When families relocate internationally for work, the challenges are great for each of the members. Traditionally one partner gives up their job to become the primary household caretaker with tasks such as helping children adapt to a new school, solving house infrastructure problems, discovering how to buy and prepare food in a different environment, discovering how to manage household assistants and create new friendships, among others. On the other hand, the employed individual must adapt to a new work environment that is quite demanding, while both of them must learn to communicate in a new language and culture.
Relocating puts an added strain on the relationship and could create unhappy family interactions during an already challenging period of time. Research conducted among spouses of individuals with highly demanding careers suggests that there are several factors that help ensure that everyone remains happy and healthy under such conditions.
The first is a secure emotional connection; this implies that your partner empathizes with you and will turn toward you when you need them the most. The best way to have an emotional connection is to put yourselves in each other’s shoes and know the other sees you, values you and comforts you when you are going through the most vulnerable moments. When an emotional connection is present, you and your partner will be able to adapt to even the most difficult situations.
The second factor that affects the quality of a marriage is emotional support for one another’s career. This is complex when the move implies that one of the members of the couple may have to give up their job. What is important to remember is that there must always be a conscious choice involved. According to the previously mentioned study, being the primary household caretaker is equally as satisfying as working in the professional field when it is done by choice. Alternatively I know of many spouses who choose to work online or find a job within their professional field in the same place as their spouse.
The third factor is joint decision making, which means that big decisions, such as whether to move or not, should be made together. When time is carved out of a busy schedule and an effort is put into communication and joint decision making, the likelihood of a harmonious transition is greater. It takes time to listen attentively to one another’s thoughts and come up with a decision that brings together complementing perspectives.
Marriage is a continuous process of adaptation and learning. Moving to a new country can either bring the couple closer together or farther apart. Alarm signs to look for within the relationship are dissatisfaction related to the spouse’s work-home imbalance, or feelings of unreciprocated career sacrifice. When there are problems brewing, you can usually feel it. It is important to act and make time for communication, joint decision making, and finding a compromise. Never forget how important an act of empathy and reaching out to reassure each other during vulnerable moments is. If you perceive things are not going as you would like and are open to talking about it with a therapist, I encourage you to do so. Visiting a psychologist is most effective earlier on before decisions to separate are looming on the horizon.
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Dr. Dorothy Dexter is a family medicine physician at Beijing United Family Hospital. She has several years of clinical experience, and speaks English and Spanish. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on p. 27 of beijingkids March Issue. Download a copy here.