When an intercultural couple moves abroad this can be an exciting time. This always true when we watch the 30 minute travel show about a couple who ditches their regular life with eyes set across the Atlantic. Is there anything negative that can happen when a loving couple moves abroad? In this post I will discuss my experiences of moving abroad with my husband to Portugal. I hope to shed some light on some themes that couples can consider when moving abroad.
One: Language Dependence
When an intercultural couple moves abroad with a spouse who speaks the native language this can be an awesome asset to have.With that said, there is a strong level of dependency from the non-fluent spouse who will inadvertently rely heavily on the interpretation of words, idioms and expressions as time ensues. This will place a heavy demand on the spouse who has a knack for the language and may create frustration for the non-speaking spouse who may not be prepared for this type of assistance.
Frustration, resentment and anger can build if appropriate adjustments are not made.
I have learned that adaptation is unique to any individual who decides to move across the Atlantic for a new experience. On many occasions I have been asked the following question, “How is your experience in Portugal going?” I have learned that the motivation of the question is being used to illicit insight as to how I perceive the culture and experience. Many people immediately may perceive a response as an indication that a solution is needed. This is not necessarily the case either. In my experience, I have walked around in ambiguity making sense of what I can while I look at the basic signs of restaurants, stores, and coffee shops in Portuguese language. In those moments I am in the moment and in the experience. I almost subconsciously look for an invisible English speaking Help-Desk where I can check-in to give my quick interpretations of the day.
With that said, I recognize there really is no right way to adapt to a given culture. You either are open to the experience and everything it offers, or you are missing everything that is part of what you call “Home.” Taken together, the experience is a lineage of exchanges on a daily basis. Someone may only have a glimpse of whether or not you are acclimating fast enough from their limited understanding of the perspective of your interpretation.
Three: Opportunities of Marital Heartache
Hubby and I loved watching the Travel Channel as we watched couples like ourselves, sailing across new horizons with future goals in mind. We could not wait to come to our new territory with ideas of meeting with family, exchanging ideas from new experiences, and developing new business ideas as we merged our professional and personal aspirations. This is great, but this would also mean being around each other for extended periods of time.
Healthy communication is required and we have learned to pause from one another when we are too mentally congested from daily aspects of life. We often laugh as we think of what it has meant to live abroad together.
“You really have to know your spouse if you are going to move abroad, form a business, and strive for new moments in a relationship,” we laughingly tell ourselves. Why would this be? I am glad you asked. When one moves abroad there are a range of emotions that ensue:
1. Did I make the right decision?
2. Am I missing opportunities at home that may not be afforded to me while abroad?
3. Are we able to handle the life stressors of being abroad and maintain interests at home?
4. Have we reached some of the benchmarks of our abroad experience that we would have liked?
Any area of uncertainty with any of these questions can cause chaos, uncertainty and heartache within the marriage. Surprisingly, these temporary challenges can be overcome with strong communication, patience and planning.
The days of mowing the lawn, going to Kroger for groceries (enough to last three weeks), and having girlfriend moments are elements of life that I miss.
It is not so much the location, but the ease of speaking a familiar language and completing basic tasks where you don’t constantly think about what you want to say. Now this would not be the case if one decides to live where most English speaking individuals frequent. In our case we live amongst the locals and this has been rewarding and challenging. I can hear our neighbor’s routine every night. Their child’s evening routine has become a part of ours as I know exactly when to raise the volume to blur unwanted noise.
Four: Financial Realities
Living abroad is exciting, but one still has to set a realistic budget to cover basic living expenses. Living in Portugal has been great because the cost of living is pretty reasonable. With that said, there are other aspects of life that one may have to sacrifice for the sake of living within means of given goals.
A budget is good to create while living abroad in order for couples to take advantage of mini-trips, social events and more. Many other expats I have met have online businesses, international contracts, or consulting opportunities that may not be as consistent as they would like.
Five: Are you listening?
Another aspect of moving abroad is the level of introspection both partners have to re-define personal values, find new passions and engage in new ways. We attended a marriage seminar where the author expressed new seasons in relationships as opportunities to learn from one another. I know you can imagine that with the new pressure of an intercultural couple such as ours to connect, that we were finding plenty of opportunities to dig within.
We both discovered that it was okay to say no. Portugal has been a great retreat because it allowed us to spend so much time together that it forced us to find ways to be as honest as possible in the areas of life we were happy or discontent with. Conversations have not always been easy, but we both have realized how valuable this time has been for us to learn about each other from a new perspective. Indeed-I have learned that listening is tantamount to a solid relationship. Since my husband as a family with roots from Sao Tome, Cape Verde, and Gabon, I have been able to appreciate his ability to engage at home from a global perspective. This is why traveling abroad with a spouse is excellent for building intercultural awareness and understanding.
Many articles have been written about intercultural relationships that do not last because one spouse finds it an insurmountable task to adapt into a foreign culture. Communication abroad is key!
Dr. Allana Da Graca is the founder of Turning on the Lights Global Institute, Inc. Her focus as an educator is to help adult learners reach their personal and professional goals. She is the author of a new self-help book called, Tomorrow Can’t Wait. Currently she teaches a variety of communication courses as an online instructor at Walden University. She is the recipient of the Robert C. Ford Fellowship, Martin Luther King Leadership BHCC Award, and the Chahara Foundation Award. Learn more at: drallanadagraca.com