way as well as getting friends and family over to see you.

Couple of other things I’d recommend for this concern:

1. Show support and be understanding.

I spent a lot of time dismissing concerns and not taking them in and accepting them. Don’t dismiss your partners concerns as weakness on unwillingness to go through with the move. Be open to their feelings and show that you care. Be the person that will help them through the tough times, be the person that makes up for the fact that the other important people aren’t there all the time. Make them feel that they can trust you to carry them over the rough patches in order to enjoy the fun times.

2. Build a social plan for the first couple of/few months. I’m going to come onto this in a bit more detail further on but you need to fill the void and build a new support network as quickly as you possibly can. A big mistake I made was not proactively seeking involvement in local activities and clubs for all of us, which could have helped us grow our support network and helped to remove some of the isolation and sad feeling.

Being home alone all day

Sounds like something a child would say I know but the more I thought about this the more I realised it was quite daunting. I went off to work in Barcelona every morning before my wife and daughter even woke up, which wasn’t something I was expecting to do. They were then on their own from 7 in the morning until 6:30 each night. If I’d have known I would be out of the house this much I would have seriously considered whether it was the right thing to do or not.

My wife had to entertain our daughter and maintain the house whilst also trying to find things to do and build her network. Not an easy task, particularly in the summer when it was over 30 degrees most days.

A few things to consider for this one:

1. Having a sensible work/life balance (or harmony). It’s really important that you are able to enjoy this new lifestyle with your partner/family and not just at the weekends. Although some people may be moving abroad to further their career or to earn more money, if you’re moving with your partner then you’re likely looking to also experience a new culture and lifestyle. This isn’t going to be achievable if you can only do it at the weekend. Why move abroad and then spend the majority of your time working or commuting. This is on my ‘key oversights’ list for our relocation.

2. Proactively helping your partner to network. Rather than leaving them to it, why not be part of it. Make suggestions, arrange social outings with colleagues, be bold and get out into the community together. Going back to the point about leaving friends and family behind, if you’re the one driving the move abroad then be the one who also drives the solutions to problems. Also, continue to be understanding and sympathetic. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine how difficult it could be to remain positive and energetic.

3. Build a social plan for the first couple of/few monthsThis point again, and it’s a bit of a recurring them here. That’s why I want to cover it off further down in terms of my suggestions on how best to go about this. You’ll probably already have an idea and hopefully I can just add to that to get you started.

Not knowing the language

This will depend on where you’re moving to but if you’re heading for a foreign speaking country then it can be a huge blocker. Unfortunately for us we were told time and time again that we really didn’t need to know the language. We should have realised that somebody who knows the language can’t really advise you that you don’t need to know it as they’re in a totally different position. Never mind.

I’ve written a blog post with loads more detail on this – Do I need to learn a new language when moving abroad?. In summary though, I think it’s really important to pick up the basics and then some. This isn’t just about being able to ask for salmon in the local shop or to send a package through the post. The important thing for me is being able to feel part of the community. How could you ever integrate into a community where you can’t communicate with them. You can obviously hunt down other expats or move to an expat community but language is still key. It opens doors and will be a huge leap forward. I’m not saying you need to be fluent, but at least get the basics.

Having the basics of the language is going to be a great help for your partner. It will significantly reduce the challenge of building a network and feeling a part of the community. Put simply, it will just mean there are more people that your partner can talk to. The local shop keeper, the postman, your neighbours, the gardener and whoever else. Talking to people is key to feeling like you belong. You’ll likely be talking to people all day if you’re at work but what about your partner?

Once again, check out my post ‘Do I need to learn a new language when moving abroad?‘ for a bit more information and some links a few language related resources (some free, some not).

Will we have enough money?

This is a difficult one to answer as you’ll never know for sure until you get there (unless you have friends in a very similar position). We did a lot of budgeting and in most cases we weren’t far off aside from a couple of differences (some significant) in what we were told. My wife was worried that we were investing in moving abroad but were we getting any financial gain and would we be better off in terms of day to day availability of cash?

Couple of things to consider on this one:

1. Remember why you’re moving abroad, can you sustain it?. If your moving abroad then part of the motivation is probably to experience a new culture and lifestyle. So what’s the point if you won’t be able to do anything due to a lack of money?. I know there are always things you can do for free but there’s a good chance you’re going to need cash to see and do all the things you need to in order to absorb the new culture and feel part of it. Even if it’s petrol money, train tickets or food. You need to make sure there’s enough each month after bills and backup cash to enjoy what your adopted country has to offer.

2. Enabling your partner to get out and about. Your partner needs to have enough cash each day to keep themselves/children entertained. I’m sure they won’t be out everyday at cafes and restaurants spending all the money but it is really important that they can be out in the community and experience things whilst you’re at the office/out of the house. Consider a scenario where you’re around people all day in the office and your partner is at home all day on their own. This isn’t a great set up.

Not knowing where anything is

Think about where you live now. You know where the nearest petrol stations are, the local shop, the supermarket, the bank and other services. You also know where to go to find particular items, like a spanner, or TV equipment, or stickers (the list is endless). Generally if you’ve lived in a place for a considerable amount of time then you’ll never have to research where you need to go to find something as you’ll already know.

When moving abroad (particularly foreign speaking countries) you’ve got to start from scratch. Some things will be a bit easier (supermarkets, petrol stations etc) and others will be more difficult. As an example, we needed a new changing bag for our daughter as the old one had seen better days. It just needed to be a fair sized bag that had an over the shoulder strap to put spare clothes, wipes, snacks etc in. Could we find one anywhere? Nope. It was a nightmare and took us a couple of weeks of trying different shops to get hold of one. In the end we found one in a boutique type shop in the town near our house, which was totally unexpected.

For our situation this impacted my wife a lot as she was generally the one sourcing these things and having to find where everything was (as I was at work most of the time).

Other cultures do things differently and have different priorities and focuses, so things won’t always be where you expect them.

Recommendations on this one are:

1. Work out with your partner the things you do regularly. Sit down together and think about all the tasks/jobs you do as individuals and together. This could range from your weekly shopping trip, to getting the car checked every month or buying slippers for your children. This list can be as long as you like (and should be fairly long). Be as detailed as you think you need to. The more detailed the easier the next step will be.

2. Research as much of this list as possible before moving abroad. Take your list and work out where as many things are as you can. Use blogs, forums, online shops from the country your moving to (do it in Google Chrome as then you can translate the page into your language). Populate your list with the locations of things like shops, petrol stations etc and then add in the places where you can get hold of specific products.

3. Think outside the box for anything you’re struggling with. For us, thinking outside the box meant using amazon wherever possible. You’ll be able to get a lot of things delivered to your adopted country via amazon so if you’re struggling to find anything see if it’s available for delivery there. I’m sure there will be other sites that could help here too so just keep searching until you find something.

This list will then help your partner (and you) avoid a large amount of scrabbling around on a day to day basis trying to find the right place to get school socks or the best place to get headache tablets. Something you should definitely look into is takeaways for this list. My wife and I really missed Friday/Saturday night takeaway curry. That was until we realised we could use a takeaway site to find local places that delivered and order online. Granted we had to use the Spanish version using Google translate but it didn’t matter as we managed to get a takeaway curry. This was amazing!

Generally being lonely and isolated

This point pulls together elements of the different points I’ve already raised, and brings me onto building up your ‘Social Plan’ for when you move abroad. If you end up in a situation where your partner feels lonely and isolated then this will progress onto feeling trapped and helpless. That’s when you’re getting to a point where it’s difficult to come back from , which could put your whole relocation at risk. I can say this from experience as it was a big factor in our relocation (among others).

Building your social network abroad

It’s important to put effort into building your social network when you move abroad.

So what can you do to build up this social plan before you go? I’d say there’s two stages, which are:

  • Making contacts before you go via the internet
  • Working out how you’ll continue growing your network when you get there

My wife thinks I’m a bit strange sometimes as I like to treat a lot of personal things in the same way I would in the work place. This would mean identifying the root problem, brainstorming solutions, setting these solutions out in a plan or roadmap and then executing them according to the plan. I think this is one area where this approach can really work. Here a bit more detail about what you can do in the above two areas:

Making contacts before you go

Forums

There are literally hundreds of thousands of forums on the internet for subjects ranging from gardening and fitness to travelling the world and living abroad. What I’d recommend here is signing up to as many as possible and just getting your story out there. Tell people about what you’re up to and the circumstances of your move. Ask all the questions you have and stay visible on the forums.

Most of these forums have specific areas for specific countries so get yourself visible in these sections and start to build up contacts. Chances are you’ll find people who are close to where you’re looking to live and may be able to introduce you to others. It’s amazing what a bit of effort here can do in terms of opening doors

I’ve started a list of forums on my Relocation resources page so take a look and sign up (and get your partner to sign up). Get your partner to interact with people and hopefully start to build a network before you’ve even left.

Facebook groups

It’s definitely worth your partner having a look through Facebook and seeing if there are any groups that match the country you’re moving to. This will be a targeted group of people that you will be able to get information from and again, start to build up your network.

Twitter search

Similar to Facebook groups but maybe not as structured, get your partner to search for relevant terms on Twitter. For example, if you’re moving abroad to Barcelona, search for things like ‘living in Barcelona’ or ‘expat in Barcelona’. You can then start to follow and perhaps get in touch with people who are in a similar situation to where you’ll be when you move abroad. It could also help with finding interesting things to do as you’ll be getting updates from people who are living and working in the environment you’ll be in.

Blogs

Similar to my site, there are hundreds of blogs being written by people who are either considering relocation, have already relocated and are living abroad or have been there and done it and can now help others with advice. Try out http://www.google.co.uk/blogsearch, which will let you search specifically for blogs and blog posts based on the keywords you choose.

General networks

Outside of all of the above, it’s worth just searching Google for sites that are designed specifically for your situation. For example, there’s a site I found – http://www.movingtobarcelona.com, which was a good place to a)find information about moving to Barcelona and b)a great place to find people specifically related to me (not in a family sense).

If you can’t find anything then perhaps you and your partner should set something up. Getting a blog up and running is pretty simple and easy. And it’s something you could do to document your move abroad anyway, which could help other people in the future. It would be a great way to potentially build a new networking site for your area yourself.

Working out how you’ll continue growing your network when you get there

Continue all of the above

This probably goes without saying, but make sure you and your partner maintain all the activity above. Just keep plugging away at it and your partner is much more likely to feel comfortable and part of something during the first couple of months of the relocation.

Arrange meet ups

As I said earlier, don’t be shy about all this. You’ve got to put yourself out there or you’ll steadily become isolated. If you find people on forums or groups of people who live close to where you’re going then get something booked in for when you arrive. Imagine the difference of arriving in your new home abroad knowing that for the first 4 weeks you had social engagements planned with people around you, compared to turning up and having nothing planned and having to start from scratch when you get there. This will help your partner massively and give them things to look forward to and plan for.

Plan days out for the first few weeks

Again, having things to look forward to is really important. A key suggestion I would make here is to find out what your partner is really interested in seeing/doing and then arrange those things first. This will help maintain positivity and will also be a bit familiar as you will have researched those outings before heading abroad.

Take all this and create an actual plan

This is where my work head kicks in but I genuinely believe this will help. In the first few weeks we were in Barcelona we started to struggle, so I created a 12 month plan of all the stuff we had going on. It included travelling back to the UK, people visiting us, Birthdays, time off and various other things. This really helped us visualise the stuff we had to look forward to and your ‘social plan’ for moving abroad will work in much the same way.

Summary

Well that’s all I have for now on this one. I appreciate the focus of this post is more towards a partner who isn’t going to start working in your new country (as that was my experience) and I think those that work will suffer less as they’ll build their own social network much quicker. Having said that, finding a job in a foreign country is a huge challenge if you’ve got to do it when you get there and I’ll try to create some resources on this in the future, although I don’t have much experience in it.

I hope you’ve been able to take at least one thing from this that you can use to help support you and your partner with moving abroad.

Let me know any specific questions you have via the comments below or by sending me an email on my ‘contact me‘ page.

All the best

Al

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