What no one tells you about expat marriage

expat marriage

When I’m drumming up topics to write about for this blog, sometimes I’ll skim through the travel section of news sites and, if they have them, articles about expat life. Yesterday, the headline “Hong Kong is a marriage graveyard” stopped me in my scroll.

What the what?! At first glance, it doesn’t seem outrageously salacious. However, if you’ve trolled through enough articles about expat life then you’re aware that for the most part, titles skew towards benign.

Obviously, I immediately fell into an expat-marriage-crisis internet wormhole and came across several other sensationally titled articles. Articles like “Can the move to the UAE wreck your marriage?” and “True story: The problems of married expat life in Singapore.”

If I would have stumbled across these when I was getting ready to move to Colombia, I have no idea how I would have reacted. At that time, I was struggling to find even a discussion of how an international assignment would impact my relationship. It took me a bit and I did find an excellent book, but still, expat marriages aren’t really talked about.

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Expats and New Year’s resolutions

Expats New Years resolution

The end of the year begs for a bit of reflection and resolution making. Moving abroad has that same vibe and urges many of us to make big plans for life in a new place. I suppose turning over a new leaf is universally appealing because let’s be real, telling ourselves we’ll be good tomorrow justifies some indulgence today.

I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions and grand plans. On the one hand, I love structure and lists and goals. On the other, I kind of suck at the discipline required to follow through with them. It won’t surprise you then when I say that contrary to what I expected when I first said adios to the U.S. in 2014, I’m still over here struggling with the same things.

I’ve said before that living abroad will not make you a happier person. Today I am realizing that neither will it make you a different (which most of us assume means better) person. I hate to break it to anyone who’s out there idealizing life abroad but it turns out that the old cliché of “wherever you go, there you are” is oozing and overflowing with truth.

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Moving past the “settled-in” slump

trailing spouse syndrome

In my previous post, I wanted to acknowledge the emptiness and loss of focus that comes with rebuilding your life every few years. Experts call this lull trailing spouse syndrome and it usually comes to kick you in the shins around the time you’re patting yourself on the back for another successful move.

Yes, you must pause and let yourself feel those feelings. At the same time, it’s important not to linger here. Unfortunately, any trailing spouse will tell you that it’s also far too easy to lose your momentum and somehow end up simply existing in this place.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon this New York Times article with a statistic that stopped me in my tracks.

Yvonne McNulty, a Singapore-based consultant who studies mobility issues, said the biggest issue for spouses was loss of identity. “What I found in my research is that almost all spouses face an identity crisis but only about 10 to 15 percent did something about it, by becoming authors, getting an M.B.A. or starting businesses,” she said. Most “felt they were victims, with no control.”

Uplifting stuff, huh? It’s disheartening to hear how many of us get stuck here and feel powerless as to how to find our way back. Only making it harder to find your way is that there’s no single path to steadying your shaken identity.

But these words above also hold the answer—the ones who got back on their feet were the ones who did something about it.

The lesson I’ve learned repeatedly the past three years is that this momentum starts in my mind. Like psyching yourself up before a big event, here’s what I do to keep myself moving towards getting my feet on the ground again.
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