Finding out your husband just got a job overseas can bring a flood of mixed emotions:
It can also bring with it an overwhelming number of decisions and things to consider:
- Will I go with him?
- Do I want and could we survive a long-distance relationship?
- What will I do for work?
- Am I ok leaving my job or can I keep it and do it remotely?
- Is it right for the kids?
- How will I feel being away from extended family?
And these questions can cause an overwhelming sense of uncertainty and pressure. It’s a lot. Below are important things to consider, whether you’ve already made a decision to go or not, or whether you’re still weighing the pros and cons.
Not Moving Overseas with Your Husband
Whether you’ve already made a decision or you’re just exploring the idea of not moving with your husband, it can be helpful to think about what might lie ahead.
Not too many people get excited by the thought of having a long-distance relationship. And though they do come with challenges there are a lot of misconceptions:
Misconception: “Long-distance relationships can’t work”
Reality: If one or both partners enter into a long-distance relationship with this mindset, then, of course, it’s not going to work; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are plenty of long-distance relationships that do work.
Misconception: “He’s going to cheat and find someone new”
Reality: All things equal, this is a risk, whether you’re physically near or far from your husband. And if you feel like you have to be near your husband in order to prevent him from looking outside the relationship, this is probably worth addressing regardless if you decide to stay put or to move overseas with him.
Misconception: “We won’t stay connected”
Reality: If you’re both fully invested in making things work, you can find new ways to connect. And long-distance couples who are fully committed to making things work, report they find new ways of connecting, which actually bring more strength and trust into the relationship than before.
Misconception: “It’s all the work of a relationship with none of the benefits”
Reality: One of the biggest benefits of being in a strong relationship is the emotional connection and security. And this can exist no matter if you live in the same country or not. Certainly, physical closeness can help, but it’s not a requirement.
Misconception: “Our relationship won’t ever be the same”
Reality: Whether we like it or not, relationships change. Whether you stay home or go with your husband overseas, your relationship will inevitably enter a new chapter. The more we resist or deny the change, the more problems we create.
Misconception: “He’s going to be having the time of his life overseas, while I’m stuck in this boring routine”
Reality: Overseas can be exciting, but there’s also a lot of transitional stress to overcome. And, after some time, the initial thrill fades and it becomes normal again.
The reality of long-distance relationships is that they are challenging, but many people find ways to make it work. And like with any challenge, it usually comes with some kind of unexpected reward.
If you’re honest with yourself and your husband through the process, you’re likely going to learn a lot about yourself and your relationship. You both might even come out of it even stronger than before.
Judgment from friends and family
There are certain cultures where long-distance relationships are more acceptable than others. Take the military culture, for example, where long and frequent time apart is the norm.
However, if you’re not in the military and you’re the only person in your support network who’s in a long-distance relationship, judgments usually follow:
- “You’re not going with him?”
- “Are you guys getting a divorce?”
- “When are you going to move overseas with him?”
- “Is he coming back?”
- “Do you actually think he’s going to stay faithful”
- “Oh, I tried a long-distance thing before. That failed miserably”
An important thing to realize is that these types of comments are a product of the person’s own misconceptions and fears of long-distance relationships. It’s not an objective reflection of your relationship with your husband. In short, do your best to not take these comments personally.
It’s important to remind yourself of this and set boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe:
- “We’ve talked about it and this is the right decision for us right now”
- “That’s an interesting question/comment”
- “He and I would like the space to figure that out ourselves”
- “I feel hurt/confused/sad when I get comments/questions like that”
- “We’ve been asked/told that a lot, and it’s getting tiring”
Sometimes simply changing the subject helps and most people pick up on it and respect that boundary. And sometimes no matter how hard you try to set boundaries it doesn’t work. In those cases, it might make sense to avoid that person as much as possible during this transition.
It’s also important to find support from others who understand your situation or who, at the very least, don’t pass judgments. And if they’re hard to find in your community, try to find online forums, blogs and articles (military spouses are experts in this subject), or find a counselor for support.
Your Kids Being Away from Dad
If you and your kids are staying put it means that your kids will also have a long-distance relationship with their dad. This can be challenging, but if taking them out of their current situation doesn’t make sense in your situation, then it doesn’t make sense.
And the good news is, there are plenty of ways to still maintain a relationship with dad.
First, it’s important to remind yourself that there are many families in the same situation you are. Back to military families, where being away from mom or dad for extended periods of time is inevitable.
Here are some things to consider with managing the separation:
- Being as open and honest as possible – Kids are very intuitive. They can easily pick up on mom and dad’s emotions and if there isn’t an explanation, their imaginations fill in the gaps; and it’s usually with worst-case scenarios. Also, if mom and dad try to cover up their emotions, it can be disorientating for kids; their intuition tells them something is off, but mom and dad (the two people they fully rely on and trust) tell them everything is perfect. So, it’s important to be as honest as possible without crossing the line into using your kids as your emotional support. Think of it as an equation: appropriate vulnerability + reassurance + leadership. For example, “Mom is very stressed and sad. I’m going to miss dad a lot. But, we’re going to find ways to stay connected to dad, and mom and dad are going to make sure we are all safe and ok.”
- Giving kids as much known as possible – Maybe you don’t know how long dad will be gone, but you do know that you’re all going to take a family trip around Christmas to see him. Remind your kids that there are still a lot of knowns and things that are going to stay the same, even if there’s a lot of uncertainty. It can be very helpful to have them identify things that will be different and things that will stay the same. Also, this is an important time to create as much knowns as possible. Routines are critical.
- Plan for ways to stay connected with dad – Reassure the kids that they’re still going to have access to dad through calls, text, and video calls. Ask your kids how they’d prefer to stay connected to dad.
- Listen to your kids – We want to make sure kids are ok, and a common way we try to do this is by saying things like, “Don’t worry.” Though well-intended, what this really says is, “Your worries aren’t legitimate and please don’t share them with me.” For example, have you ever been stressed and someone tells you, “Hey, just calm down.” How does that feel? Not so good, right? So, instead, try things like this:
- “Thanks for telling me, is there anything else you’re worried about”
- “Of course you’re worried/angry/sad. That’s a really normal reaction”
- “What else are you feeling?”
Moving Overseas with Your Husband
If you’ve decided to move overseas with your husband, you’re free from the stress of a long-distance relationship, but you’re not out of the woods.
A move overseas can mean that one partner has to put their career on hold to some degree.
You’ve worked hard to get to where you are professionally; you’ve also worked hard to build a strong relationship with your husband. It can feel like you can only choose one.
And this either/or mindset creates a dilemma: if you choose your career you may be left with feelings of guilt, thinking that you’re not supporting your husband and instead of being selfish. And if you choose your husband, you’re left feeling angry and resentful.
These are all normal feelings and thoughts. And it’s important to remind yourself that.
It’s also common when faced with a no-win situation, to begin to feel powerless. That there’s not much that can be done to improve the situation. In some ways, we can convince ourselves that we are a victim. We have an urge to fold up into a ball and become helpless.
It’s crucial to catch this early on, because if left unattended to, we find someone to blame; in this case, it’s likely to be your husband. And this will put a lot of strain on your relationship.
What can be helpful is to challenge this either/or thinking. Does it really mean the end of your relationship if you stay put? Will your career be placed on hold 100% if you move overseas?
Also, remind yourself that even though it may not feel like it sometimes, ultimately you do have a choice to stay or go. And it’s important that you take responsibility for that choice rather than to place blame on someone else.
At the same time, remind yourself that it’s very normal for these blaming type thoughts and feelings to come up during this transition.
There’s no question things are going to be different and that it’s going to be challenging, but that is much a different narrative than telling ourselves it’s either my career or my relationship that’s going to end.
One of the biggest hurdles with moving overseas is a jolt to a person’s identity.
At home you speak the language, you have the same accent, and you’re known by your friends for a certain characteristic or by certain labels (e.g., “The hardworking mother,” “The kind and reserved friend,” “a successful nurse”). In short, people around us reflect back certain things about us, which influences how we define and view ourselves.
A move overseas changes this.
For example, how we define ourselves is often revealed when we introduce or talk about ourselves with new people: “I’m a mother of two,” “I’m a manager at XYZ company.”
A move overseas means the people around us change, which means how we introduce ourselves will likely change. “I’m from the U.S.,” “Our houses in the U.S. are much bigger than here,” “We moved here for my husband’s work and I’m looking for work.”
The result is a mini identity crisis. Who am I? I miss what I was known for back at home.
There can be positive from this identity change as well. It can be refreshing realizing nobody knows who you are. Maybe you felt somewhat restricted or felt a responsibility to maintain a certain image you were known for. A move overseas can be an opportunity to experiment with parts of you that maybe aren’t as accepted or valued as much back at home.
A common challenge accompanying spouses face is the unequal adjustment process they face when compared with their spouse.
Your husband, though in a physically different location, is likely to be working for the same company or the same industry. Also, your husband is going to have an instant social connection due to his work. He will busy working with other people, and even though they may not be deep friendships, it’s still social connection.
Accompanying spouses, however, don’t have this luxury. They are left to build social connection themselves and this takes time.
Accompanying spouses are often responsible for setting up the house, banking, bill pay, and postal runs. These are all individual and lonely tasks. And when in a new country, without the support of others, which is often the case, these tasks can be extremely overwhelming
All of this is a breeding ground for resentment and misunderstanding.
Because your initial experiences of moving overseas will likely look very different from your husband’s, it’s going to be harder to understand one another. When two individuals have the same perspective on a certain situation, empathy and understanding come without effort. However, as the gap in perspective increases between two people, the more emotional labor it takes to empathize with one another.
So, during this transition, it’s important to ask for understanding and empathy from your husband. Sometimes this might mean directly asking, and often times it can be useful to give that empathy first. Usually, others are more likely to give empathy once they receive it themselves.
No matter how you ask for empathy, if you want your relationship to grow and become even stronger, it’s important that you put in the hard work of understanding and giving empathy.
Moving Kids Overseas
When thinking about the impact of moving your kids overseas, David Polluck and Ruth Van Reken are experts. They’ve done extensive research on “Third Culture Kids,” that is, kids who spend a good portion of their developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ home culture.
A common question I get is, is it right for us to move our kids across the world? Will it benefit them or will it harm them?
A very reasonable question. And a quick answer is it’s somewhere in the middle. Just like anything in life, there will be pros and cons:
Benefits of being a “Third Culture Kid”:
- Expanded Worldview – By moving and living overseas, kids’ perspectives grow exponentially. They see how others live and they become interested in different ways of life.
- Cross-Cultural Intelligence – Kids learn first-hand about cultural misunderstandings and slowly learn how to navigate them. As a result, they build a deep respect for other cultures and differences.
- Increase in adaptability – By living overseas, kids’ minds become even more flexible. This builds resilience and skills in adapting to new environments, long-term.
- Less prejudice – Assumptions and prejudices held on the playground back home are now challenged. As a result, kids mature quickly and become more open-minded about others.
- Large number of relationships – By traveling and living overseas, kids develop a worldwide network.
- Deeper relationships – Expat kids often find they dive into deeper conversations more quickly overseas. Mostly out of necessity to find friends and develop a support network in their new location.
Challenges to being a “Third Culture Kid”:
- Confused Loyalties – By living in a new culture, confusion can arise of which culture kids have an obligation towards. This can be quite complicated when your home culture doesn’t accept many of the values of the new culture or vice versa.
- Painful View of Reality – By experiencing more of the world, kids are exposed more to its painful realities. Kids become more aware of human suffering.
- Less knowledge regarding their home culture – As a result of leaving home during the developmental years, there is a gap in learning about one’s own culture. This can make it a challenge to return home and fit in with peers.
- Loss and grief – Even though kids may maintain contact with friends back at home, there is a loss of how those relationships used to be. And when they return home, they again leave important relationships in their lives.
- Identity – Bicultural means more flexibility in thinking, but it also brings up the difficult question: who am I? Am I an American or am I Japanese. Third Culture Kids often feel like they don’t fully identify with neither their home culture or host culture. And this can continue long-term, even after returning back home.
Rather than asking yourself “Is it better for my kids and I to stay or better for us to go,” maybe a better question is “How do we move overseas in a way that’s best for the kids?” OR “How do we keep the kids home and manage a long-distance relationship with dad in the best way possible?” Because for many, maybe the pros and cons of staying or going is a wash.
Self-Care During this Transition
Regardless of your decision and regardless if you’ve decided to stay or go, self-care during this time of transition is the number one priority.
Self-Awareness and Self-Acceptance
Building your self-awareness is one of the best things you can do at this time. It’s the only way to understand your emotional state; and your emotional state is key to understanding what you need.
Self-awareness also helps weed through intense emotions, which can cloud our ability to make good decisions. With self-awareness, you can stay connected to your values and make decisions that are consistent with those values.
Self-awareness is like a muscle. It’s not that you have or you don’t, it’s about how often you intentionally make an effort to tune into your mind and body that increases your ability to access in the future. And meditating regularly is one of the best ways to build your self-awareness muscle.
Self-acceptance is also critical. The danger of becoming more self-aware is that we see the not so pretty side of ourselves. The jealous thoughts, the irrational emotions, and the behavior we’re not so proud about.
It’s important to remind yourself that though you have control over your behavior, you don’t have any control of the random thoughts and emotions that pop up out of nowhere. Sure, we can influence thoughts and emotions, but ultimately, we aren’t responsible for their creation.
Knowing this can make it easier to accept. Just because you are experiencing certain unpleasant thoughts and emotions, doesn’t mean that’s who you are. It just means you are experiencing them; that’s it.
Your support network is crucial during transitions. If you’re moving overseas, make it a priority to stay in touch with people back home while simultaneously starting to develop your network locally. And if you’re staying put, make sure to surround yourself with the most supportive people and filter out or limit your time with the people who are critical and judgemental.
Getting your body moving can be very helpful in relieving stress and tension. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean hours at the gym. It can be things as simple as a walk or a brief run.
This is one of the biggest transitions you will experience in your life. And the people around you may not necessarily see it that way. They’ll see the adventure/vacation overseas and that you’re being ungrateful. Or they’ll judge your relationship with your husband, coming to untrue conclusions.
Regardless of what others project onto you, you have a right to feel the way you feel. And intense emotions during this time is very normal. So, be easy on yourself. Allow yourself time each day to experience those emotions, and give yourself time each day to recover and find balance again.
Reach out to trusted friends and if counseling is something you’ve benefited from or have been thinking about for some time, this is a great time to reach out to a professional.