Living Overseas Can Be Hard On Love: Making Your Relationships Work When You’re On The Move

Before we moved to Laos, I worked full time as a stress-management and resilience trainer for humanitarian workers. During those years I saw first-hand the pressure that living overseas places on people and relationships. After my husband and I moved overseas ourselves, I decided to focus my energies on supporting relationships—particularly long distance relationships—and last week I pressed “publish” on a new, free resource I want to share with you on making long distance relationships work.

How To Make A Long Distance Relationship Work: 50 Best Tips

If you’re NOT in long distance relationship

If you’re not in a long distance relationship you’re probably wondering if there’s anything here for you, so let me speak to you first.

When you move overseas, you’re hit with myriad challenges all at once. You need to make a thousand and one decisions in quick succession. You need to learn a new environment, new people, a new job, and maybe a new language. You need to do all of this at the same time your normal support systems (familiar friends, family, routines, jobs) are stripped away.

Moving overseas when you’re single has it’s own constellation of additional challenges. It can be less complicated in some ways, but lonelier. If you’re single and missed these posts recently right here on ALO, check them out—Not An Afterthought, and A Life Alone.

If you move overseas with a partner and/or a family you’ve carried a very important part of your identity and support system along with you. In some ways this is great—some of the bumps of transition can be softened when they’re shared. In other ways, however, partners and families add an extra level of complexity to a taxing situation. And partner and/or kids can want extra attention and support right when you feel stretched to the breaking point yourself, when you’re struggling most with your own overload, fatigue, and ricocheting emotions.

What’s the bottom line? Moving overseas can take a real toll your most important intimate relationship. When you’re in survival mode during those early days following a move it’s extremely difficult to actively invest in and nurture your relationship with your partner. And once you start to emerge from survival mode, it can be difficult to reshape the new patterns you have been laying down and fumble your way towards a closer connection again.

I acknowledge all of that, but I’m here today to say it’s really important to make your relationship with your partner one of your top priorities. There are many reasons to do this. Here is just one: Marriage and relationship problems are one of the most common reasons people need to leave the field and returning home.

Where to start with this? There are many things you can do to build connection with your partner. Today, why don’t you check out the following articles from the long distance relationships tips page. Set aside a bit of time, pick one or two and discuss them:

If you live overseas and you’re in a long distance relationship

If you live overseas and you’re in a long distance relationship, well… you like to keep things extra-interesting, don’t you? If it’s any consolation, I’ve been there. So has Shannon Young, Steffani Taylor and Dawn Othieno.

Come visit us over at Modern Love Long Distance. We’d love to share with you, support you, and hear more about how you make your long distance relationship work.

Your turn to share your stories and strategies with us.
What are things you and your partner do to help “make your relationship work”?

Long distance relationships: Part and parcel of an international life

At some point in their careers, most development workers and missionaries find themselves living far away from friends and family. Some even find themselves enduring long stints apart from those they’re dating or married to. Learning how to live with some of your loved ones half a country (or a world) away is an essential skill for coping well with international living.

This is something I’ve learned a lot about the good old-fashioned way – through personal experience. I was seven when my parents moved our family from Australia to Bangladesh. I spent my childhood largely separated from my grandparents and extended family in Australia, and didn’t return to Australia to live until university years (at which point I left my immediate family half a world away in Washington DC). With the exception of two five-month stints surrounding the birth of each of my children, I haven’t actually lived on the same continent as my parents since I was eighteen.

In the years since I completed a masters degree in forensic psychology and left Australia for the second time, I’ve traveled the world as a psychologist who specializes in working with humanitarian workers around issues related to stress, trauma, and resilience.

Mike and LisaI was thirty-one years old and living in Los Angeles when I met the man who would become my husband. Did he happen to live nearby? Well, not exactly. At the time he lived in a remote town in Papua New Guinea. We got engaged after seven months of getting to know each other across distance, and before we’d ever lived in the same city. (That is an interesting but rather long story that you can read more about here if you wish).

Mike and I have been married for four and a half years now, and we’ve spent about a quarter of that time in different countries. As I write this, I’m 36 weeks pregnant and I haven’t seen Mike in three months. I’m in Australia, safely within reach of a good hospital. He’s still working where we live in Laos. He’ll arrive here in two weeks, hopefully before his second son does.

This week, I’m putting all these hard-learned long distance lessons to good use in two ways.


First, I’m very excited to announce the launch today of a new website focusing on long distance relationships. Modern Love Long Distance will share stories and provide quality long distance resources and tools to help people thrive in long distance relationships.

Come on over and check us out! The blog is already up and running. One post most of you might be interested in reading is How do you and your partner deal with stress? 10 important questions to answer. And if you’re dating someone long distance, don’t miss Five lessons I learned the hard way about long distance relationships.



The website launch also coincides with the launch this week of my latest book, 201 Great Discussion Questions For Couples In Long Distance Relationships. This fun resource will help you learn about your partner’s childhood, family, work, passions, life now, the future, what if, and much more. Whether you’re dating or already married, this book will spark hours of fresh conversation and help you get to know each other better.

 I’m super excited about the launch of Modern Love Long Distance. The number of people dating long distance or spending significant chunks of their married lives apart is increasing exponentially (and if you have friends or family in this situation please send them our way). There is a huge need for good resources to help these people understand the dynamics of long distance relationships and learn new ways to communicate and bond across the miles. That’s the role I’m hoping Modern Love Long Distance will fulfill.

Here on A Life Overseas, however, I wanted to go beyond just focusing on romantic and partnership long distance relationships. As such, this post is part of a three-part series on long distance relationships that is running here on A Life Overseas. Friday’s post focused on staying connected with your friends and family while living overseas. On Wednesday we’ll discuss helping children stay connected with family and friends back home while living abroad. See you back here then, to continue the conversation.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you…

What long distance relationships have you been in?
What are one or two things you’ve learned along the way?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog:      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red