How To Survive Your First Long-Distance Expat Breakup

They supported you when you decided to head overseas, they helped you pack and to plan your goodbye parties. They waved you off at the airport and sat up in the middle of the night talking to you on Skype. But now, for whatever reason, it’s all over.

Even if you are head-over-heels in love, the taxing nature of a long-distance relationship can break apart even the closest of couples.Communication becomes difficult and jealousy begins to creep in. You’ll both be living different lives and struggling to stay involved in the other’s.

Even if you can afford to keep shuttling back and forth on planes, there’s little to ease the pain of separation when you are apart. Sometimes when you need a supportive hug, or a tender touch after a stressful day, your go-to guy or gal just isn’t there. The sad truth about so many long-distance relationships is that they are almost virtual, existing only in emails, texts and a few hours of low-resolution webcam conversation.

Many expats face the prospect of leaving their loved ones at home for an extended period, and whilst many promise to tough it out and conquer all challenges sent their way, many simply won’t make it.

When it all comes to a close it may feel like the world is also ending. Trust us, it isn’t. Things will get better and you will move on.

Breakups can be traumatic at the best of times, but far from home they can seem overwhelming and utterly isolating. As awful as it seems at first, emotions will settle and you’ll be able to rationalise, understand and then move forward from your despair.

If you’re currently struggling through a breakup, read through our guide to surviving the end of a long-distance relationship.

Let yourself grieve

It might sound melodramatic, but you have suffered a loss. You’ve lost an emotionally significant relationship with someone who was trusted, supportive and loved by you. Not having them around anymore will feel like a hole in your life.

Breakup and bereavement can often feel similar; you may go through the stages of shock, denial, anger and bargaining. It’s totally normal to go through all these complex emotional reactions; each plays its part in helping you adjust to your new circumstances.

To a greater or lesser degree you will feel the pain of separation and a real sense of loss. You don’t need to put a brave face on it and you certainly don’t need to squash these feelings.

As unpleasant as this emotional roller coaster is, the faster it runs, the quicker you will be able to let your rational mind drive for the next stages. For now, you just have to let the storm of feelings blow itself out.

Living so far from your ex can make it feel like you are dealing with all this emotional overload by yourself and it’s all a massive overreaction. It’s not: have a good cry, get angry, remember the good times and have another good cry and then lift your head and start moving on.

Give yourself some space

There’s no need to become a total hermit, but do spend a little time on your own. Give yourself space to think. If this involves a tub of ice cream, a weepy movie and your most comfortable pyjamas, then go for it.

Try also putting down the spoon and going for a run or a swim. Get the heart rate up and the endorphins flowing. You’ll feel much better for it and start building up confidence in yourself again. Remember, your worth was never tied up to anyone else; you are just as awesome single as you ever were as part of a couple.

Forcing yourself out into the world and putting a brave face on it can be almost as distressing as the breakup itself, but as soon as you’ve started to rationalise and settle down, get back out into the world and start meeting people.

Don’t feel guilty

Whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, there is lots of scope to start blaming yourself. Were you too harsh on them? Could you have tried more to rescue things? Did you say something wrong?

It doesn’t matter now. The decision has been made and going back on it wouldn’t solve any of the problems that led you to it in the first place.

Feeling guilty about the breakup or the circumstances leading up to it drive many people to make bad decisions that lead them to ‘give it another go’, usually with results even more disastrous than the first time around. The decision has been made and now you’re free to pursue some exciting possibilities.

Guilt can be an incredibly negative emotion, one that lets you blame yourself for anything and everything, undermining your self-confidence and colouring every decision you subsequently make.

Most importantly, don’t let the ex lay emotional blackmail on you. Shut down ‘if you hadn’t gone abroad…’ messages or attempts to make you feel like it’s all your fault. Relationships are a collaborative effort and if it goes wrong, both parties have to share at least part of the blame.

Write it down but keep it private

There will be a lot going on in your mind. Not only will you be coping with the breakup, but you’ll still be living in a strange country, living and working with people who may have no idea what you’re going through.

It’s a good idea for all expats to keep a private diary. It’s a great tool for recording hopes, fears, embarrassments and other emotions that aren’t easy to discuss with others. Many of the things that play on our mind are easier understood when put into words, either verbally or in writing.

So dig out your pen and spend a little time jotting your thoughts down, laughing at them, scribbling them out and starting again. It’s a great way to make sense of emotions that seem maddeningly insensible.

As cathartic as this process is, don’t be tempted to share it with others. This is your own personal accounting, don’t put it online. Filling a blog with angry rantings about your ex’s failings invites a very public, distressing war of words.

Make it final

Another temptation of online life is to follow your ex on social media, trying to make sense of the past and see what their future is shaping into. All that happens here is to tease yourself about the good times or to make yourself irate about that they’re posting. Put them into online quarantine and make sure you’re focusing on yourself.

There’s also a temptation to make contact and see if they are coping well. As grown-up and caring as this maybe, it can leave to you having conversations you aren’t ready for.

If you must send a supportive message, make sure it also says that you are giving your ex the space to adjust and you’d appreciate the same. And most importantly, don’t contact them after a few drinks; drunk texting is rarely helpful.

You don’t need to sever all ties forevermore; you are bound to have mutual friends and shared interests so your paths will cross again eventually. That said, there’s no reason to meet up before you are ready.

This is one step that should be easier thanks to the physical distance between you.

Move on

This doesn’t mean drinking a skinful and jumping into bed with an ill-advised stranger, that’s just going to create more trouble.

Instead, get back out into the world and start enjoying the life of the exciting, young (or young at heart), sexy international traveller that you are.

Living overseas there should be plenty of opportunity to meet new people and start redefining your idea of yourself. Being in a relationship means you inevitably start to think of yourself as one half of a double act. You need to learn how to have fun as a singleton again, doing this will help you move on from any lingering attachments to the ex.

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Remember not to rush into anything you are not ready for. Don’t push yourself to go to parties; instead, explore the country and enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy life overseas.

Make the most of your friends

Friends near and far are the best support at times like these. Family are likely to be caring and loving, but your friends can share in all your secrets without judgement and make you laugh in all the right places.

Invite your fellow expats over for a meal that tastes of home. Open a bottle or a decadent dessert and just chat through everything that’s been going on. You may be surprised how simply telling someone about your worries makes the troubles go away.

Head out with your local friends and have them show you something amazing only they know about. Good friends will be happy to act both as your therapists and your entertainers, listening to your concerns and then quickly distracting you from them and lifting your spirits.

This is also a great opportunity to catch up with friends. Chances are you headed home from a few nights out, or missed out on a few day trips in order to call your ex. Now you have to make up for lost time. Take your besties out for a night on the town, or for a weekend’s escape somewhere.

Keep busy

Don’t give yourself the opportunity to wallow in sadness, keep packing your days with things you enjoy.

It’s easy enough to become an overtime-addicted workaholic. Whilst you shouldn’t neglect your work duties, make sure you are doing things you love.

If you wake up in the mornings dreading the day ahead, you need to start finding ways to have fun. Take up a hobby, find a sport you enjoy, meet up with friends or find a course to study.

Set yourself targets and things to improve on. If you’re running, aim for faster times. If you’re taking language classes, study for your next exam. Do things that will give you a sense of achievement and provide you with another target to keep working towards.

Not only will you keep yourself from slipping into a depressed inertia, you’ll help yourself seem like a world-beating champion who can conquer problems like a legend. How bad can a breakup be when you wake up every morning and pack the day with little victories?

Another great tip for keeping busy and moving on is to have a clear-out and to redecorate. Take all the pictures, gifts and trinkets that remind you of the ex and store them out of sight. Then rearrange the furniture and buy a few cushions, lights, posters or whatever you are allowed to change in the apartment. Make coming home feel like a fresh start, free of bad memories.

Go out and have some fun

Let your hair down, dance on tables, go skydiving. Whatever will put a smile on your face.

Don’t let this breakup rob you of the excitement of living overseas, start collecting the amazing memories that will make you smile in years to come.

As awful as the breakup first seemed, life goes on, enjoy it!

Stay confident

Even when you are out and about having an awesome time, you may suddenly have moments of doubt and worry.

This is normal, but don’t let these split-seconds undermine your progress. Keep your head held high and keep on enjoying yourself.

If you stick to the tips above, your confidence should grow and bloom. But when the voice of doubt does start to whisper those horrible undermining thoughts, seek the counsel of trusted friends and then crack on with enjoy being the best version of you.

Do you have any advice for expats who are going through a long-distance breakup? Let us know in the comments!

Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer

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