Will Moving Overseas Make Or Break Your Relationship?

Relationship cliches about living abroad

There’s a well-worn line in expatriate circles that goes something like this: “Moving overseas will either strengthen your relationship, or break it.”

And here’s another one that gets rolled out regularly: “If your relationship was strong before you moved, it will become stronger. If there were already problems, moving overseas will exacerbate those.”

There is some truth in both of these sayings. Moving overseas is a hugely stressful undertaking. It puts enormous pressure on us—the sort of pressure that forces us out of our comfort zones and makes us change and adapt to meet the new challenges coming from every side.

No relationship can stay static when both parties in it are changing, and so our relationship with our spouse or partner will inevitably change, too.

How does moving overseas change relationships?

In a binary world, moving overseas will either strengthen or weaken our relationship. We will grow closer or more distant. We will make it or break it.

But guess what? Life and love and how we change as people and as a couple is rarely binary.

Sure, some couples will talk about how they moved abroad and it did nothing but good things for them. They are closer and stronger and more in sync than they’ve ever been before. They have a new lease on life and love. Yada, yada, yada.

[Forgive what may be cynicism here, but I would hazard a guess that many of the couples saying this don’t have children, haven’t weathered multiple medical emergencies or major natural disasters along the way, and/or have been together less than ten years.]

Other couples will move abroad and have the relationship fall apart. The move exacerbates tensions that were already there and creates new ones. Embers of frustration, resentment, anger, or pain that were already smoldering underneath the surface get stirred up and blaze to life. Couples increasingly struggle to connect and communicate well. The relationship disintegrates.

But there are many other, more complex, scenarios that can unfold when you move overseas. Here is just one…

Not either/or: One way moving overseas can change a relationship

The decision to move overseas was made together, and you’re both fully on board with this decision. You’re in a strong, stable relationship when you move. The intense experiences that come with moving initially draw you closer.

You grapple together with getting oriented in your new city and learning a new language and culture. Your strengths and differences complement each other in obvious ways. You have a real sense of being better equipped to “do this thing” together than either one of you would be alone. You (mostly) support each other well. You learn a lot about meeting challenges as a team. Trust, respect, gratitude and affection for each other grow stronger.

And then life settles into something akin to routine. The initial excitement wanes, and the extraordinary becomes more normal. More normal and mundane sorts of daily stressors (such as concerns about work, children, finances, life logistics) start to “layer over” these bigger stressors (which haven’t fully subsided) and become more dominant.

One or both of you starts to feel tired, worn out, and increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of your new life. You find yourself pulling inwards, or actively taking things out on your partner. You increasingly lack time and energy to talk about the little details of your day and what’s on your mind and heart. Sudden upswells of anger and resentment surprise you with their intensity. A growing sense of distance from your partner scares you, but you figure it’s just a phase and it will pass.

You’re both still committed to the relationship, but slowly moving into more separate inner orbits. There iss often a fine and fuzzy line between healthy distance in a marriage and unhealthy/scary disconnect, and you’re not exactly sure where that line is anymore—or whether it still lies in front of you, or behind you.

It brings both good and bad…

Whether our closest relationships grow stronger or weaker when we move overseas is not binary and it’s not static. For most of us, the pressure of moving and living overseas will make us closer and stronger as couple in some ways and at some times, and weaken us in other ways and at different times.

All this is a long (very long, sorry) preamble to why I wrote this post.

I’ve been thinking about the impact of moving overseas on relationships for many years now. My background as a psychologist and my own life experience (my husband and I met long distance and have moved internationally three times in the nine years we have been married) has made it highly relevant.

Some time ago, I realized that many of us could use a process designed to help us connect with our partner in new and deeper ways. A process designed to help us make each other a priority, talk about important topics, and learning more about each other. A process designed to strengthen and deepen our relationship.

So I’ve designed one.

And if you want it, I’m going to give it to you for free for the next month.

It’s brand new. I haven’t published it yet (I will do that before Christmas). But I want to give it away to you guys here on A Life Overseas before it even goes to press because you’re my tribe. You’re my people, scattered far and wide. You are people who are passionate about your work, your faith, and your relationship with your partner. You are people who are trying to do some amazing and wonderful things in this world—endeavors that can come at great personal and relational cost.

And if this series can help even a handful of you in some small way, that will make me happy.

So, here’s a bit more about the series and how you can get ahold of it.

Deeper Dates For Couples

Deeper Dates For Couples is a 12-week series of activities and questions that will guide you into important, interesting, and intimate conversations. Along the way, it gives you tools and uncovers insights that will strengthen and deepen your relationship.

Each week for 12 weeks we will focus on a different topic. I will give you some background information (strictly interesting stuff). Then I’ll tell you about your task for the week and share some questions you can use to kick off discussion during your weekly date.

You will:

  • Learn about each other’s strengths, sense of humor, communication style, and personality.
  • Discover brand-new insights about yourself and your partner (yes, no matter how long you’ve been together).
  • Do fun and fascinating positive psychology activities together that have been proven to make people happier and healthier.

How much time will this take? It will usually take you a total of about 45 – 60 minutes to read the chapter and do your task for the week. As for how long you want to spend talking during your weekly date…? Well, that one’s up to you.

And to help you get the most out of this series, I’ve designed a special companion journal to go with it. Your 32-page personal workbook for the Deeper Dates series will guide you through the reflection questions, discussion questions, and tasks for each week, and contains space for you to make notes and keep track of your answers and insights along the way.

If this sounds like something you’d like to have, jump on over to this page where you can enter your email and I’ll send you the book (I don’t want to put a direct link to the book file out in public space before it is officially published, so this is the safest way for me to give it away.)

If you grab a copy, I hope you find it helpful. And I’d love to hear from you about anything to do with the series, anytime.

Wherever you are in this world and in your own relationship journey, I’m cheering you on and wishing you all the best.


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Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist who specializes in stress, resilience, and humanitarian work. She is also the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and the founder of the long distance relationship website, Modern Love Long Distance. She lives in Australia with her husband and their two sons. Find out more at www.lisamckaywriting.com.

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