Relationships are a fascinating thing to observe – especially the way people interact, how they express feelings, and how they connect to or withdraw from each other. Every person has their own story, and when they become intertwined with someone else’s, a new story develops, and it’s a different story every time. Add the extra dimension of living an international life, and you have many different layers to look at.
If I were to sum up one of the most common problems I see as a couples therapist, it would be that people lose their connection with each other. One partner complains the other never listens, while the other partner complains of non-stop nagging. It’s a vicious circle, which can fortunately be stopped. Partners have to start speaking up and opening up, particularly if they start to feel like they are losing each other’s attention – and they need to be responsive to this.
Security is key
Let’s take a step back. When we meet someone and we get to know them, fall in love and eventually love each other, a connection is established. More and more researchers are talking about adult attachments similar to the attachment bonds we strive for as children: a safe-haven that provides an emotionally secure place that we can turn to at all times.
Research shows that we have this drive to emotionally attach ourselves as adults as well, which makes evolutionary sense if you think about it. A good, secure attachment to another human being helps us to thrive, and it even serves as a buffer against disease. Studies have shown that distress in a relationship adversely affects the immune and hormonal systems.
People in an unhappy relationship also often experience chronic Diffuse Physiological Arousal, whereas happy couples experience a much lower rate of physical ailments. Being happy in your relationship keeps you healthier, and this is why married people tend to live longer compared to those who are single.
Openness to new experiences and a flexibility of belief are also easier when we feel safe and connected to our important other. As you may be aware, those are two important traits to have as an expat. How ironic, then, that if the relationship suffers, it can stamp out those traits that help us adjust in the first place.
Moving can place a huge burden on a relationship, and if we lose the connection to our partner, we may very well lose our ability to deal with the stresses of being an expat.
All couples naturally have ups and downs. When things are going well, it is just as important to put time and energy into the relationship. It serves as an investment for later on – like placing airbags in a car, they are good to have in case you do go through a rough patch.
Couples on the move need to take extra care of themselves and of their relationship. Focus on securing the connection with your partner and you get the added bonus of also securing your life as an expat.