23 Tips to Help Expats Strengthen Their Relationships

Plant sprouting through sand showing strength
small plant sprouting strong

How can you strengthen your relationship with your partner whilst living abroad?

Whether you are a living overseas or not, it will probably come as no surprise that according to experts strong close romantic and social relationships are more likely to lead to being very happy and also to living longer.   Obviously they can make our day to day existence, particularly during these difficult times, far brighter, but equally if things aren’t going as well as we would like or are even coasting along, they can leave us feeling indifferent and lonely or downright sad.   It is even more important when we are living abroad far away from family and friends and our support networks (particularly if we have recently moved countries). So obviously it is important that we invest our time and effort in our relationships to try and improve them wherever possible. 

We have some ideas on how to help make our relationships the best the can be….

Relationships, Situations and Individuals are all different

First off, it is important to remember that we are all different – everyone has different needs and we are all in very different situations right now. Some expat partners are both working at home whilst juggling childcare or homeschooling and the housework, whilst others are separated long term or may be dealing with financial uncertainty, and of course, everything in between.  We are all in unprecedented times and it is important we not only remember that, but also that we listen to what we want and need right now so we can then do something about it.

Different coloured and shaped doors on a wall

 Tips to help improve your relationship and make it work for you

  1. Make ‘dates’ to talk

Of course in any relationship communication is critical to keep the channels open and make sure we are connecting each day, especially without the kids or other distractions.   With these foundations of talking AND listening then we are obviously less likely to end up with arguments coming out of the blue or other tensions. 

Talking each day about high points and low points can also broaden your conversation and understanding for each other. Some other ideas are also in our post here.

  1. Show gratitude

I know that gratitude has become an overused word, Harville Hendrix Phd and Helen LaKelly Hunt Phd in the excellent book  ‘Getting the Love you Want’ (this is not an affiliate link as I have yet to work that out!) recommend sharing 3 things you are grateful for in the other person at the end of each day.  This can feel a little contrived at first, but it does lead to finding more you appreciate in each other, noticing more positive things and in turn develop your connection.  By focusing on the positive, not the negative we are also more likely to overcome the negativity bias that our brain has!

Person holding grateful sign

3. Give some Grace and Space

It is important that we try and empathise and remember the stress that each of us is still under.  If you do want to talk about something that is bothering you it is best to try and set an appropriate time to deal with it, for example when the kids are in bed or you are out for a walk.  Try not to deal with it in the heat of the moment – that is more likely to lead to arguments and stress.

4. Listen more than talk

To ourselves and each other, by trying to really listen rather than just hear we can develop our connection with ourselves and our partners.  Then we can have more empathy for things they might bring up whether it is related to the relationship, work or whatever.  For example, ne partner might be finding it harder to be away from family or dealing with uncertainty of when you will see them next than the other.

Empathy is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

– Brené Brown

scrabble letters spelling listen more relationships

5.  Focus on old photos rather than old arguments

With lots of time together it is easy to go down the same paths of bring up criticisms, niggles, etc, but does it ever get us anywhere?  Instead, why not get out old photos of you, the kids, your first overseas move or watch home movies or times spent together or with family and friends to remember the good times and rekindle connections.

6. Don’t expect our partners to be our everything

It can be easy to expect our husbands or wives to fix things for us or make it all ok, but the only person that can really do that is ourselves (deep eh?!)  Sheryl Paul (psychologist and relationship expert) recommends that we turn inward, not to expect the other person to fix everything or fill our emotional well.

Turn inward not expect other person to fix everything or fill our emotional well for example.   This gives us an opportunity to think about what we need and can then share this with our partners and some ideas of how you can get these needs met e.g. some time out, a back massage, whatever.

7. Plan out Time each week

Try and plan out each day or week to allow for time together, time apart, time without the kids (even if it is 10 minutes!), appointments to talk or connect, time for fun, admin or household tasks, etc.   Some experts also recommend appointments to argue or a weekly time to discuss any niggles so you can then know what ot expect and be prepared and more able to deal with any issues constructively. 

Expat couple reflected in puddle

8 Remember when you first got together or other countries you have lived

Reminiscing, remember what you first used to do when you got together, rediscover some of those feelings or your first or most recent move overseas can give a fresh angle to relationships. For example, cooking together like you used to before kids or an old recipe from Thailand or ‘going’ on a date (even if it is at home), making an effort to get dressed up and lighting the candles can make all the difference!

9. Explore new interests

Whilst it is easy to sit and watch netflix each evening, it can lead to getting into boredom and (generally) doesn’t add to connection.  Why not learn a new skill together?  Take a zoom or You tube class in art, the  language of where you live, cooking, mindfulness or whatever. Or alternatively watch something different on Amazon Prime and talk about it afterwards.  

Movie clapperboard on set

10. Watch  a classic movie or film 

Now is a great time to watch something from way back that you have never watched before or want to share together.  Creating a list of films that are classics and comparing which ones you have seen or not (and which ones you think are classics or not!) and then watching them together and chatting about them can be fun!   You could also watch a film from the country you are currently living to try and understand some more about it.   And of course, make some popcorn to go with it too.

11. Start your own book or magazine club

Read a book or magazine/periodical and talk about it each week to give a new angle to your conversations.  You could even do this with another couple or family to make the zoom calls a bit more easy to focus on and not just go to the habitual quiz or whatever.

Sunset with couple holding hands while cycling

12. Get Fit Together

Starting a new exercise regime or resurrecting an old one can lead to some great bonding and ways to support each other.  Whether it is with videos at home or running in your area, it can change the energy of  your relationship too. (By the way, it is ok if you don’t want to try and emulate the couple below holding hands while cycling!)

13. Making sure you have some alone time

Make sure you also get some time for yourself whether it is having a bath or reading your book or watching your own tv programmes, it is so important that we also have time ‘out’ of the relationship.

14.  Socialise outside the family unit

Yes, we are all a bit sick of zoom calls, but talking to those that we are not living with (whether near or far) is more important than ever to help balance our lives and our perspectives and above all, continue connections!  Finding alternative ways to connect like one on one conversations with friends or family can be more effective than big group calls.

15. Make plans

It might not be possible to plan what we are doing for Easter or for a night out right now, but we can talk about what we’d like to do when quarantine is over whether it is a day out, a restaurant we want to go to, a person we want to visit or a holiday or weekend away.  

Beautiful cocktails for a couple

16. Have a cocktail or non-alcoholic cocktail night

Have some fun making some new recipes or creating your own one evening gives a different take on date night. Using local ingredients that you have never tried before can make it a bit more interesting too.

17.  Dance

Number 16 could help lead to this one (!) having a good old boogie certainly boosts the endorphins and is good fun – whether it leads to a slow dance or not!

18. Talk about something different!

We all find it hard to think about talking about something new at times, so for a different perspective and real food for thought why not try asking each other some of these questions.

the word love illuminated in lights

19. Listen to each other’s love languages

Hear me out on this one, I was pretty sceptical about this when I first read about it, but we do each have our own way of expressing and receiving love.  This can lead to miscommunication, frustration and obviously also great relationships too.  Take the love language quiz here.

20. Find ways to be intimate

Marieke Dewitte, a sex researcher likes to solve the problem of low or limited sexual desire with the
10-minute rule: “Ten minutes of cuddling and kissing can be enough to get you into a mood that previously seemed as distant as the end of the coronavirus pandemic.”

And if it doesn’t? “Then the couple has spent 10 minutes kissing and cuddling,” Dewitte says. It’s not the frequency of sexual encounters that matters, she says, but the quality!  

21. Be honest about challenges

If you are having difficulties communicating or resolving issues, be honest about them and talk about them together and get some help. It is not always easy knowing where to go for help when you live abroad, some online resources are available here.

Couple outside in a park on a bench

22. Spend time outside together

Richard Slatcher PHD, a social and personality psychologist who is undertaking a fascinating study ‘Love in the Time of Covid’ has noted that ‘Certain couples seem to be spending more time outdoors together and doing things together, those couples are likely to be happier. 

Whether it is out exploring a local tourist attraction or going for a walk or explore to somewhere new, thse can all help enrich our lives.

23. Watch a comedy together

Watching a funny series or film like Fawlty Towers or Would I Lie to You (my personal favourite) can help relax and change relationship dynamics. 

Silhouettes of a couple or partners holding hands with sunset

An opportunity for couples

These times are certainly challenging for couples, families, single people – all of us.  While expats or those living abroad might be more used to depending on each other and operating in a small unit, it can obviously still present its’ challenges.  We can look at this as an opportunity to build on the strengths of our relationships and help repair or improve on what we have got.  This obviously requires some honesty and creativity in us all at a time where this might feel like we already have enough of our plate.  But without focusing on the relationships with those closest to us whether a husband, wife, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend or whoever, we will be missing out on living the fullest lives that we can. 

After all, who doesn’t want to be in the ‘very happy’ category?

We would love to hear what works in your relationships to make them fun, connected and stronger at this time?  Please do get in touch and comment below.  Also feel free to share this article using the share buttons.  Thank you!

Photo credits:Puddle:  The HK Photo Company,   Doors:  Markus Spiske. Grateful: Nathan Dumlao, listen more: Brett Jordan, Clapperboard: Jakob Owens, Couple cycling: Everton Vila, Cocktails: Alexandra Golovac, Love: Jez Timms, Couple: Mojor Zhu, Sprout: Jeremy Bishop, Couple outside: Alex Iby

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